Nathan Mullins is an ex-cop, ex-soldier, ex-security consultant and an Australian Aid International volunteer, so he's experienced all sorts of dangerous stuff involving guns, explosions, surgical procedures, combat, sword-play, rioting and other potentially life-threatening behaviours all over the world. He has been lucky to survive some of his assignments and hijinks so he decided to share a few cautionary tales so everyone else can learn from his near misses.
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How to Amputate a Leg
And Other Ways to Stay Out of Trouble
By Nathan Mullins
Allen & UnwinCopyright © 2009 Nathan Mullins
All rights reserved.
Captive to experience
8 out of 10 people who own samurai swords are wankers
I'm going to have to start this book by apologising. I know there are people reading this chapter title right now saying, 'Yeah, but he's not talking about me.' Well, I'm sorry, but, in my opinion, if you own a samurai sword, there is a better than good chance that you are, unfortunately, a wanker.
I have not just invented this; unfortunately, I have come to believe this through bitter experience. We are all captive to our experiences and when it comes to people who own samurai swords, mine are all bad. As a general duties police officer you are called to all manner of incidents that occur in shops, factories, hotels, public facilities, hospitals, you name it. If something goes really wrong in our lives, we call the police, and, by and large, the police respond, either by talking on the phone or by physically attending. Often, before anyone else can go and try to fix the problem, the general duties police officer must first go and check it out. We seem to call the police for everything nowadays, not just crime. Neighbour's dog is barking — call the police. Somebody stole your parking spot yesterday — call the police. Noisy party down the street — call the police. Cat is stuck somewhere — call the police. Car is parked across the road and you haven't seen it in the area before — call the police. Had an argument with your sister — call the police. In many households people have forgotten that, as members of society, we are allowed to have animated arguments with family members without registering said argument with a state or federally administered agency.
Strangely, this sort of thing did not frustrate me the way it did some of my colleagues, and you become very good at dealing with people — smart people, not so smart people, good people and bad people, the insane and charming and downright rude and obnoxious. I enjoyed walking into a situation, looking around, speaking for a minute or two, watching how people interact with each other, and then making my assessment. My assessment was never about who was right and who was wrong, because in domestic arguments that was never clear. My assessment just gave me an idea of the things I had to say. Some people needed to be agreed with. Some people needed to be argued against. Some people wanted to feel righteous, and some people just needed us to listen to their side of the story, nothing else, just listen. The idea was to leave the house, hotel, park, hospital, apartment or whatever not having to return, and without anyone handcuffed. You might not think this is true, but for police officers, that's the best possible result.
But, back to my reason for the samurai sword = wanker statement. Responding to all these incidents necessitates you entering people's homes (and usually they aren't expecting guests), and I can tell you, very often when I went to the house of a person who was causing some sort of trouble — someone who was violent or about to be arrested on a warrant, or was difficult, obnoxious, drunk and yelling at the neighbours, or otherwise a knob — there was a samurai sword present, either hanging on the wall in the hallway or in the lounge or bedroom. In the case of criminals, or people who, for some reason, live in perpetual fear of attack and therefore require the use of a sword at a moment's notice, the sword would be left leaning against the wall, inside the door, or, alternatively, next to the bed. Wankers all.
I will illustrate my hypothesis (can I call this a hypothesis?) with examples. One day I was working in the western suburbs of Melbourne with Vince, a really cool policeman. I always enjoyed working with Vince because he was steady and courageous (not all police are particularly courageous) and he didn't make stupid ego-based decisions (some do make stupid ego-based decisions). Vince was very direct and was willing to put himself at risk for the job. Also, and more importantly, he was good fun to be around.
OK, so Vince and I respond to an incident where an adult male has been drinking all morning, has thrown his girlfriend out of their house, smashed the house up and threatened violence on anybody who approached the house. Uncool. The girlfriend has also contacted the psych services that have been treating him for depression. (We will talk about mental illness and police interaction with the mentally ill many times before you have finished this book.)
When we get to the house the girlfriend is crying and looks like he has been bashing her about, but she will not say that. She says he was not directly violent to her, but needs the police because she's really worried he will either hurt himself or the psych doctors when they turn up. She's waiting just down the street from the house, so we ask her for all the information we need to make an assessment of the situation before we go into the house to talk to this guy. She's definitely scared, not just putting on a turn for the police, and she tells us that he has been thinking about suicide lately, though he hasn't actually said he will kill himself today. He's an ex-army guy, so, having some army experience myself, I propose to just go in and try to talk to him, guy to guy, soldier to soldier, whatever will appeal. Remember, the best result for us is if we speak calmly and leave in a few minutes with nobody in handcuffs or hurt.
The girlfriend gives me the keys to the house and tells me he has a number of samurai swords inside. Bingo. Wanker. Of course, I had already pegged this guy as a wanker anyway, for hitting his girlfriend. Oh, and naturally he hasn't got one sword, he has a number of them. He must be quite the connoisseur. Well, at this point many police will pull back, call in a police tactical team, get a supervisor, air support and extra police to set up a cordon, get an ambulance and fire brigade on standby, and then go home because the shift has ended.
