My leg was amputated after an epileptic driver hit me in London — UK-based Nigerian author

Mrs Ronke Joseph is the author of ‘Impact: My Story, My Ebenezer, My Victory.’
In this interview, she shares the experience of losing her leg in a horrific roadside accident in London, United Kingdom, and how her faith got her through the ordeal.

Excerpts:

Can you narrate the story of how you lost your leg?

I was on my way to work on the morning of January 13, 2015. I got off the train at Shoreditch High Street Railway Station in London and I was walking to the office, which is about 12 minutes from the station. When I got to a crossing where pedestrian lights turned red for pedestrians to stop and green for cars to go, I stood on the pavement with about 20 other pedestrians, waiting for the lights to change. At this point, I was on the phone talking to my husband, who was in Nigeria at the time, using my earphones at a low volume level, so I was aware of my surroundings.
I noticed that two cars drove, one after the other, along the road and then the third car following came off the road and mounted the pavement that I was standing on. The car hit me and I flew backwards onto an upright closed-circuit television pole. I was very distressed and was shouting for pedestrians to call my husband because I forgot that I was talking to him. Many of the pedestrians came to my aid and got me to lie down, while others called for an ambulance. Within five to 10 minutes, an ambulance arrived and the paramedics started to attend to me.
Because my injury was so severe they needed the help of the London’s Air Ambulance, which always attends the scenes of serious accidents with one or two doctors, a paramedic and equipment that allows them to bring the hospital to the patient. I was anaesthetised at the roadside and rushed to the hospital, where my leg was amputated because my injury was too severe for them to save my leg.

Did you ever find out what made the driver who hit you to lose control?
The driver of the car had an epileptic fit while he was driving and, therefore, lost control.
What was going through your mind as you lay there by the roadside?
When I saw the car coming towards me, my mind went blank and all I could do was stand there rooted to the spot. Surprisingly, when the car hit me, I did not feel any pain at all. For the first few minutes after the car hit me, all I felt was sheer panic, then at a point, I felt the presence of God assuring me that all would be well.
So, to be honest, while I was at the roadside, I lay there just waiting for the ambulance to arrive. I was thinking of practical things, like when would I be able to return home? How would I be able to finish cooking the stew I was going to make in time for my husband’s return from Nigeria in a couple of days? I was too scared to look at my leg, but I knew somehow that it had been badly damaged. At a point, while I lay on the floor, I noticed crumbled bones on my coat, so I was imagining that maybe I had broken my leg and some of the bones were protruding through the flesh.

What thoughts came to your mind when you woke up in the hospital and found out that your leg had been amputated?
I was not given much time to come round before the surgeon broke the news to me. When I came round, I was still so drowsy and was trying to work out where I was. I had just realised I was in the recovery room and was trying to recall the day’s event when the surgeon’s voice interrupted my thoughts. He said to me, “Hello, Aderonke.” He realised who I was because I had my driving licence in my handbag, so the policemen at the scene must have gone through the bag so they could contact my relatives. The surgeon then told me his name and said, “I have just amputated your leg.” Because I was so drowsy, I could not open my mouth. In my thoughts, I came up with the strangest of responses: “That’s not news,” and then I fell asleep again. When I came round again, my overwhelming thoughts were gratitude to God that the situation was not worse and that He saved my life.

Who gave the doctor permission to amputate your leg?
I got to see my hospital notes some months after the accident and I realised that when I was rushed to the hospital, I was under anaesthetic because they knew they would need to operate. So, in order to decide whether to amputate the leg, they had to have a conference with four other consultants. They unanimously agreed that an amputation was the best course of action. As there was no relative around for them to ask for permission, they had to go ahead. I think a delay in operating on me might have been a danger to my life.

How did your family receive the news that your leg had been amputated?
My family was devastated. My brother was the person who received the first call from my office to say I had not turned up at work and, as a result, he called my other family members to let them know what he had heard. At the same time, my husband, who had heard the commotion on the roadside when I was talking to him, did not know exactly what had happened. He just heard me screaming and then heard the sound of people comforting me and the sound of the emergency service vehicles arriving, after which my phone went dead. My husband, therefore, called my brother to let him know that he thought I had been in an accident.
Eventually, my brother found me because the story was in the online Evening Standard. So, he rushed to the hospital and was ushered to the family room, while the surgeons operated on me.
When he was told by the surgeon that I was okay but my leg had been amputated, he was devastated. My husband arrived from Nigeria a couple of days later and all he knew was that I was in the hospital with leg injuries but they did not tell him the extent of the damage until he returned from Nigeria. When he was told, he too was distraught. My family felt so sorry that I had passed through such an ordeal and that due to another person’s carelessness I would have to suffer for the rest of my life.

How hard was it for you to come to terms with the fact that you would have to live the rest of your life as an amputee?
I am grateful to God that I did not go through the difficult parts of the psychological effects of the trauma like numbness, anger, anxiety, hopelessness, shame and other such feelings. I found that, psychologically, I was in a good place most of the time and, therefore, I was able to come to terms with the situation pretty quickly. I found that, for the most part, I was so grateful to God that the situation was not worse. I could have become paralysed, I could have lost both legs, or worse still, I could have lost my life.

