‘When I woke up, my entire leg was missing’
ONE MORNING LEAH AND JOE WERE JUST A COUPLE OUT ON A DATE AT A THEME PARK. BY THE AFTERNOON, LEAH WAS FIGHTING FOR HER LIFE AFTER A RIDE ENDED IN DISASTER
I remember the day like it was yesterday: June 2, 2015. Joe and I had only been dating for a few months when we planned a day out together at a theme park.
We bought two Cokes, and headed straight for The Smiler – the one ride we’d come for. I looked up at the 30 metres of twisted metal that towered over us. We joined the queue and were told it was an hourandahalf wait. There had been a few technical issues. It had broken down a few times earlier that day, but I told myself rides have technical difficulties all the time.
By the time we reached the front, a ride assistant told us the test cars they’d sent out had all come back safely. We climbed up into the very first carriage and the ride set off up the first ascent. I gripped the handlebars and looked at Joe. As our carriage reached the top, it halted suddenly. I knew we weren’t meant to stop. I assumed there were more issues and they’d had to pause. It took 15 minutes before the ride lurched on.
As we turned the corner, I was horrified to see the test car from earlier was still on the tracks. We were going to crash straight into it. I yelled, ‘NO! NO! NO!’ and then… there was blackness. Next thing I remember was the screaming. And the blood. The metal of the bars had folded into our bodies.
In the 30 minutes we were stuck there, the feeling in my left leg started to disappear, and I could feel the bone in my knee poking through. I saw a pale square the size of a postage stamp on the car. With horror, I realised it was human flesh – probably mine.
I alternated between an eerie calm and total hysteria. All I wanted was to hold Joe’s hand, but there was no way I could: his little finger was hanging off his left hand, and the middle finger on his other one was broken.
Eventually, I was airlifted to hospital, and Joe was taken in an ambulance. I slipped in and out of consciousness. Oddly, I didn’t think about the fact I could no longer feel my feet or my left leg – I only thought, Where’s Joe?
I remember the flurry of nurses and doctors as we entered the hospital, but nothing more. By the time I woke up, it was the following evening, and my entire family were bent over my bed. They all wore sunglasses, despite the fact it was early evening. They couldn’t disguise the fact they’d all been crying. Then I knew it was serious.
I was surrounded with beeping machinery. I looked down at my body and there, where my left leg should have been, was empty space.
‘What’s happened to my leg?!’ I screamed. The doctor came over in a white coat. He had kind, sad eyes and spoke to me slowly. ‘I’m so sorry. I had to amputate your leg, it was so injured. It was the only way I could save you.’
I cried and cried. I made sounds I didn’t even know a human being could make. My mum held me while I shook. I’d never thought much about my left leg. Literally nothing. Ever. Now it was the only thing I wanted in the world. That, and Joe.
Love in the lurch
Joe came down to see me in intensive care the next day. It wasn’t the warm reunion you’d expect; it was cold and stilted. We had no words. Instead, his parents had to make conversation to fill the silence. The truth was, I wasn’t sure he’d want to be with me now. It was still very early days for us, and it would have been so easy for him to walk away. After all, what young guy would want to be with an amputee?
He said under his breath that he’d come to see me in a few days. I wasn’t so sure.
And yet, true to his word, he came to see me a few days later. He was in a wheelchair with his legs and arms in casts, and I was all wired up. We couldn’t touch or hug, but conversation flowed better. I wasn’t ready to talk about our relationship – the possibility of him not wanting to be with me was too much. Instead, we shared our versions of the crash and filled in the blanks.
Over the next few weeks, we had so much to deal with. Joe had numerous surgeries and I was in constant physio. We just focused on getting ourselves better. But it was always there in the back of my mind: Will he want me? We tried to act like things were normal, watching TV together in the hospital room, but there was nothing normal about our situation.
Then, after a few weeks, just like that, we finally discussed our relationship. I knew I wanted things to continue, I just wasn’t sure that Joe felt the same. But he turned to me and said there was no way he was going to let it get between us. Joe’s a kind guy, and while I wanted to believe him, there was, deep down, a part of me that couldn’t quite manage to. I thought he was just being responsible. He wanted to let me down gently. He would give it a few months and then realise he didn’t want to be with an amputee. At that moment in time, I was also beginning to see myself as someone not worthy of a relationship. It’s astonishing how quickly your identity can be smashed.
It was only a few days later that I found out my brother had spoken with Joe, alone. He had told him, ‘Please don’t feel you have to stay with her. If you can’t deal with it, it’s OK; Leah has us.’ I don’t know exactly what Joe said – we’ve never talked about it since – but he told my brother he wanted to stay with me.
And that was it. We were back – although under very different circumstances, of course. We took our time to get to know each other, slowly, all over again. Before, we’d been in the honeymoon phase, just showing our best sides. But after the accident, there was no pretence. We had no choice but to both be completely honest and share everything with each other.
Looking back, I think the crash brought us much closer. We’re part of something that will forever knit us together. Of course we both wish it never happened, but we’ve refused to let it ruin our lives and we’re determined to carry on. Joe graduated from university this year, and I’ve been working as a teaching assistant.
Joe and I both understand what the other one has been through in a way that no one else can. My injuries are more serious than his are, but he’s often in a lot of pain, so we don’t really see it in that way, and he’s always so considerate when I’m too tired to go out, or if I get insecure about not having my leg.
He always tells me I’m beautiful and that the way I look doesn’t make any difference to him. I don’t always believe him, but it’s still good to hear.
It’s funny, really. If this accident hadn’t happened, I don’t know if we would have lasted. University might have definitely put a strain on things, and I wonder if we would have fizzled out.
I honestly think we have a real chance of being together forever. Obviously we still bicker with each other, but after everything we’ve been through, an argument over what to watch on TV just doesn’t compare.
STILL TOGETHER, THROUGH GOOD TIMES AND BAD.