by Keith B.
(as told to Christina Neumeyer)
At the age of 20, I was on my way to work at a local gas station at 5:30 in the morning when a driver pulled out in front of my motorcycle. With extensive life-threatening injuries, numerous broken arms, severe injuries to my neck, and my right leg hanging by a thread (disarticulated), I was life-flighted to a hospital in critical condition. The driver fled the scene.
After several hours of surgery, my leg was reattached (skin graphs from my thighs) however, over the course of several weeks, with an unrelenting infection in my leg, multiple debridements were required (the removal of debris and necrotic or damaged tissue). There is only one word to describe this process: Horrific.
On April 4, 1983, after many excruciating attempts to save my leg, it was determined that it would be best to amputate above the knee, on my 21st birthday.
I was in the hospital for a total of six weeks and continued on with months of physical therapy, learning how to walk with a prosthetic leg and to use my arms and wrists again.
I had, and still have, conflicting feelings about the accident. I was grateful to be alive but frequently wondering why God did not just completely take me, instead of leaving me such a disfigured freak.
Even though I was physically recovering, I had rage and resentment at the woman who had hit me and taken off. I was told that I needed to let go of the resentment or it would cause even more pain. Why would I? If I let it go would I be saying it was OK for her to do that? How could I, anyway?
A friend suggested that I pray for her for three weeks asking that she have all of the blessings that I would want for a family member. No way! No way!
Eventually, I came to know that I could not go on carrying this resentment - so I began praying for her each day. The first week I prayed that she would suffer as much as I did, and more!
As the days went on, my heart softened and I began to see that she must have been terrified and didn’t know what to do and panicked. I could see myself possibly doing the same if I was the one driving the car. I actually began to feel mercy for her (hadn't I acted badly from time to time, even terrible decisions along the way?). Yet, I had become so accustomed to owning that righteous anger: what would propel me in life without it?
I continued to pray and the dark fog of depression ever so slowly lifted; the world looked a bit better. I had no idea how much energy I was wasting hating someone, which did me no good anyway. With a leap of faith, I finally let go of my “how would you feel if this happened to you?” card and traded in what should-have-been for what-is. I had been so laser-focused on what had been taken from me that I could not see what remained.
The serenity prayer says that we are to accept the things we cannot change, and the courage to change the things that we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I learned to accept that the accident could not be undone. I wasn’t going to grow a new leg.
My accident occurred in front of the best trauma unit in the area; I got lucky. Had my medical response taken longer, I would not have survived. Due to blood loss, I was resuscitated during my life-flight, thankfully. The driver that hit me was never located or held accountable. I experience phantom pain in my non-existent leg. These are facts that I can live with.
Eventually, with time, support, and meaningful therapy, I was able to work through those ugly body-image issues. I have changed my mental attitude towards the accident and daily do what I can to have the most fulfilling and rich life possible. I live without bitterness or resentment.