Gored Through the Neck Matador Who Cheated Death Makes His Comeback
Part 3: Miracle in the Arena
From an early age, matadors are constantly told not to get up if they fall to the ground. Those who stand up will more than likely be killed, whereas those who remain motionless stand a good chance of surviving. Bulls are not known to gore a matador in the back -- at least not usually. A matador who stays lying down has a chance, because his helpers will quickly run over to lure the animal away. Good matadors fight in the middle of the plaza, because it means that their assistants will have to cover the most ground to rescue them.
Perhaps, in the heat of the moment, Aparicio believed that he still had a little time left to get up. He will never quite remember the details of what happened next. He was sitting on the ground and he tried to avoid the bull by moving backward just a little. His head was bent slightly forward at about knee level. Opiparo, who had been tortured for about a quarter of an hour, turned around and ran toward Aparicio. He lowered his head, snorted, quickly approached the matador -- and rammed his right horn into Aparicio's neck, directly below his chin. The horn re-emerged from the matador's mouth. The resulting photo looks like a caricature of a bullfight.
The miracle, as it would later be called, was that Opiparo didn't do what comes naturally to a bull. He didn't shake his head back and forth. If he had, he would probably have ripped Aparicio's head to bits. Instead, the bull took a few steps forward, pulling Aparicio with him like a piece of beef on a hook. Then he pulled his horn out again.
At that moment, Aparicio's helpers arrived and distracted the bull. Everything happened so quickly -- in a matter of seconds -- that most of the people in the arena didn't even see it. Nevertheless, two fans with particularly good seats fainted at the sight of the goring.
'We Had to Act Fast'
A few minutes later, Aparicio was lying in the infirmary at the bullfighting arena.
"We had to act fact," says Máximo García Padrós. "They had placed a piece of cloth on his neck, and when I took it off, blood gushed out at me." García Padrós, the chief surgeon at the arena, is a calm, older man whose father held the same position. He is 62 and has been working at Las Ventas for 34 years. He has made it a habit to watch how the bull injures the matador, which makes it easier for him to decide what to do next. For that reason, the doctor always sits in the front row.
Aparicio lost a lot of blood very quickly. García Padrós had to stop the bleeding. The matador's entire mouth was shredded. The horn had penetrated below the left side of the face, passed through the lower jaw and split the tongue in half. Parts of the upper jaw were shattered. Five teeth were sitting loosely on the jaw and protruding horizontally out of Aparicio's mouth.
The doctor operated on Aparicio in the infirmary an hour later. He performed a tracheotomy and tried to stabilize Aparicio as quickly as possible so that he could be moved to a hospital. Four other doctors and two anesthesiologists were also in the room.
When García Padrós found a piece of the bull's horn in Aparicio's mouth, he placed it onto a gauze bandage and decided to keep it as a good-luck charm. The doctor is a little superstitious. If the horn had not reemerged through the mouth, perhaps puncturing an artery or the brain instead, his patient would now be dead.
But he didn't have much time to think about how lucky the man had been. Outside, the corrida continued. One of the doctors announced that another matador, the one who had killed Opiparo, had been gored by the second bull.
"It was one of those days," says García Padrós.
More Famous than His Father
By the time the ambulance left the bullfighting arena, the online editors of the Spanish newspaper El País had already placed the photo on the Internet. For the photographer, Cristóbal Manuel, it was the shot of a lifetime. He had simply pressed the shutter release when he saw Aparicio fall to the ground. The camera shot dozens of photos. When he looked at the display a short time later, he couldn't believe what he was seeing. The next day, the shot appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world. Julio Aparicio was now Spain's most famous matador, much more famous than his father had ever been.
He spent six hours in surgery that day. There were complications a few days later, but he recovered surprisingly quickly. The doctors ordered him not to speak for a while, but they also said that he would recover -- with nothing but a small scar. Every conversation ended with the comment that he had been incredibly lucky.
"Of course, I was overjoyed when I heard about his recovery," says Don Eduardo, the empresario of Pontevedra. He has taken off his white hat. He looks younger than 75, which is something he hears often. "You just have to keep moving, or else the bull will get you," he says. Don Eduardo has known Julito since he was a child. His brother and Julio Aparicio's father stood in the arena together in the 1950s. "I called Aparicio and asked him if he wanted to do Pontevedra. He said yes five minutes later. We're old friends." Don Eduardo recognized the story's potential right away. He's been in the business long enough to know how to make money with bulls.
- Part 1: Matador Who Cheated Death Makes His Comeback
- Part 2: A Celebration of Spain
- Part 3: Miracle in the Arena
- Part 4: A Story of Courage