Did your family members have a hard time adjusting to your “new normal”?
Once I had gone through my hospital stay of six weeks and my rehabilitation of seven weeks, I was able to return home and get on with some of the things I used to do before, albeit with more difficulty. This meant that I had to lean on my husband and other family members a lot more to get things done. Everyone, especially my husband, stepped up to the plate magnanimously and offered me a lot of support. My husband made it clear from the outset that he was there for me no matter what and that my being an amputee made no difference in the way he regarded me. This did not mean that he did not struggle with the pain of having to see me struggle to do certain things. Initially, when I got home, I could only wear my prosthetic leg for about one hour a day and this meant that getting up the stairs, I had to sit on the steps and push myself upward. This used to fill him with pain, seeing me to have to struggle like this. Other family members too found it hard to see me struggle sometimes just to walk when my leg got sore due to the socket of my prosthetic leg rubbing against the top of the amputated limb.

How did losing your leg affect your career and your relationship with friends?
Fortunately, God has blessed me with employers who are very compassionate and caring of their staff. They followed the UK employment regulation, which says, “Employers must make reasonable adjustments to make sure workers with disabilities or physical or mental health conditions are not substantially disadvantaged when doing their jobs.”
In fact, I would say my employers went over and above to ensure that I was able to return to my job and perform the same role I was performing without being at any disadvantage. As a result, my career has not been affected adversely in this respect. One effect that losing my leg has had on my career is that being in the training sector, if I have to run a classroom session, which requires me to walk around constantly, then this would be difficult to do as I find it hard to stand for too long.
My relationship with friends has been strengthened by my becoming an amputee. It was amazing to see how my friends rallied round me while I was in the hospital and rehab. It did not end there; over the past five years, my friends have been so supportive and totally accepting of the situations and limitations presented sometimes.

What did you have to learn, relearn and unlearn?
When you become an amputee, there are so many things you have to relearn or learn to do differently. In some cases, you have to actually learn new skills altogether. I had to learn how to use a wheelchair because no amputee wears their leg all the time. Learning to use a wheelchair entails not just moving around in it, but how to safely transfer on and off it. I had to learn how to walk again. Walking as an amputee is very different from able-bodied walking as you are using different muscle groups and applying a different technique to walk. Another thing I had to relearn is how to run. Running as an above-the-knee amputee is very difficult and takes patience, endurance and, where available to the amputee, a different kind of prosthetic limb. Even though I know how to run, it is not something I do often as it is a high-intensity activity and sometimes causes me to get blisters. I had to learn to drive again because it was my right leg that I lost. As a result, I cannot even drive an un-adapted automatic car. I drive a car with full hand controls and, initially, I found this very difficult. I had to take driving lessons again and it felt like I was learning to drive all over again. I also had to learn how to ensure that I was using the kitchen safely, especially if I am in my wheelchair.

How much of your survival and recovery do you attribute to the efficiency of the health care system in the United Kingdom compared to Nigeria?
The presence of all the necessary agencies on the day of my accident was key to my survival. Within minutes, the ambulance service arrived and I was ferried to the closest hospital as soon as they stabilised me. As soon as I got to hospital, I was rushed straight in to do a CT (computerised tomography) scan to see if I had any other internal injuries. While this was going on, four consultants were deciding what the next course of action should be. Once they decided, I was operated on and then I spent six weeks in the hospital and seven weeks in rehab, where I did intense physiotherapy. Also, the occupational health team was in contact with my husband to see what they could do to our house to adapt it as much as possible for my situation. While I was in rehabilitation, I got my prosthetic leg. All of these were done without a penny coming out of my pocket. The health care system in the UK is funded by what is called the National Insurance Contributions, which is a percentage taken out of the salaries of everyone who works in the UK and is properly managed, so it is available when needed and used to properly maintain the hospitals, their equipment and pay the medical personnel.

What life lessons have you taken away from this experience?
No matter what happens, there is always room for being thankful to God. There is value in having the right support network around you – family, friends, employers and government agencies. Never look down on people; their value is not determined by how they look but by what God has placed in them. Good things can come out of what we think is a bad situation. Your difficult situation can be a source of encouragement to others. Having a relationship with God is priceless and helps one go through difficult situations.

Who are some of the people that played key roles in your journey to recovery?
My husband’s support was key to my recovery. He was there 24/7. My church and family were phenomenal and there was a certain elder who would visit constantly and encourage me with prayers and scriptures. The liaison person from London’s Air Ambulance really spurred me on with his visits. On one of his visits, he showed me a picture of an ex-patient of theirs who had visited them on the helipad where the aircraft takes off. He said he would like me to visit when I was well enough. This became a goal that spurred me on while I was going through my recovery process and I did eventually visit the helipad. Also, I am grateful for my rehab team who did not allow me time to wallow in my situation. They were always positive and encouraging and they ensured that the programme was tied to the goals I set at the beginning of the programme.

How did you manage to keep a sense of optimism, despite such an unexpected, life-changing event?
I have to say that from the time I felt God’s presence at the roadside, telling me everything would be okay, I have had such a sense of optimism which has not left me since then. It also helped that I am surrounded by very supportive friends, family and employers.
What are some of the things you miss being able to do?
I miss just being able to get up and do things without thinking of what limitations I have around me. I miss being able to go for long walks and jogs. Additionally, I miss playing tennis as often as I used to do before. I also miss being able to spend the night at people’s houses as I need to be in a house that is adapted for my situation. I really miss not being able to dance in church like I used to.

Have you faced any discrimination as a result of your disability?
Fortunately, I have not faced discrimination, although I have had some people make some really demeaning and ridiculous comments. I mention this in one of the blogs I wrote, called “You didn’t just say that!”

What is the biggest lesson that you think people going through what you went through should learn from your experience?
You may never fully understand why you had to go through a difficult situation, but do not focus on the “why” but focus on the “how” – how you can use this situation to help other people and glorify God. – Punch.

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