A review of Gone: A Memoir of Love, Body, and Taking Back My Life, by Dr. Linda K. Olson.
This book was a long time in coming. When Dr. Linda Olson finally completed and published it in 2020, it took some of the radiology residents she had taught by surprise. Yes, they knew she had been in accident when she was in her 20s, and as a result only had one arm, and that she walked with a cane and a gait like a tin soldier. What they didn’t realize was that she had no legs at all. They, too, had been cut off, lost in that 1979 collision of train and van in Germany.
Surviving the accident and becoming a triple amputee certainly did provide Dr. Olson with an amazing story, but she did not have time to invest in memoir writing during the years immediately following the accident when such stories are usually told. She was too busy finishing her medical residency in radiology and starting a family, not to mention learning how to walk with prothesis, write with her left hand, and well, do everything with that left hand.
Immediately following the accident, while still in the hospital, she had told Dave, her husband of two years, that she would understand if he found her condition more than he could bear and wanted to leave. He responded that he had not married her legs and that if she could find a way forward, so could he. They were in this new life together. They made a pact to explain the accident saying that their van had stalled on the railroad tracks. Linda was climbing out of the van when the train hit and dragged her down the tracks. The men passengers, who had been in the front of the van had gotten out in time. In the back, the other women had not been hurt. Dave had tried to get to Linda and save her but had been thrown to the side by the impact of the train. He suffered a broken ankle and was taken by ambulance to the hospital, as was Linda.
Their resolve to move forward and not look back took the shape of to-do lists. What would they each need to do to complete the next steps in their medical training and get jobs? That was huge. Then there were the minute details of everyday life to negotiate. Early on, Linda suggested to Dave that she thought she should have a hysterectomy to make life simpler. He countered with a suggestion that she make an appointment to consult with a gynecologist. If possible, he still wanted to have children with her.
Once they had received medical clearance for her ability to conceive, they made it happen. Within a year of the accident, Linda was pregnant with their first child.
In the book she shares many stories—learning how to walk, designing, and building a house to accommodate her needs, learning to drive, having children, getting a job, going camping. Each challenge is met with resolve and a to-do list. Her cheerfulness through every challenge she chalks up to the happiness gene that she swears exists.
Her purpose in writing the book, she says, is to show that while bad things happen to people, many people, life can go on. Her most recent challenge has come in the form of a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. She is taking harmonica lessons to strengthen her vocal cords and diaphragm. She also does swallowing exercises. Walking with her prosthetic legs has become more challenging. She still wears them every day but is using her wheelchair more. She’s taken up watercolor painting, plus she plans to go to Europe this summer. “We can do this,” she says to anyone with whom she undertakes a task, be it driving across town, or climbing Machu Picchu.
After reading the book, one feels energized, emboldened. After all, with all your arms and legs intact, there is no reason not to meet life with a can-do spirit.
Linda attended my high school, so when I first learned of her accident in 1979, I felt devastated for my friend. How could her life go on? I went to visit her when she returned to San Diego. She had her new legs and had just re-learned how to walk. We were going to go clothes shopping for her. As we walked to the car, she took charge. “Walk on my left side, Bonnie, so I can hold onto your arm.” Smiling, laughing as we walked, she helped me deal with her accident and my apprehensions. That pact she and Dave made about the accident is another example of her decision that the way forward meant helping others cope with what had happened to her. She was looking for shared laughter, not agony and hand-wringing over what had taken place. For forty plus years, I have been inspired by Linda, Dave, and their love story. I’m so glad that she wrote this book, so others could learn from her, too.
Editor’s Note: This month’s Spectrum Book Club session is a discussion of this book, on May 28 at 2 p.m. (PDT) / 5 p.m. (EDT)
Additional Spectrum articles about or by Linda Olson
Bonnie Dwyer is the former executive editor of Spectrum Magazine and executive director of Adventist Forum.
Images courtesy of Linda Olson website.
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