Rebecca Nadeau remembers collapsing in her Waterville apartment and waking up three days later in shock.

It was October 29 last year. She called to her upstairs neighbor. He dialed 911.

“I was in survival mode,” Nadeau said. “It was really scary. I was in a near death state. I was shutting down. Right next to the grim reaper. When I woke up, it was like jolted electricity and coming through a tunnel.”

The 38-year-old Nadeau was rushed to a local hospital.

“They took one look at me and rushed me to Portland,” she said. “The surgeons knew right away I had muscle cell death and needed amputation. They pumped me full of antibiotics.”

She lost both legs above the knees. Doctors are not certain what caused her condition but diagnosed her with compartment syndrome, which occurs when pressure in the muscles cuts off blood flow, preventing oxygen from reaching nerve and muscle cells.

Rebecca Nadeau received prosthetic legs from Hanger Clinic and says it is “fantastic” to stand up again. Her dream now is to go to Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield and study alternative energy systems. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

She remained in the hospital about a month and then was transferred to a physical therapy clinic. Two weeks later, on December 13, she was discharged and returned to her apartment in a wheelchair.

I met the dark-haired, brown-eyed Nadeau on Thursday at the plaza by the Two Cent Bridge at Head of Falls.

She was very matter-of-fact about what happened to her. Faced with a choice of giving up or moving on with her life, she opted to move on. She is grateful to be alive.

“It was scary when I woke up in the hospital, but you know what? They treated me very well in Portland. I was more of the mindset that I was going to get over the grieving process really quick. It was like, ‘OK, I’m going to deal with this.'”

I had seen Nadeau around the city, sometimes being pushed in her wheelchair by a friend but usually wheeling it herself. Something was different Thursday, however: She had two prosthetic legs.

“I just got these less than 48 hours ago. This is totally new,” she said. “I’m getting these as a loaner from Hanger Clinic, from John Voll. He’s an incredible fellow. It’s fantastic for me to stand up again and get the blood flowing. I got to do my dishes for the first time.”

Nadeau acknowledges her life is going to change in terms of what she’ll be able to do for work. At the time of her collapse, she had been working at Walmart, stocking freight in the back room of the meat sales area. She knows she can’t return to that type of job.

“I need to retrain and go back to school,” she said. “I need to reconfigure my life.”

Her dream is to attend Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield and study alternative energy systems and technology.

Articulate and energetic, Nadeau is a New Hampshire native who moved to Maine several years ago, first living in Bangor and then arriving in Waterville about three years ago. She said she is glad she did and likes the city for its tenor, multiculturalism and attention to the arts.

“I love to go to the Waterville Public Library. It’s a big, important place for me. I like reading the papers and magazines and looking up topics. I think the library is one of the most important community supports that we have in Waterville. They put in non-slip mats. It’s another handicapped accessible thing that they didn’t have to do, but they did.”

Rebecca Nadeau, of Waterville, is temporarily confined to a wheelchair and uses hydraulic prosthetic devices to walk after she lost both her legs following a medical crisis in October 2018. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

She also enjoys going to thrift shops and spending time at the RiverWalk at Head of Falls.

“I love to come down here and get some physical therapy. I love what they did with this park. People need a common ground, a common space. Every community needs that. It contributes to the health and welfare of all the town residents. Health should not be an exclusive thing. It should be a birthright that everyone has access to.”

She said she feels lucky to be alive, has great neighbors in the North End and a wonderful multi-colored, 3-year-old tabby cat named Henry.

“He’s beautiful and smart and a good hunter and affectionate. I love him. He is, believe it or not, part of my support. You know how some people have therapy dogs? I have a kitty. He helped me get through the whole process of healing.”

“I try to get as much physical activity as possible. I read and I talk to people. I believe that a lot of times, the answers are out there on the street. You talk to common people, and sometimes a person will tell you everything you need to know, if you only listen.”

Nadeau is philosophical about the world and her place in it.

“I just want to make small improvements in my life and in the lives of others. You never know when it’s going to end. You never know when it’s ‘game over.’ You only get so much time, and I want to make the most of it.”

 

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 31 years. Her columns appear here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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