Survival

Fight for survival – I crawled for 10 hours with two broken legs

WARNING: Graphic images.

When Melissa snapped both her legs, she faced the fight of her life to survive.

Here, Melissa Bee, 60, tells the story in her own words.

Swatting the overhanging weeds out of my face, I peered through the thick trees. ‘Why aren’t there any signs?’ I mumbled.

It was my day off from my new job as a nurse and I had driven to Grassy Dam, in a hidden valley on King Island.

I’d only arrived in the area seven weeks earlier, and my hubby, Phil, was still tying up the sale of our farm in WA before he joined me.

Eager to explore, I’d put on my sturdy hiking boots and set out on a solo adventure. But as I trudged on, I noticed the ground getting steeper and the path narrower.

I gingerly edged down the slope, stopping short at a six-foot drop. Looking behind me, I gulped in fear. I’ve gone too far, I thought.

It was too steep for me to turn back – and it was even more dangerous for me to go down further.

melissa
I never gave up

Grabbing hold of a tree sapling sticking out of the ground, I tried to manoeuvre my way to the right.

Just then, I realised I was pulling the tree trunk out of the soil. Within seconds, it broke off, sending me hurtling down the slope.

‘No, no… no!’ I screeched, as I desperately tried to grab onto the undergrowth.

Horrified, I felt a sickening crunch as my leg snapped.

Sliding farther down, my other leg got crushed under my weight and I felt that break too. Coming to a halt, I looked down at my mangled legs. The pain was unthinkable and I started sobbing wildly. ‘Help!’ I yelled.

But screaming myself hoarse was useless. And with my phone in my car, I had no way of calling for help. I hadn’t told anyone I was going either – so no-one was going to come looking for me. If I don’t move, I’ll be stuck here for days, I thought.

In agony, I twisted onto my stomach, then I latched onto tufts of grass and started dragging myself down the steep hill.

I could see a pumping station, so I set my sights on that. Hauling myself across the dirt on my hands and knees, I whimpered in excruciating pain.

Reaching my goal, I twisted the tap and turned on the water. Surely this will set off an alarm, I thought.

toe
My toes were blistered from dragging

After splashing my face and gulping down some water, I lay there and waited. But when the water finally ran out, no-one had come.

Forcing myself onto my stomach again, I resumed the tortuous crawling.

Every few minutes, I stopped and screamed for help until I lost my voice.

After a few hours, it became almost unbearable.

‘One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…’ I’d count, before passing out. When I regained consciousness, I started again.

As the afternoon sun faded, I was losing strength. Gravel had started to tear at my palms, so I ripped off the boots and put them on my hands.

As night fell, I was freezing, tired and scared.This can’t be how you die, I told myself.

The thought of Phil back home spurred me on.

After dragging myself nearly 5km, I smelled smoke coming from the beach. People!

I started yelling out again, but my weak voice was barely a croak.

In the distance, I could see the lights of the port shimmering, like a mirage. Continuing my crawl, I finally came across two cars about 10pm.

leg damage
My legs were badly broken

Hoisting myself up to a silver 4WD, I tried the handle. Incredibly, it was unlocked! The keys were in the ignition and I silently thanked the locals for being so trusting.

Poking around the centre console, my fingers curled around an old Nokia mobile phone. I turned it on and the screen lit up. Shaking, I dialled Triple-0.

‘I fell and broke both my legs and need an ambulance,’ I sobbed.

The operator stayed on the line with me for an hour before help arrived. Finally, after a 10-hour crawl, I was saved.

‘I’m sorry,’ I kept repeating, as the paramedics stretchered me away.

While I was stabilised at hospital, I called Phil.‘Don’t freak out…’ I began, before explaining everything.

After, I was flown to Burnie Hospital for surgery on my legs. I had four fractures in my left, 11 in my right, had shattered both my knees and suffered nerve damage.

Over the next six weeks, I went into theatre eight times.

The doctors were astonished by the nightmare journey I had endured to survive. The Tasmanian police even congratulated me on my ‘Herculean effort’.

Two months on, I am still bed-bound and haven’t regained the strength to walk.

It is a long road ahead for my recovery. But I am a survivor.

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life, on sale now.

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