Hi my name is Ben, I’m 31 years old and I’m a double leg amputee. I wasn’t always like this though and this right here is my story.
I was born into a Fishing family down on the south coast of England just outside of Brighton. Naturally, I followed my family’s routes and from a young age, even when I was supposed to be at school, I would be found miles at sea on the fishing boats working. I thought this would be my calling in life, all be it a simple one, but I was wrong. At age of 18 I lost my job on the fishing boats and in a moment of madness I ended up stood outside the Army career office in Brighton staring through the window (like some sort of weirdo). Before I knew it, I had signed up for the Army, and I had a start date ready for the training to begin. My parents and friends laughed at me. I had never been one to take orders from people, nor did I care much for ironed clothes and things being in order, to them, the Army was just a ‘phase’ in my life, and they believed I would soon be kicked out. What my friends and family hadn’t figured out however, was my determination to prove others wrong, I may not have been one for taking orders, but I was certainly strong.
Six long and hard months passed, including a brutal winter which had seen Army recruits drop out like fly’s from our intake. Yet, somehow, I found myself on the parade square receiving the award for ‘Best Army recruit’ out of a selection of 100 or so others. I also received awards on two separate sniper courses. I had found my true calling in life, in the form of an infantry soldier. Shortly after my 19th birthday, I was sent on a 7 month tour of Iraq – although occasionally hectic, the tour was not too bad in terms of trouble. Two years later, I was sent on a complete tour of Afghanistan. This tour was brutal from start to finish. Although having had a number of very close calls, I managed to come back home in one piece. Sadly, the same cannot be said for my return from Afghanistan a few years later.
It was early 2012, February 3rd, in fact, a day that is now like a second birthday to me, or ‘Boom day’ as we injured Army folks like to call it. I had not long returned from a short break at home on my ‘rest and recuperation’ when I was called out to provide support to my fellow Army men. I was sat in my vehicle watching the patrol and scanning around looking for any signs of trouble when all of a sudden there was an almighty BANG and a plume of smoke rose sharply out to my front left. This was a sight that had become all to familiar after experiencing 1000’s such explosions throughout my career. This time was chaos. Everyone in the patrol was shouting, but there was no screaming or cry’s of pain. I assumed the worst. The patrol called out to me from across the field for me to bring a stretcher from the vehicle. I stepped out of the vehicle and grabbed the stretcher from the back seat and started to cross the small foot bridge that separated me from the injured men. I crossed the bridge that was no more than 3ft wide and turned directly right to run parallel up the field towards the casualty. I had taken no more that 3 or 4 steps when suddenly in a blink of an eye my life would be turned upside down (quite literally!).
I remember it all like it was yesterday. What happened next seemed to happen in slow motion (just like the movies!). There was an almighty BANG. I was sent 3 meters up in the air, spinning as I went. I came crashing down, and my left arm landed on my rifle, my arm snapped instantly. All I could hear in that moment was a high pitched ringing. All I could see around me was a red mist hanging in the air. There was no pain at this point though. Seconds felt like eternity as I slowly came around dazed and confused. I went to move my left arm, but found it to be non-responsive to what my brain was telling it to do. I looked down, my arm was hanging off and poking out of my jacket. I tried to sit up to see my legs, I almost fainted from the site. My legs were a mess. This is when the pain started to hit, it was horrific, like someone had chopped the ends of my legs off with a machete. Unable to help myself, I was at the mercy of my friends who came to my rescue very quickly along with medical help. My colleagues and friends saved my life, there, on that spot. In the space of seconds , I had gone from a 6ft, 15 stone soldier to a 4ft double leg amputee with a severely broken upper left arm and the remainder of what was left of my left leg was broken.
