Glasgow & West Scotland

'I got drunk then woke up and my legs were on fire'

Paul Johnson
Image caption Paul Johnson's life is back on course after his accident

A man who lost both his legs after roaming onto a railway line when he was drunk is hoping his experience will warn children against taking risks.

Paul Johnson admits he was "messed up" when he had his accident almost four years ago but he is now in a better place mentally than he was before it happened.

The 21 year-old took a shortcut across railway tracks after a night out.

His next memory was waking up with his legs on fire.

Paul told John Beattie on BBC Radio Scotland: "I was drinking quite a lot and gradually getting a lot more reckless while I was drinking.

"I was a waiter and my life was work - drink - sleep for a couple of years.

"One night I was going home in a taxi with a friend. I got out early and I tried to cross a railway."

Paul can't remember anything about what happened but knows he was electrocuted.

'Thought I was in hell'

He said: "I woke up on the track two hours later and my legs were on fire. I just had to roll over and put it out.

"I could see my bag in the middle of the track which had my phone in it.

"I dragged myself over to get my phone and called myself an ambulance."

Paul said he was so drunk he had no idea what was going on: "There was this adrenaline rush of 'how did I get here and how can I get out of here?'.

"I was terrified because looking down at my legs it was just black ash. My jeans were burned to ash. I'm not religious but when I woke up I actually thought I was in hell."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Paul learned to sail through Finding Your Feet

At first doctors thought they could save Paul's legs.

Six hours after thinking it was just muscle damage, an infection was spreading quickly and surgeons had to amputate one leg.

Shortly after the second leg had to be removed and the first leg revised to prepare Paul for prosthetics.

Paul was in ICU at Glasgow Royal Infirmary for a month and was treated in the hospital's burns ward for a further few months before being transferred to the then Southern General for rehabilitation and prosthetics.

The former waiter and musician from Pollokshields had a tough time coming to terms with his new life.

Image caption Paul enjoyed socialising and drinking with his friends before the accident

He said: "The first couple of years following the accident, I wasn't myself and was struggling very much with how life was going both physically and mentally.

"Things weren't going well with prosthetics and just dealing with the fact I had lost my legs and the mourning of them was quite difficult for me."

Now Paul is coping better. He has down days but says he feels better mentally than he did before the accident.

'Better place'

Through the amputee charity Finding Your Feet, he passed his driving test, started playing guitar again and also learned to sail with the Jubilee Sailing Trust.

With Finding Your Feet, he is now preparing to go into schools to talk to children about his experiences.

"Life is less foggy now. Before the accident I was single minded.

"Now I live a simplistic life, but I would like to do more.

"I feel in a much better place mentally than I did before the accident which is a strange thing to say since I have lost my legs but actually because I had such a negative escapist mindset before the accident - being able to see my problems and face them now is testament of what I have come through.

"And I want to tell young people about the dangers of drinking.

"I am hoping that by sharing my story I will be able to help some kids possibly going through similar issues in feeling lost with themselves or without a sense of direction.

"Also, as a bit of a warning not to put themselves at risk both with binge drinking and going near train tracks.

"I am one of the lucky ones in that I have survived but others have been a lot more unfortunate."

Finding Your Feet is proud of everything Paul has achieved.

A spokesman said: "We've been working with Paul for about two years now and the growth in his confidence has been unbelievable.

"In the beginning he wouldn't leave the house to come along to our clubs for amputees, and now he's there every week and even volunteering with the charity.

"He's now at a stage where we feel the next step is for him to tell his story to others - not just the dangers that led to him losing his legs, but the fact that he's turned his life around and is living happily as an amputee. We'll be here with him all the way and can't wait to see what he does next."

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