The water wasn’t cold, or limpid as I expected it to be…it looked just like coffee cream and sugar. I knew that I had very little time to swim to the surface before I could be bitten by one of the hundreds of alligators who where now probably swimming around or close to me….
The boat I just rented was circling over my head, about 18 feet from where I was now. I had fallen from the boat into the muddy Everglades water and I was trying to escape the situation as fast as I could. As I reached the bottom of the river I pushed hard on my heels and sprung in to the surface just in time to see the small boat heading in my direction.
I crossed both arms over my head and face,trying to protect myself. I heard a thud, but no pain. Somehow I manage to swim to the pier where someone lifted me up and layed me face up.
All the cameras I brought to take pictures of the alligators were now in the bottom of the river and I was laying there, frightened and cold, trying to understand what had really happened to me.
I looked over my right shoulder… “Oh my God!! I could see the bone. My shoulder was ripped open and blood was floving slowly…but the sight of the bone threw me into desperation, as I thought that my arm was gone or about to be gone. I cried like a baby repeating “please do no cut my arm….”
As the helicopter dispatched there from the nearest hospital hoovered over me I remember thinking that I was badly hurt. I was indeed. The propeller had chopped me up here and there. The worst wound wasn’t the shoulder though…the tendons of the right index were sewered badly, leaving my finger dangling on the side of my hand.
When the paramedic picked me up to place me into the stretcher he could not hide an expression on his face that meant “Oh man you look really bad….”.
When I reached the helicopter I repeated once more: “please do not cut my arm…” and I passed out…
FOURTY EIGHT HOURS OF FEAR
When I woke up in my hospital bed I could hardly move. I was in pain. The doctor came and gave me an update on my wounds… his voice was calm and steady:
” Your left index’s tendons are gone. You have a deep cut on the right forearm and we placed thirthy stitches on it.Two more cuts on your head, and the worst wound is on your right shoulder…. We must wait and see..the propeller was rusty…if infection should develop in the next fourtyeight hours, we will have to cut your arm…I’m sorry.”
So I went trough the next two days hoping that the infection did not affect my wound: I was in intensive care and in terrible pain. Every four hours the nurse would come in to give me a shot to ease the pain and it worked well,that shot put me to sleep…but when the fourth hour was approaching I would beg for the next one, just to get rid of the excriciating pain I was experimenting in that hospital bed…eight thousand miles away from home.
I had left Italy just a few days before. I was on vacation for a week and I decided to come to Florida to capture pictures of wildlife in the beautiful Everglades Park.
The accident had put me in a very odd situation: I could not tell my folks back in the Old Country that I was in the hospital. It would have not done anyhting good to me have them worring about my health status. So I decided for a lie.
I called them up and told them that I was going to stay in South Florida one or two more weeks, because I was having a real great time.
Only when I went back eighteen days later they understood that I was trying to keep my wounds for myself.
The two days finally passed and the doctor came back with the verdict of no infection. I came to realize the value of every little part of my body. I thanked God for my feet, my arms, my eyes…my entire life which I was taking for granted up to the very moment I fell into the Everglades and came out a new person, wounded in the body yet healed in the spirit.
I went back home after the ordeal. I was a young photojournalist trying to establish myself as such. The year of the accident was 1986 the day was November the 8th.