I woke in a bright small room -- unsure and hazy, lying down on a relatively soft surface. There were people yelling around me, I jolted again suddenly realizing what had awoken me, it was a man standing above me, his face was faded from the fluorescence above him and I couldn't make out his features. He had slapped me across the face another 3 times in my haze. "Stay with me he said, you have to stay with me the helicopter is on it's way."
Dazed, I told him, "I don't know what is going on, I am fine … I just want to go home.. " As I trailed off to some distant land again, he slapped me. Then he said the words I can't quite forget, I could hear the clear astonishment in his voice that I wasn't comprehending my situation, yet calmly he said, "Ma'am please the helicopter is almost here, stay with me. You have lost your legs." I stared at his shadow for what seemed like minutes in what I believe is only known as the twilight zone. I tried to sit up to look, he pushed me down and started strapping a cervical collar around my neck and strapping my arms to what I now know was a gurney. Stubborn and confused, I looked at him again panicked and exclaimed: "I'm fine! Let me go home! My legs are fine!" The lower half “of my body” was not restrained, so like a child throwing a tantrum, I kicked my legs in the air thrashing back and forth. It was alarming how light they felt and even more alarming was the blood that sprayed as I kicked. It wasn't a bad dream anymore it was reality. My reality began to fade with recognition. The shock was there-but pain quickly took its place.
Panicked, I looked for the shadow to calm me, only to find panic had set into those dim features as he continued to work above me. The pain set in unlike anything I had ever before imagined, as the lower half of my body was restrained. I can remember how the searing in my legs greatly intensified as I heard the mention and pressure of tourniquets. By then I was fading fast, my shadow was tunneling into the darkness that began to cloud my vision completely. I think I imagined hearing the helicopter in the distance it was comforting almost like home was coming to me. I heard one last voice I cannot place, and that is when they say I died the first time.
They say I died again in the helicopter, and on the operating table in Lincoln, Nebraska, at Bryan West Medical Center. The trauma team there lead by Dr. Reginald Burton and Dr. David Samani worked tirelessly into the morning to get me stabilized. They told my family and friends I had a slim chance of survival over the course of the next few days.
But I did survive, and I'm still fighting. It is suspected now that I was incapacitated by a date rape drug that night. I had two beers and two shots. My blood alcohol content test and bar tab reflected that later. At the time of the incident they simply had no other suggestions, everyone assumed I had tried to commit suicide. When I awoke several days later from a medically induced coma, I was frantic and confused. I didn’t understand what had happened to make me lose my legs. I had no memory of the train running over them nor of being near the tracks at all.
A couple months later, in between hospital stays at Bryan West, I was hospitalized at Madonna Rehab Facility where they teach you new disability life skills. It was there that I met the engineer conducting the Union Pacific Train that severed my legs right above the knees. I wanted to know what had happened from his perspective directly instead of second hand from my family and it took a while for Union Pacific to allow him to release his statement for liability purposes to my understanding.
The conductor said he was going about 40 to 45 mph through rural Nebraska inside a loaded coal train when he saw what he thought was a mannequin on the track. It's not uncommon for pranks such as this to played on railroad engineers, only this time it wasn't a mannequin, it was me. He saw me laid on my back, my arms folded on my chest , when the train struck me. Desperately, he slammed on the brakes. But loaded coal trains don’t stop quickly. Finally, the train stopped. The engineer grabbed a flashlight, clicked it on and stepped down out of the train. He turned to go find me when he was stunned by a tap on his shoulder. The engineer shined his flashlight in the face of a male in his late 20's with brown hair and brown eyes. He said he also saw a few people cross the tracks about 100 yards up seemingly fleeing the scene. The man in front of the engineer asked, "Why did you stop?" Baffled, the engineer responded "I think I hit somebody." The man, identified by the engineer, was Daniel Owens, my companion that night, and he replied "I hope it's not Mandy." The engineer spun around and ran to find me. I was apparently dragging myself out from underneath the eighth coal car. The engineer did what he could to keep me alive until paramedics arrived. -None of this I remember, and most days I am thankful for that, but I do wish I could remember how I got on those tracks. Before waking up in the ambulance, all I remember was stepping outside for a cigarette, petting horses nearby.
It was after this meeting with the conductor that my family and I began really asking questions. Daniel had told us all different stories, and said other things to the sheriff, nothing added up as his story was constantly changing. He continued to be a part of my life, visiting me in the hospital. But I began to press my mother to have the sheriff's office investigate the case further in early October 2014. On Nov. 10, 2014, relatively late in the evening,I was being readmitted to Bryan West. I had another surgery in the morning..My phone rang, and I was told of Daniel Owens committing suicide the night before.
They say the only reason we get songs stuck in our head is because we're continuously replaying the chorus instead of coming to a melodic conclusion. I imagine till the day I die, like a song on repeat, the hundreds of questions I have will be my refrain. I mourn him. He was my friend, I loved him and trusted him.
I was in and out of hospitals for almost 10 months total over two years. It took months of pain, almost daily bandage changes, reamputations due to regenerated bone growth and physical therapy, learning to become accustomed to my new life- and to walk again on basic prosthetics.