First, the back story, because, B.J. Miller has found, the back story is unavoidable when you are missing three limbs.
Miller was a sophomore at Princeton when, one Monday night in November 1990, he and two friends went out for drinks and, at around 4 a.m., found themselves ambling toward a convenience store for sandwiches. They decided to climb a commuter train parked at the adjacent rail station, for fun. Miller scaled it first. When he got to the top, electrical current arced out of a piece of equipment into the watch on his wrist. Eleven-thousand volts shot through his left arm and down his legs. When his friends reached him on the roof of the train, smoke was rising from his feet.
Miller remembers none of this. His memories don’t kick in until several days later, when he woke up in the burn unit of St. Barnabas Medical Center, in Livingston, N.J. Thinking he’d resurfaced from a terrible dream, he tried to shamble across his hospital room on the charred crusts of his legs until he used up the slack of his catheter tube and the device tore out of his body. Then, all the pain hit him at once.
Doctors took each leg just below the knee, one at a time. Then they turned to his arm, which triggered in Miller an even deeper grief. (“Hands do stuff,” he explains. “Your foot is just a stinky, clunky little platform.”) For weeks, the hospital staff considered him close to death. But Miller, in a devastated haze, didn’t know that. He only worried about who he would be when he survived.