Now, I am not brave, and I will repeat this many times in this book, but that response is just ridiculous. I will at least go and have a talk to the bloke and see how he is. I would prefer to open the door, go in and say hello and see if we can get to the bottom of this without involving every other police resource in the state of Victoria. I don't think I'm wrong in that approach. I'm hoping to appeal to him by talking about the army, finding some common ground, appearing as friendly and nonconfrontational as possible. If he comes at me with a sword I will run away. No problem. Also, and this is a big also, I have a gun. In any computer game or Hollywood film you have ever seen, guns beat swords. Every time. If they didn't, I suppose I would have carried a sword all those years, instead of a .38 Special.
Anyway, Vince goes around the back and I go to the front door, call the guy's name and announce myself. No response, but fair enough as there is REALLY loud thrash music playing. I look in the large lounge-room window and see that the guy is sitting on a couch facing away from me, leaning forward, with his head in his hands. He doesn't exactly look like he's ready to repel any advance we might make into his house, and seems calm. I give Vince about 30 seconds to get around the back and then put the key in the front door. Vince comes up on the radio to tell me he has entered the back door and is in the kitchen.
Then the girlfriend runs up and says, 'He used to have an old pistol in the house. I don't think he has it anymore. I haven't seen it in a long time. I don't even know if it works. Sorry, I should have told you before.' Ahh, yeah, you should have. Well, Vince is inside now and I'm concerned that he will confront the guy any second. I tell Vince what's going on via the radio.
I open the door and walk right up behind the guy. He's totally oblivious. In a situation like this we always have a good look around the general area to see if there is anything close by that could be utilised as a weapon. Well, yeah, the two unsheathed samurai swords sitting on the couch next to him could count as weapons. I can't see anything else around that's more dangerous than the swords, but I can't see everything on the low table in front of him. I'm more than slightly concerned about the situation as Vince pops his head around the corner from the kitchen. The guy has not seen him because he still has his head in his hands. I draw my revolver and aim it squarely at the back of the guy's head. Vince can see what I'm doing and has obviously cottoned on to the situation. We don't usually pull guns out just as a conversation starter, although that ALWAYS does start a conversation.
A few seconds pass as Vince weighs up the situation. I quickly change the game plan because I believe it is better for me just to shut up and stay behind the guy and be ready to trump any move he might make. Really, I have a gun pointed to the back of his head, so, ultimately, only one person is going to get hurt if he tries anything.
Vince announces his presence and the guy makes a move. People say it over and over, but it really is amazing, in critical situations, how much time you seem to have to think through the circumstances and analyse the situation. The guy doesn't go for one of the two swords sitting either side of him. Now, this gets me thinking. He must have something he thinks is better than the swords. The wheels turn in my head and I come up with ... gun.
He's reaching forward to the coffee table in front of him and there, mostly covered by a newspaper, is the handgrip of a pistol. I race forward, hit him in the back of the head with my revolver and yell, 'Don't you fucking dare or I'll blow your head off!'
Well, it does the trick. He knows I have the drop on him and he leans back. I assume he correctly assessed the heavy metal object that impacted the back of his head was my gun. I grab the two swords and throw them behind me. Vince comes forward and grabs the gun. It's an imitation Browning pistol. Wanker. He was just about killed going for a fake pistol.
The guy was actually quite calm immediately after this and we didn't even handcuff him. He was alright, really, and the correct action in this situation was exactly what we did, which was to get him psychiatric care.
Despite the fact that he had been seconds away from a shoot-out with police that he was definitely undergunned for, and that I had belted him in the back of the head and threatened to kill him, we were all instant mates. Vince and I didn't feel any angst towards this guy, he was clearly mentally ill, and he was quite happy with the way we treated him. In fact, when the psych services arrived and started to talk to him, he was very complimentary about us and obviously hostile to them. Hmmm, maybe he had a clear picture about some things ...
* * *
That is not the only samurai sword = wanker story that led me to develop my hypothesis. On another occasion I was called to assist some other police officers with the arrest of a suspect and processing of a hydroponic marijuana crop. It would stun you to know how many of these things are out there in the suburbs of capital cities around Australia. It is big business, relatively easy money for the criminals involved, and society (through the courts) has tended to take a pretty relaxed view about it. The fact remains, it is largely organised by criminal gangs that are into all manner of crimes, and they use the profits and infrastructure associated with these networks to organise much more serious crimes.
My job on this day is to be there to control the arrested suspect. I walk in after the other police have arrested this guy. He's about 6 feet tall, medium build and probably around 30 years old. Everything has gone very smoothly, and he's in handcuffs. As I walk in through the front entrance hallway of the nice middle-class house, I see the Wanker's Pennant hanging from the wall: a full size samurai sword. Great. However, the guy is calm and cooperating, so I am too. I'm polite and relaxed with the guy. It's easier for everyone if police treat suspects in a civil manner. There is nothing to be gained by the police acting all high and mighty in this situation. We are already walking around his house, poking about as we please, looking through his personal belongings, while he is sorrowful, in handcuffs, thinking about the turn his life has just taken. No need to gloat. Also, very soon police have to conduct a formal interview with him, and there's no need to get him all hot under the collar before that process, which can take a long time. It can also take two hours or so just to remove the hydroponics equipment and associated evidence from the house.
