Tag Archives: accident

What You Hold On To, Holds On To You

sunset

By John Maclean

I became an incomplete paraplegic at the age of 22, because of a road accident. Running was the thing I loved to do most in life and it was taken away from me in a split second without warning or consultation.

Meeting the man who put me in a wheelchair was not going to be easy. I didn’t feel anger towards him or crave retribution, but I was apprehensive about getting in touch with him, hearing his voice, seeing him in person. My concern was that it might be a negative experience—and that would make things worse for me, not better. But I also knew that if I didn’t face up to this I would never be free of it. I wanted to know what happened in the cabin of that truck just before it hit me and what the driver’s reaction had been and how his own life had turned out. I wanted to know for sure that it was an accident, that my paraplegia was an unfortunate consequence of a random event.

Dialling the number was extremely difficult. It was nothing compared to facing up to the injuries I’d suffered when I woke up in the spinal unit at the local Hospital, but I had no choice but to keep going then. Facing the man who put me in a wheelchair was another issue altogether. I would be putting the ball squarely in his court and that was both risky and confronting. Continue reading

The Accident That Changed My Life (Part 2)

165Click here to read Part 1.

By Margaret Westley

My optimism carried me through the extent of my six week hospitalization. Life in a hospital is far from easy, but amazing medical care, family, and friends supported me through multiple surgeries and challenging rehabilitation therapy. However, optimism would only take me so far. And like with any traumatic event in life, a person needs to take time to heal.

More surgeries followed the summer after my accident. One morning I noticed a wound had appeared on my residual limb and it turned out to be an infection that traveled to my bone. More bone would have to be amputated. Though I knew the surgery was necessary, I was tired – tired of surgeries and setbacks preventing me from scheduling an appointment with the person who would fit me for my first prosthetic limb.

A shift occurred. Instead of letting myself feel disappointed, I looked for ways to control the situation and prevent myself from feeling sad. I started with eating as little as possible. Being hospitalized only increased my odds for losing more weight. Eating was the last thing from my mind. The fact my wrists were getting thinner and my stomach more flat were pluses in my eyes. I started to tell everyone I was too tired to eat.

At the grocery store, I started checking labels and counting calories too closely. Low fat, fat free, low carb, carb free were my favorite categories. Though I was a size four/six, the Slim Fast Plan became my new best friend.

Externally, I was upbeat and smiled, but inside I wondered why I had started to be afraid to cross busy streets, and why I trembled during class and why when I looked at a line in one of the textbooks all of the words looked the same. Most people had made positive comments about my weight loss, but I’d already decided I was not yet thin enough. So I joined a gym and survived on coffee, bananas, and diet cereal.

The gym became my refuge where I worked out two or three times a day, and when I felt lightheaded I sat on the toilet in the bathroom until I stopped feeling like I was going to black out. I rarely went to class, but when I did, the bathrooms at school called to me. The quiet in between the stalls was one of the few places I felt safe.

I didn’t yet know eating disorders were a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I didn’t even know what PTSD was.

The crash came. My bed was a close second to the gym as my favorite place to be. Everyone thought I’d gotten too thin. I couldn’t balance a full time school schedule, appointments with doctors, lawyers, prosthetists on top of learning how to walk all over again. People began to tell me I was too thin, encircling my emaciated wrists with their fingers to prove I was not eating enough. There were too many questions, and I didn’t have all of the answers.

Withdrawing from school, in my eyes, was the only option. Since I no longer was a student and did not live in the dorms, I sought the guidance of my mentor who had a friend who owned a bar with a boarding house on top of it. The next chapter of my life started in a room the size of a closet. The quiet comforted and frightened me at the same time. I knew it was time to listen to what it was my body needed.

At times, it felt like my world was crumbling, but I knew I would not have made it that far had I not had hope. I found a therapist who specialized in PTSD and eating disorders. She told me I could be sad, mad even, and that I wasn’t crazy. I just needed to take the time to heal.

Yoga became a life saver. I stumbled across the first class I ever took in the East Village. Interestingly enough, I was not nervous. It was as if my body knew being on a yoga mat was where it belonged. At the end of class after the deep relaxation the teacher said, “namaste” and I burst into tears. I knew then yoga and other mindfulness based modalities would be a part of my life forever.

People often want to know about my healing process. Process is a word I prefer instead of overcoming because I don’t want to overcome anything. I want to learn how to be. My amputated leg isn’t going to grow back anytime soon and to be honest, I wouldn’t want it to. I focus not on what I lack, but what still remains.

Life continues to be challenging. My residual limb swells when it’s hot outside and shrinks on a cooler day making it difficult to walk a lot of the time. Phantom limb sensation and spasms are constants. I get tired more easily than before and bed time rarely is past 9:30 pm.

A little over a decade has passed since the accident happened. Sometimes it feels like it was twenty years ago, and there are days where I am shocked it wasn’t just yesterday. I have some regrets, but being hit isn’t one of them. No matter what day it is, I take the time to connect. In the morning, I lie on my back and breathe. Sometimes I cry. A lot of the time I smile. Laughter happens often. There is no shame. Just one incredible journey.

