"There was a loud tear and the whole scalp ripped... I was looking at the inside of my own face." - David Holland
Extract from 'to hell and back' by Gary Tippet http://www.theage.com.au/news/in-depth/to-hell-and-beyond/2007/05/26/1179601723901.html
He wore his straight black hair in a pony-tail that hung just below his shoulders, but at work he folded and rolled it into a bun that sat on the back of his head like a small fist.
It was just 9am, but already oven hot. He was bathed in sweat, mixed with black, peaty dirt. The dessicating wind gusted and skittered across the empty subdivision. It must have flicked a little of his hair out of its bun and as he straightened he felt a couple of tiny tugs as a few strands blew into the orbit of the auger.
Then it grabbed the rest. Dave's head slammed sideways into the unguarded drill. He felt it bounce once against the rotating auger and his right ear began to rip away.
When it happened, it took seconds. But in his memory and flashbacks it goes forever, like an interior movie run in surround sound and cruel slow-motion so he doesn't miss a detail:
As his hair knotted tighter, he'd stretched for the controls. The lever that controlled the auger did not operate as hold-to-run, so the drill had kept rotating even while his hands were off it. He couldn't reach the emergency stop button. "At that moment I experienced total terror," he says. "I believed there was nothing I could do and I was going to die.
"I'm slammed into the rig and it's turning full-pelt . . . I don't know what was louder: the sound of the engine screaming or the sound of flesh and tendons tearing.
"I knew my ear had just been torn off. At this stage it was still connected at the base of the ear lobe and hanging down by a thread of skin."
Dave was in a red haze of pain but knew he had to get some sort of control. He twisted his body to bring himself face-on to the rig as it dragged him upwards. A patch of skin between his right ear and eye ripped away. He felt the auger catch a nerve - "this gristly thing" - beside the ear and pluck it out.
His face was millimetres from the spinning metal and somehow he noticed its edges were marred by sharp nicks and dents. "I remember, in slow-motion, a splinter piece of metal protruding off the auger and piercing into my right eye and slicing across the eye ball."
All he could think to do was pull until his hair broke. He lowered his head until it was banging into the auger and it was gouging a crater the size of a 20-cent coin into his skull. He braced himself: "I've got my palms on both edges of the staff, I've got one foot up on the rig and I'm pushing off with every bit of strength I had. I'm putting everything into it.
"In my mind's eye I'm trying to break the hair. But the first thing that went was the back of the scalp. I felt it go. I heard a tear and then felt this extraordinary cold chill and I started to realise my scalp was coming off."
At that moment, Dave heard two short, sharp cracks from near the base of his skull. They reverberated down his back and he knew he'd just broken his neck.
For years one of the things he most feared was becoming quadriplegic and now it seemed to be happening. But somehow he was still standing.
"When I think back to it I recall the degrees of pain and wonder why I was still functioning," he says. "I'm no special man: I pale and run and hide from pain the same as anyone else. But I had no choice. I guess I put the remaining fear away and kept pulling."
It was either that or, as he says now, get turned into mashed potato.
"I remember putting in a hell-mission of strength. I heard another tear and my head could move a little. I was still pushing, there was a loud tear and the whole scalp ripped from the back forward and I was looking at the inside of my own face as it pulled away from my skull to the end of my nose."
As he jerked free, Dave spun in a semi-circle. He was determined to stay on his feet because if he went to ground, he suspected, he wouldn't get up.
Blood was spurting from his skull and what was left of his face seemed to droop loosely over his cheekbones. He pulled it up so he could see. When he turned back, his scalp was flapping on the rotating auger.
"Oh f---," he whispered. "Oh f---! Oh f---!"
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