By this time, his parents have arrived and are very perplexed. They legally own the house but don't live there, so they're not responsible for the marijuana crop. However, at the end of the day, I believe they would have known what was happening, as they lived just around the corner and even a cursory look around the inside of the house told you what was going on. After about half an hour of sitting in a relaxed position on a couch, the suspect decides he wants to leave as he believes this situation is causing him and his mother way too much stress and anxiety. He says, 'That's enough now, I'm leaving and you have to let me go outside. I know my rights and you can't keep me here.'
To which I naturally reply, 'Yep, sure mate. Just bend over a bit so I can undo those pesky handcuffs and you're free to go.'
He doesn't get the joke and bends over.
'Mate, you're under arrest. You're not going anywhere. Just relax, it won't be long before we get this thing over with.'
He's not having it and tries to stand up. I put my hand firmly on his shoulder and push him back down. Not happening. He realises that he's not going to win the stand-up-while-a-large-policeman-pushes-you-down competition and sits down for a minute, but is obviously agitated. I leave my hand on his shoulder, pressing firmly.
'Seeing me here like this is causing my mother great stress. I am going.'
Then he says it. 'If this causes my mother stress I'm going to take that sword off the wall and cut you up, you fucking blah, blah, blah ...'
His tirade goes on for about a minute, and frankly I tune out as I couldn't really care what this guy says to me. As you can imagine, it's pretty rare that somebody comes up with a new insult for a police officer. There is certainly nothing new in what this guy is saying. However, threatening me, while handcuffed and in my care, is ridiculous. Also, I don't like it.
Clearly, this causes his mother more distress than anything that has happened to that point.
Yeah, right. I smile and lean down to whisper in his ear.
'Your mother can leave anytime she likes. You and I are staying here, then I am personally taking you to the police cells. If you threaten to kill me again, I'll make you wish you hadn't.'
I have a gleam in my eye when he looks up at me. There is always quite a bit of theatre in how I interact with people in these matters. Making people believe you're some sort of unhinged, sadistic psychopath is much easier and safer than actually being one. He looks at me and shuts up. He's probably thinking about the long night he has ahead of him, in police cells, with me to look after him.
A few minutes later he tries a new tactic. Well, it's new to him, but police officers see it all the time. He starts getting the shakes then goes into a sort of seizure, or at least what he thinks going into a seizure looks like. He is totally uncommunicative, frothing at the mouth and writhing around on the ground making guttural noises. I don't do a thing. I don't even acknowledge it as he bounces around the floor, thrashing his legs about. A couple of the other police officers who are present look at me, wondering if I'm going to take some action to assist him. Instead, I sort of look away as if I'm suddenly really interested in the crappy art hanging from the walls in the house.
After about 30 seconds of maximum effort he's exhausted. I still have hardly even looked in his direction. He suddenly stops in a weird position with his hands still secured behind his back and says, 'Aren't you going to do anything?'
I smile. 'Nope. But I'm glad you're better now.'
* * *
That story, and a number of others just like it, where the common thread was a wanker owning a samurai sword, was exactly why I came up with this hypothesis.
So yeah, I admit that I don't actually have any statistics, but you'll have to take it from me that most people who have samurai swords are wankers. I have guessed about 8 out of 10. I was going to say 9 out of 10 but thought that was a bit extreme, really. There must be legitimate samurai sword owners. Though, I must admit it took me a while to think of a legitimate reason to have a sword kicking around the house. I mean, you don't use them to cut up the carrots for the evening meal or for pruning in the garden. A Stanley knife is generally more useful for most odd jobs around the house.
Excerpted from How to Amputate a Leg by Nathan Mullins. Copyright © 2009 Nathan Mullins. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
There are a few things you should know,
CHAPTER 1 Captive to experience,
2 Mental illness,
3 How to amputate a leg,
4 The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. That, and white-tailed spiders.,
5 You can't judge a book by its multiple rows of flesh-ripping teeth,
6 29-year-old teenager,
7 Laugh, and the whole world laughs with you, but then crying will make you look sensitive to women,
8 Practise critical observation,
9 Battle inoculation,
10 Cultural differences,
11 There is no such thing as bad conditions, only bad equipment,
12 You got this far, now the easy bit,
Really, you can't go further,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
How to Amputate a Leg is not about leg amputation despite containing a brief version of the medical procedure. It is actually a collection of non-fiction tales from Nathan Mullins' adventures as a humanitarian, police officer, soldier, and security consultant. Typically, a chapter is made up of several short stories that revolve around a specific theme. Some of the included themes are mental illness, fear, maturity, maintaining a sense of humor in times of adversity, paying attention, keeping calm, respecting cultural differences, having knowledge of your equipment, and the benefits of helping others. All of these topics apply well in emergency situations, but they apply equally well to everyday life. The stories were interesting, and I laughed out loud on multiple occasions. If you are looking for a fun, non-fiction read that also teaches you some good life concepts, pick up a copy of Nathan Mullins' How to Amputate a Leg.