Health & Fitness

My drink was spiked and I woke up a week later without a foot

When Monique plummeted from a 5th storey balcony, no one could predict she'd turn her loss into a silver medal at the Paralympics.

By: Kate Wagner

Waking up in a hospital bed with no recollection of how you got there is always going to be disconcerting, but when it happened to me, I knew instantly something really terrible must've happened.

Both of my parents – who're divorced – were standing at the foot of my Melbourne hospital bed so they must've rushed from Canberra to be there.

Groggily, and in immense pain, I tried to piece back what had happened but I couldn't remember a thing.

I was 19, just three weeks into my Bachelor of Social Work degree and living at the RMIT village in Melbourne. I was enjoying uni life and everything that comes with it.

The last thing I can remember was being at a party in the village with my new friends, drinking, laughing and generally having a good time.

Now, I was in a hospital bed a whole week later. Hospital staff were telling me I'd been in a coma and I was terrified.

It also felt like I'd been hit by a bus. I was heavily dosed up on painkillers but when the fog started to clear, my mum told me I'd fallen from the 5th floor balcony of the flat and crashed through the glasshouse down below.

As horrific as that sounds, it was the glass roof that actually saved my life. Because of the way it was structured, I fell in stages instead of smacking directly into the ground.

However, the glass also caused the most life-threatening injuries. It hit my windpipe and cut my neck open, leaving glass splinters scattered across my throat. Removing them created a huge risk of slicing open my coronary artery, but the doctors managed to avoid that.

I was also told I'd broken my jaw in two places, my left collarbone, right tibial plateau and left knee. Both my arms were plastered and I had breathing tubes coming out of everywhere when I woke up. I'd also torn my right tricep tendon and my right foot was bandaged in a weird point, but I was so happy to be alive I didn't care.

I still couldn't remember a thing.

On the second morning, I overheard my doctors talking and heard the word "amputation". Shocked, I turned to my nurse and said, "Did I lose my foot?"

I threw the question at her urgently and watched the colour drain from her face. Time stopped.

I couldn't feel my body—am I breathing? I can't feel my body breathing.

My mum and aunt walked in and the nurse turned and apologised: "I'm so sorry, I thought she knew."

Mum flew to my side and grabbed my hand with both of hers. She was telling me that my broken jaw had saved my brain and my amputated foot had saved my spine, but nothing was really going in.

I vividly remember the tears welling up in Mum's eyes as she coached me through the hardest thing I've ever had to hear and the most distressing thing she's ever had to say.

As I tried to understand what was happening, I looked down at Mum's hands wrapped around mine and realised she was helping to carry my burden. I never felt alone with what happened to me, not for a second.

Mum and I stayed in that embrace for a while until I took a deep breath and thought, "I can do this". I knew it wouldn't be easy but I knew it would be possible, and that's all I needed.

As I tried to come to terms with the fact my body had changed forever, it was equally frustrating trying to remember how on earth I'd got here.

My drink had been spiked at the party

I'd lost at least eight hours of my night before toppling over the balcony at the uni residences and almost dying.

When I was rushed to emergency, they'd been a little preoccupied amputating my foot to check my blood alcohol levels or conduct any drug tests, but doctors are certain I had roofies or something similar slipped into my drink.

That revelation was shocking, but more so to my parents.

A few days later, when the initial shock had worn off, my shaken parents revealed that they'd been told it was a suicide attempt. Some of my friends had been told the same thing.

They'd had to endure a gruelling week of not knowing while I was in my induced coma.

It was really frustrating to learn the people I love had been told something so shocking before they got to hear my side of the story.

I had eight more operations in six weeks

One of which was especially big… I elected to take my amputated foot to a below knee amputation.

The doctor had left my ankle intact during the amputation, but that wasn't necessarily better for me in the long run. Fitting a partial foot prosthetic to an ankle is tricky – everybody's ankle is a little different so they're not mass produced, making them pricey.