I was conscious when the helicopter arrived after around 27 minutes to rescue myself and my friend Jack who was also critical. Jack was worse off than me, he had asked the medic on board for a hug to which the medic obliged. The medics got to work on me, at this point I was still aware of everything going on, I remember the medic mistakenly knelt on my broken arm, my swift right hook and verbal abuse soon alerted him to this fact. Next thing I remember was the medic saying: “Ben, we are going to put you to sleep now”, I nodded and that was that, I didn’t wake again for another 3 weeks. I lost 3 weeks of my life, not remembering anything of that time after I was put to sleep on that helicopter. Jack sadly passed away six weeks after the accident.
When I eventually woke up, I could no longer do the simple things. I had to re-learn how to eat and drink, and this took months. For years, I had been in charge of people and equipment worth millions, and now, I didn’t even know how to go to the toilet properly, or even how to get out of bed safely. In fact, on more than one occasion, I had forgotten I had no legs, I went to get out of the bed to be greeted by a 3ft drop onto a hard floor. I was in a new world and I didn’t like it one bit. Three months passes, and I was ready to leave the hospital and start my rehab at Headley Court in Surrey (The Army Rehab Center). I arrived at the center, not knowing what to expect, but found it very much like how school used to be; a program including times of where to be and for what sessions. I found night times to be the hardest; alone and in silence, I would be left with my own thoughts. Being 27 years old at the time, I was quite head strong, but sadly, I would ofter hear the crying and sobbing of a younger amputee down the hall who struggled to come to terms with what had happened to him. This upset me more that my own injuries at times. I had seen things and lived a little at 27, done my lads holidays and had girlfriends, to the young boy, at only 18 with legs amputated up to his hip, I wondered how he would cope. I still hope and wonder to this day, if he got himself together and made a life for himself.
When the time came for me to practice walking with 2 prosthetic legs, it was like I’d imagine a baby learns; a few falls and bump to begin with, but I learned to get back up and soon the falls became less and less. The hardest part for me, was getting the shape of the sockets right. The slightest imperfection can make it so uncomfortable, I simply could not stand, and this would set me back to being in a wheelchair again, which nobody wants. Being an amputee, I celebrated and measured goals and milestones; I remember writing a Facebook status after standing and peeing for the first time, and celebrating after kicking a football again. Simple things, that I used to take for granted were now milestones.
Whilst in rehab, I re-discovered my passion for keeping fit and lifting weights. I found that setting fitness goals and meeting them was a good way to focus on the positives and the great progress that I was making. I lifted weights, I lifted some more, and I continued lifting all the way through my time at rehab. When the time came for me to leave, I found myself leaving with a stronger upper body. Not long after leaving rehab, I was receiving compliments at the gym and random gym members telling me how much I inspired them; I decided to become a Personal Trainer (PT).
I decided to set up an Instagram page called @amputeeswholift mainly to document my personal progress, but also to inspire other amputees by offering advice and helping them to stay motivated. The page has become a success and continues to grow. I am just a week into my PT course and I’m loving it. I’m hoping to get a job at the gym, in a rehab center where I can help other amputees to focus on the positive points in their life, that in turn will give me a great satisfaction. Knowing that (despite all the set backs I’ve had) I could help make a difference to other people’s lives would be such an honour to me. Anything is possible, even with two legs missing.
This experience has made me more appreciative of life and I certainly now, don’t waste any time in bed. I’m always up early and making the most of my time and constantly looking to achieve new goals and learn new things. To anyone suffering similarly (i.e an amputation or even maybe struggling mentally) I would strongly encourage you to get yourself a hobby and maybe try the gym and focus on it, that focus takes away the negative thoughts you may have, for me personally, the gym has opened up my eyes and helped me so so much and I know it can do the same to others. I have found, from day one of this experience, that sharing and talking about it is the best form of therapy and helps take the pressure off. You shouldn’t have to carry those negative memories around in your head alone. You can share the burden. I’ve seen people lock stuff away and bottle up their feelings and gradually, it wears them down over the years. Talk about it.
Thanks for reading my story, Ben.