By Jamie Andrew O.B.E., Scotland.
One of the questions I most frequently get asked by audiences is “Do you have any regrets?”
A fair question, given the fact that sixteen years ago I lost my hands and feet in a mountaineering accident.
That fateful expedition in the French Alps, the storm that pinned us to a mountain summit for an ordeal of five days, cost my climbing partner Jamie Fisher his life, and nearly cost me mine.
But I survived, rescued at the eleventh hour in a daring helicopter mission, and was whisked off down to the valley to face a very different life to the one I had left behind just days earlier.
My hands and feet were so badly frostbitten that the doctors had no choice but to amputate. When I woke up from the operations, and looked down my hospital bed, and saw that where my hands and feet had previously been, were now only neatly bandaged stumps, to say that I was shocked would be a vast understatement.
I simply wasn’t prepared for this. How could I face the rest of my life without hands and feet? A cripple, unable to do anything for myself, reliant on the help of others for absolutely everything.
At first I just couldn’t see how life could ever be worthwhile again. How could I ever lead any kind of meaningful existence? How could I ever come to terms with what had happened?
There were certainly times during those first few weeks after the accident, that I couldn’t help thinking that I’d have been better off dying up there on the mountain alongside my friend rather than having to face a life like this.
Those were dark days indeed, and to make matters worse, I was still struggling to come to terms with the loss of my best friend Jamie. Struggling to come to terms with the very strange emotion of guilt. Guilt at having got down from the mountain when he hadn’t. Guilt at having survived when he hadn’t.
But in the end it was those very difficult emotions relating to Jamie, which actually helped me to set myself back on the road to recovery.
Because through thinking about Jamie I came to realise that the most important thing was that I was alive. I had survived. I had been given a second chance. Jamie, who had so tragically died up there on the mountain, hadn’t been so lucky, hadn’t been as fortunate as me, hadn’t been given that second chance.
If anything I owed it to him, as much as I owed it to everyone who had fought so hard to save me, as much as I owed it to myself, to make the most of this second chance. To treat it like the next big challenge. To treat it like the next big mountain to climb.
I resolved then, although I had no idea yet what it might involve, that I was going to take on this challenge that had been thrown down in front of me. I would give it a go and find out what was possible.
So, with these thoughts in mind I began the process of rehabilitation, the process of learning to do again all the everyday tasks that we take so much for granted. Washing myself, dressing myself, going to the toilet myself, feeding myself. I relied very heavily on the many wonderful people I had around me, I set myself small goals, and I worked my way one step at a time towards my distant objectives. And I made surprisingly swift progress.
Now, sixteen years down the line, not only have I learned to take care of myself, to feed, wash and dress myself, and to walk again, but I am climbing mountains again. I ski better than I did before. I do marathons, Iron Man triathlons and all manner of other challenges.
More importantly than that I married my long term girlfriend, and we take care of our three beautiful kids. Life couldn’t be better!
So many incredible doors of opportunity have opened up for me as a direct result of the accident. Not least has been the opportunity of travelling the world sharing my experiences with audiences as a motivational speaker.
So of course I will always miss my friend who perished up there on the bitter mountain top, but would I turn back the clock in order to save my hands and feet? No! Do I have any regrets? Never!