Jüri Arrak gets foot driven off

He walks. On one leg plus two crutches. Briskly, for a man advanced in years. The artist, Jüri Arrak, is 77. Six weeks back, he got his foot driven off. Doctors say Mr Arrak might walk on his two legs in a year. Or later. But what happened, then, on June 18th?

7.30 am. The alarm goes off, awakening both Jüri and his wife Ivi Arrak – also an artist. After washing his face and brushing his teeth, Jüri starts the coffee machine. Ivi cooks some buckwheat porridge, served with tomatoes and cucumbers. To go with that, Jüri had a cup of coffee with honey. The couple then sat on the veranda to read newspapers.

Three surgeries

As a rule, Jüri heads to his atelier a bit after ten. He has many a work half finished. Donning his blue jeans, and a coat, he pushed his toes into some shoes. «Felt like a good old ordinary day,» he recalls.

At 10.45 am, he exited his Raua St flat and walked up to Narva Highway. At Tallinn University, it was time to get across the street – to the tram stop.

The car in the right lane pulled to a stop. He took his initial steps. Bang! There went a black Toyota, right over the left foot of Mr Arrak. A hundredth later, the side mirror bumped into the artist’s left-side ribs. The hit was heavy, the mirror left hanging by its cords. Jüri fell unto his back, bleeding. Out of the trouser leg, fibula and tibia’s end stuck out. The foot was not connected but by a piece of skin. «The asphalt was bloody. I just took a brief glance, I don’t stomach blood,» says the artist.

He tried to stand up. «Don’t move the leg, don’t move the leg,» shouted a lady. Called Marika. She knelt on the asphalt, holding his head in her lap. Her face Jüri does not remember. All he recalls is an arm, in a red coat, and a female voice. As advised by Marika, Jüri screamed. And felt his pockets. Fumbling for the phone. Out of the Toyota, there jumped a man in his 50ies asking «что случилось (what happened – edit)?». In shock, the driver called an ambulance.  

At the instant of the accident, Ivi was taking a shower. Stepping out, she heard the phone ringing. It was Jüri, but the man was not speaking. He was screaming. Ivi run down the stars. «I thought he was run over in front of the house,» explains the wife.

Tallinn Cares... for cars

Ivi went back up, got dressed and dried her hair. Wondering what happened. She called a cab. In a few minutes, Jüri ringed again. «I was on board the ambulance, had gotten mine injections. I could calmly speak,» he explains. Morphine? «I’ve no idea what they gave me,» grins the man. The shot was into spinal cord, after that he felt no pain.

As the ambulance ground to a halt at East-Tallinn Central Hospital, Ivi at the same instant stepped out her taxi. The artist underwent two and a half hours of surgery. «The surgeon tinkered with it like a clocksmith … Must have worked like a genius, as all the bones were broken,» said Jüri. After the operation was over, the orthopaedic surgeon Dmitri Golovin came to see Jüri Arrak. He said it had been hard work indeed, patching it all up. Move a toe, he begged. «Oh! It works! Very good!» shouted the happy doc. Explaining: the nerve was intact, the foot was functioning.

«A precision mechanic, the boy is. Oh my! Well... a man, I mean – not a boy. But compared to me they’re boys all of ‘em,» goes the grateful Jüri. All in all, there were three surgeries and Jüri was an in-patient for 40 long days. Just the time needed for Ivi to paint «Ootamatus» [A Suddenly] to depict what her man went through.

Jüri extends his thanks to Marika. «The greatest help was her not letting me move,» says Jüri. «There are the people who stop to help,» adds Ivi, at his side. The two are troubled to think that Jüri’s atelier is on 6th floor, and there ain’t no elevator. It is 120 steps up.

Finally, the Arraks have this to say: Tallinn needs to have its traffic thoroughly rearranged. They are bothered by the scarcity of traffic lights, and that for cyclists and pedestrians safety is mere theory, the town comfy for cars alone. The couple thinks this isn’t normal. «For a year, Jüri can only ride the streets in wheelchair. How do I get him up the kerbs?» wonders the wife.