By 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…
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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.