Whereas below knee prosthetic are mass developed and also allows for greater mobility overall. I didn't want to be held back by the accident and this amputation would allow me to travel and simply live my life with ease.

When the doctors told me I was moving to rehab I screamed in excitement; it meant I was okay, I was finally healed enough to leave doctors and surgery behind me.

Rehab was boring. I was about a decade younger than everyone else and it was in a remote location so it was hard for friends to visit. There were days I didn't want to get out of bed, when it felt too hard or my body was simply too tired to put in the work.

One time I was so frustrated, I forced my dad and step-mum to carry me up some stairs while still in my wheelchair because it seemed so unfair I couldn't just walk up the stairs myself.

A huge chunk of the gruelling rehab involved exercises in a swimming pool.

Growing up, I'd been a strong swimmer. I'd stopped just before uni — more from circumstance than actual desire — but now I had hydrotherapy and I'd spend the entire day in the pool.

I loved it. Without my prosthetic on land, I was pretty much restricted to just watching TV, but in the water, I was me again.

Five months later I was back in Melbourne but it was too late to enrol back at uni, I'd have to wait til next year. To pass the time, I decided to swim again and I met up with a coach who trained other para-athletes and he asked how far I wanted to take it.

"I just want to go as far as I can, whatever that means," I told him. Before I knew it, I'd qualified for nationals – something I never did as an able-bodied swimmer.

On the first-year anniversary of my accident, I competed in the 400m freestyle and qualified for world championships, something I didn't expect at all, proven by my interaction with Leisel Jones after the race.

"Are you excited for Glasgow?" She asked me.

"What's happening in Glasgow," I replied, completely bemused. "That's not for me."

"Yes it is," she laughed. "You qualified for worlds."

"Oh, shit what!" My voice echoed through the arena.

The second anniversary of my accident

Around the second anniversary of my accident, and on my actual 22nd birthday, I set an Australian record and was ½ a second of beating the world record in the 400m.

Now ranked in the top three, I had five months to prepare for the Paralympics but that resulted in pressure I didn't expect.

Growing up, it had been my dream to go to the Olympics and now I was… minus a leg.

My main race wasn't until day eight and, as you can imagine, being holed up with a lot of different athletes in the village — paired with high levels of stress and adrenaline — means your chances of getting sick are pretty high.

The night before the race, I was awake til the early hours of the morning coughing, my asthma rampant.

I walked to the finals in a trance and I'll probably always remember it as the hardest race I've ever swum.

The girl who won was miles ahead, but I couldn't see anyone else in the pool so I gave it everything I had. When I finally hit the wall, I looked at the screen and saw the number two next to my name — I'd just won a silver medal at the bloody Paralympics!

Losing my leg has been a life changing experience, obviously, but I love what I'm doing now. No doors have been shut to me; if anything they've been opened.

The physical challenges have always been tough, but never insurmountable — the early days of trying to coordinate my social life were far more distressing.

I was forced to cancel holidays and miss countless social gatherings— I felt like I'd completely lost control of my life at just 20-years-old. I'd saved $5,000 to volunteer in third-world countries and instead, it went into my wheelchair.

But now that feels like a distant memory. My life still has its ups and downs, but I've never gone backwards and I'm so proud of that. Yes my prosthetics are a financial burden I never predicted, but I'd be stressed about the cost of something else if they weren't there.

I've gone from a naïve, wide-eyed university student to a paralympian. My new body is a constant learning experience — it's been four years, and last week I found out that I can jog!

Nothing ever happened to the person who spiked my drink, whoever that was. The police couldn't take any action without the blood results as evidence.

Even though what I underwent was traumatic and limiting and frustrating and infuriating, if someone told me I could have my leg back along with my old life today, I wouldn't take it. I'm independent with great friends, a loving family and I get to swim every day — what more could I need?

Monique is also an ambassador for the very worthy charity, Share The Dignity. To donate tampons and pads to women in need, click here.