‘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

Cosmopolitan (Australia) - - Contents -

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.

Rid­ing high

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.

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