* * *

mwestleyMargaret Westley is a writer, fundraiser, certified integrative nutritionist, and yoga teacher. Each of these professions were inspired by a near death accident she had when she was eighteen years old and got run over by a bus, which resulted in a broken right ankle and losing her left leg below the knee. Though the recovery was tough, Margaret has always seen the accident has a huge gift! Over the years, she’s been a face-to-face fundraiser, worked in a café, been an office assistant, a healthcare attendant, meditation/yoga teacher, and is currently building a fundraising business and writing a memoir. Everyday, something or someone reminds her about how amazing life is and, for that, she is eternally grateful.

The Accident that Changed My Life

800px-Two_ambulances_at_nightBy Margaret Westley

Getting run over by a bus during Freshman year of college had not been part of my plan. I came to New York City to attend a small liberal arts school to study Sociology with hopes of becoming a social worker. Second semester had gotten off to a good start. I was re-acclimating myself to a class schedule and set a few goals. I wasn’t going to party as much as I had during first semester. I gave myself a curfew and aimed for perfect attendance. I felt the need to reinvent myself, and finally after years of being heavy, I was going to lose weight.

One evening while walking back to the dorm room with one of my roommates I stepped off of a curb and was run over by a bus.The driver was speeding while making a left hand turn. He wasn’t looking so he missed seeing me in the crosswalk. The bus hit my shoulder and threw me to the ground, pinning my left foot underneath one of it’s wheels. As a result of the accident, I broke my right ankle and badly damaged my left limb, which eventually had to be amputated six inches below the knee. Within one moment, my life changed forever. It would never be the same again.

Over the years, people have told me I am crazy when I say, “I kind of asked for the accident to happen.” I’m thrown a look of shock and asked how I could say such a thing. Because it’s true. Here’s why. Three days before I got hit I was talking to the roommate who would be with me at the scene of the accident and told her how I felt somewhat unfulfilled with life and I wanted something big to happened to me.

Three days later the accident happened.

People have told me to be careful what I wish for. However, I’ve never seen the accident in a negative light. I’ve never wished the accident had not happened. I feel it was a gift. Even though the recovery process was the hardest challenge I’ve ever faced, I would not change a single thing. One step saved my life, and I am simply grateful to be alive.

The accident was also a huge wake up call. I’d been pretty unfocused during the first semester of college as it hadn’t taken a lot of time for the lure of New York City night life to take a hold. Pretty soon, I was pre-gaming shots of liquor with friends in our rooms before heading out for a night on the town. I was 18. My parents were hours away. A curfew was the furthest thing from my mind. I wanted to live life on my own terms, and I was going to live it fully.

So, I did. I equated  living with drinking. My friends and I split pitchers of margaritas in the Village or we headed uptown to our favorite college bar whose bouncers rarely asked us for ID because they knew us and had been waiting for us to arrive.

Inside, I drank cocktails, glasses of wine, Jello shots followed by straight up tequila. My fair share of Long Island Iced teas took me close to the edge, but I didn’t stop drinking. I accepted offers for beers (even though I’d never liked the taste) from my friends, and our favorite bartender, Imax.

I don’t know if someone would have classified me as an alcoholic. I just wanted to have fun. Some nights I drank more than others. There were days I spent focused solely on recovering. My roommate expressed her concern, “you have to be careful, Margaret.” This was after I confessed I’d spent the previous night with a man who had invited my friend and me to his apartment in Spanish Harlem. I lost my virginity to a man whose name I did not know.

Christmas break, I returned home to Maryland and immediately got sick with what turned out to be a lung infection. Doctors orders kept me inside and under the covers providing me with ample time to think and have long conversations with my roommate who was visiting family in California. We talked about life and how I wanted to get back on track second semester. I vowed I wouldn’t go out as much and focus on getting good grades.

Grades I never got to see. It was my roommate who pulled the jacket I was wearing just enough for the bus to miss hitting my head. Moments later, in shock, I tried to stand, but my roommate encouraged me to stay down. I wanted to know what happened.

“Your right ankle looks broken.”

“But, what about my left leg?”

My roommate paused, “that looks broken too.” She only left my side to call 911 after which she quickly returned to my side to let me pull her hair because I told her it helped with the pain. When the ambulance’s sirens called in the distance we knew help was coming. Just a few moments later, my roommate was taken away and my body was surrounded by police officers and EMT workers one of whom knelt by my side, took my hand in hers and said, “stay with us sweetheart you have the entire city of New York behind you.”

Thankfully, Bellevue, one of the best hospitals to treat trauma was close by and it was there, on top of a cold, metal, examination table where the doctors told me my right ankle was broken, but the extent of damage on my left foot was unknown. X-rays were taken and confirmed my left foot had been severely damaged and the doctors would have to amputate at least half of it. Swallowing the word amputated, I decided to work with whatever had to happen.

“That’s OK,” I told the doctors, “I’ll just get a new foot.”

 

Stay tuned for Part 2…

* * *

Margaret Westley is a writer, fundraiser, certified integrative nutritionist, and yoga teacher. Each of these professions were inspired by a near death accident she had when she was eighteen years old and got run over by a bus, which resulted in a broken right ankle and losing her left leg below the knee. Though the recovery was tough, Margaret has always seen the accident has a huge gift! Over the years, she’s been a face-to-face fundraiser, worked in a café, been an office assistant, a healthcare attendant, meditation/yoga teacher, and is currently building a fundraising business and writing a memoir. Everyday, something or someone reminds her about how amazing life is and, for that, she is eternally grateful.

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