The first time I was shot, was on accident.
I was on Hungarian military base in Hungary, not far outside of Budapest, being escorted by two Military Police to see the base commander, a staunch anti-communist who’d been chief in constructing a military base to mitigate the risk presented by terrorism in the form of Chechnya militants wandering outside their territory and down to former Soviet block nations.
I was being brought in back in 2003 to teach some of the Hungarian locals to hack, locals which consisted of both military and civilian personnel.
So on this foggy evening, I left the hostel I was staying at – The “Marco Polo” hostel – a ‘lower rent’ place I had been put up in to avoid raising the suspicion of anyone who might be keeping an eye out for someone like me at the local area hotels, and just after dusk found myself at Memento Park.
Ironic, that the place the Hungarians kept to remember the events with the Soviet Union was one and the same place used as an entrance for a then secret underground base that had been dug out under this park set up as a museum.
I showed up at the gates about an hour after closing, when the plain clothes military types walked up to the gate, where I told them who I was, they’d been expecting me – and immediately let me through.
“America,” one of them yelled, high fiving me. “You will teach us how to hack, no?”
I laughed. So much for compartmentalization here.
With all the old school communist elements in the park, as I was being escorted by two men wielding rifles, to say I felt entirely safe would be a stretch. And with the jovial attitude unlike more westernized military, I can’t say I really felt comfortable at all. But I rolled it.
The ground was a thick loose gravel, and wasn’t easy to walk on, and while one of the guys tried carrying on a conversation about computers, about the time I noticed the other had his strap on far too loosely and was bouncing his rifle off his right leg when “kapow”.
I heard it and saw the light of the muzzle flash before I felt it.
His firearm had accidentally discharged, as a bullet had ricocheted off a rock on the ground and reflected upwards, hitting me about 4 inches below my right knee embedding itself firmly in my muscle.
I screamed in pain as I went down.
“My leg, my leg,” I yelled.
Their demeanor changed rapidly. Whatever just happened was clearly not planned.
And they reacted well.
One looked at the wound, which wasn’t bleeding as much as expected, and looked at the other and said something in Hungarian.
The other looked at me and said “We have medic inside. We take you there.”
My pain was quickly subsiding, seguing to a little bit of anger that I was in this position to begin with.
“Fine. Help me up, “ I said – as the soldier took my hand and pulled me up.
“You are one heavy guy,” he said, nervously.
I didn’t say anything as I worked to push myself up.
Draping me over their shoulders, I hobbled with them making sure my computer came with me. I think I was more afraid of my computer being left behind or damaged than I was my own leg at the time, but to say I was a little miffed was an understatement.
The opening for the small but impressive facility was at the back of the park, as far away from the main road as possible, as the soldiers quickly pulled me down a massive flight of stairs that had been positioned well. I could see there was another ‘rock’ off to the side that was clearly a large and hidden elevator too, but in this case, the stairs were clearly faster to descend.
We went down, and into a doorway as the spartan and cheaply furnished park segued to a massive set of doors that seemed like they were made to withstand some rather large bombs, nothing nuclear mind you, as we went inside the first level of the multilevel facility.
It was then I could see this medium sized facility was VERY well equipped and no expenses were spared for it. I don’t know who was funding the operation but they were clearly very well funded, as we were greeted by a number of people in uniform this time who’d heard – and seen the shot and had come to help.
There were enough personnel at the facility which included a full time doctor and nurse, who quickly pulled me into a medical ‘bay’ for lack of better words, which could have substituted for a storage room had it not been for the lighting and a handful of medical equipment to handle basic injuries such as the one I’d just received.
The doctor had the nurse help me off with my jeans, as the doctor took a quick look at the wound, and felt around it. I winced, in pain. I wasn’t in agony, and like I said I was more angry at the soldier’s screw up than I was anything else, but I kept telling myself “It was an accident, it was an accident”.
“It’s in there about a centimeter deep,” the doctor said, “I’ll apply a local anesthetic”
I wasn’t being brave, I’d just had enough dealings with local with dentistry to know that sometimes, it’s just easier to get it over with than wait for an anesthetic to take effect.
“Just dig it out, dammit,” I said with my teeth clenched.
Everyone looked at me.
“Are you sure, It’s going to be very painful,” The Doctor said.
“I’m sure. Just dig it out,” I commanded.
The Doctor looked around for authority to proceed, but he was it.
And I was his patient.
“Ok,” he said.
After about 7 minutes of him digging with his instruments, and after making a few minor incisions, while I’ve felt worse pain, it’s one of those rare moments I just couldn’t look at what was going on. Looking at what he was doing made it far more painful than what I was feeling. So I quit looking.
And thankfully. It ended.
Well. The bullet being extracted.
And the 5 stitches that ensued felt more painful than the bullet extracting, which felt more like a relief.
It was when the stitches were being placed in that the base commander showed up, a man by the name of Cmir Papp. And yeah. His first name was pronounced “Smear”, and placing his last name first – Papp Smear. If you’re from the United States you might understand the reason I found his name funny in this weird instance.
In any case. After explaining the course of events, and talking privately with my escorts, I can’t tell you how many times I was apologized to and was asked if I wanted to go see a western doctor to which I refused.
After that, I got a partial tour of the facility before the class began, which I chose to walk for as much of it as I could – they followed with a wheelchair which I used a couple times.
And while I’m bad with square footage, I’d estimate it was about 40,000 square feet total in size, with four levels I was allowed to visit, and a fifth level that was strictly off limits.
They’d already planned a regal dinner – I’d been treated to a wonderful steak dinner they’d prepared. They clearly had a wonderful chef with them, and as I learned the man was also a part of the military there. I’d openly wondered why the US military food fare – while decent – tended to always be so exceedingly bland.
They’d already planned on treating me well, and the night surprisingly went pretty smoothly after that despite the fact I sat for most of my presentation.
But what I found most interesting – most intriguing was – it was one of the few instances that I ever presented ‘how to’ on hacking to a room with a majority of women in the crowd.
There were about 20 people were in attendance. Of a variety of age ranges from 18 to about 50.
And of those 20. Only 4 were men.
One of them the guy who’d shot me.
Towards the end of class, I jokingly quipped “And if any of you get in trouble for the things I’m teaching you how to do, don’t shoot me.”
I think only two of them laughed.
And not the guy who’d shot me.
To this day. I have a scar where the bullet hit me.
As for how it happened.
The soldier had been toying with his rifle out of boredom, and had left the rifle half cocked when the taxi drove up and in his excitement to meet me, he’d forgotten to uncock it.
I came to forgive the kid by choosing to be flattered for his reaction to my presence.
And it was – really – after all – a silly and stupid accident.