Authors: Edward Charles
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical
To Sheila, who understands when my eyes glaze over and
I go off to Tudor England or Renaissance Venice.
October the 29th 1555 – Wilmington, Devon, England
The Bear Inn was quiet as we arrived, with just the usual drone of conversation and the comforting smell of warm bread, warm men and warm beer. It was not to last. As soon as he saw us, the man began to scream.
‘Don’t take my leg off! Please God! For pity’s sake, don’t take my leg off!’
He was lying at the foot of the stairs, down which he must have fallen; his leg looked grotesque. My companion knelt beside him and put a reassuring hand on his brow. ‘Don’t worry. You won’t lose your leg. Lie quietly and tell me your name.’
‘Sam, sir. Sam Darkstone, I am a merchant.’ He looked imploringly at each of us, one after the other. ‘Please, gentlemen. I can’t do my job if I lose my leg, and I have a wife and six children to feed.’
‘Well, Sam, my name is Tom, Thomas Marwood, and I am a doctor. My assistant here is Richard Stocker and together we are going to help you – that is, as soon as this rabble gives us room to breathe.’ My good friend and mentor turned to the crowded passageway filled with silent, shuffling men, all dressed in working clothes and staring awestruck at the gruesome sight. ‘Stand back there and give this man some air.’
Thomas exercised his authority to limited effect. Reluctantly, those at the front made an effort to retreat, but were prevented from doing so by the crowd behind them, who continued to press forward.
The patient was lying awkwardly, his back twisted across the step, and his right leg turned at a seemingly impossible angle. His breeches had been undone at the knee and his hose were ripped open to expose the flesh of his lower leg, which was dominated by a great, hard white lump – as big as my fist, although flatter, stretching the skin to its limits. Above it was a peculiar dent where his knee would normally be.
Thomas looked up at me as he crouched beside the patient. ‘Do you see what’s happened, Richard?’
‘Is it his kneecap?’ I replied uncertainly.
‘Correct. His patella. Now, with luck and his cooperation, we can put this right.’ He turned back to the cringeing patient.
‘Sam, I need you to trust me now. I know your leg hurts, and it will hurt a bit more before we have finished, but I need to move you so that we can make it better. Just do exactly as I say and don’t fight me. Is that understood? Now, ignore the pain, try to relax and let your leg go loose.’ The sweat poured from the man’s face as he nodded his uncertain agreement, his eyes wide with fear.
‘Richard, hold him under his armpits, so his body cannot rotate.’
I did as I was bid and watched as Thomas slowly straightened the man’s legs, the patient whimpering as he did so. As soon as Sam was lying straight, Thomas, kneeling, lifted the right leg until its heel rested on his own left shoulder. Sam whimpered again, but dared not cry out. ‘Now, steady does it.’ Supporting the straightened leg with his shoulder, Thomas pressed the patella firmly and insistently with the butt of his hand.
The loud ‘pop’ made the crowd gasp and jump back nervously. They gasped again, this time in disbelief, when they saw that the straining lump was gone and the knee looked normal once more.
‘Well, look at that! It’s a bloody miracle, that’s what it is,’ called a red-faced farmer at the front of the crowd. ‘It’s a bloody miracle. Look at that leg – whole again.’
The patient lay still, not daring to look at his leg, waiting to discover what next was required of him. ‘Come, Sam, give me your hand, and rise up, for I do believe you can walk again.’ The patient shook his head, apparently not believing it was over. ‘Come, man, it is done. Let me help you stand.’ Gently but firmly, being careful not to undo the good he had just done, Thomas raised him to his feet and Sam began to walk unsteadily and disbelievingly towards the crowd, who retreated backwards before him, like a herd of nervous yearling bullocks.