Friday, January 11, 2008

Getting to Know Your Shrapnel

May 2002

The bombing left me with shrapnel wounds over my entire body aside from my feet. My feet were spared because I was wearing my brown leather Naot brand mini-boots that covered my feet up to right below my ankles. I bought the shoes while I was still in Ulpan. My canvas slip-on’s (purchased before I left the US for about $15) had worn out to the point that they developed actual holes in the toes and people started laughing at me, and so I gave in to the inevitable, and decided to go shoe shopping. I called my friend Galia for shoe store suggestions and asked my friend Yael to come protect me from my sense of style. We ventured downtown in search of footwear. At first I thought of buying another pair of canvas slip-ons, but then I decided to invest (to the tune of 350 shekels-about $80) in a pair of Naot, on the basis that these shoes would last for years and years and years, during which time period I would not have to look for more shoes. Unfortunately, I forgot to factor in the diminishing effect that a human bomb has on the lifespan of a pair of shoes. That being said, I can tell all of you interested consumers that Naot-at least the style I had-provide effective protection for your feet against suicide bombers. This is a particularly important detail if you find yourself unidentified for two days and your face is so badly swollen that your own roommate, who has seen you even at your worst moments, cannot recognize you, and has to identify you by your toenail polish. So despite the loss of my shoes, I am nonetheless pleased with my purchase, and am considering contacting Naot, and asking them if by chance they sell leather pants, shirts, gloves, helmets, underwear, bras, and full-face masks for my future outings. I suppose I could go to a sex shop, but I don’t know that the quality would be as high.

Some of you may be asking: “Couldn’t you get the whip at the sex shop?” The answer is: “Yes, because a whip is, in the case of a suicide bomb attack, merely an accessory, as opposed to being protective gear, and therefore quality is less of an issue”. Seriously, some of you are may be asking: “What is shrapnel?” I don’t know that Websters would agree, but my personal definition is: “anything which can be hurled through the air and into your body at incredible speed if something blows up”. In my case, this includes:
  • Metal and other debris from the bomb. In all seriousness, I was very lucky. Other bombers have used homemade bombs filled with screws, nails, and other larger items. At times, the contents were dipped in poison to maximize the damage. In this bombing, the terrorist was armed with a “clean” bomb made of plastique. The bomb affected a wider area, but the pieces of shrapnel it expelled were much smaller and not poisoned.
  • Bits and pieces of metal, glass and plastic from objects damaged or destroyed by the blast. The piece of glass removed from my hand this past week could be from a bus window, or it could be from someone’s glasses.
  • Pebbles
  • Wood
  • Other random items, some of which are too gross to mention, or even contemplate (i.e. bits o’ terrorist)

Unless the shrapnel is causing damage, doctors will leave it where it is. Unfortunately there appear to be some differences between “causing damage” as defined by doctors and “causing damage” as defined by the average layman. For instance, many doctors do not define shrapnel which makes one’s face numb in parts and lumpy to the touch as “causing damage”. One doctor concluded his examination of my face with a cheerful “Zeh lo catastrof”, this isn’t a catastrophe. On the bright side, I am using this experience to force myself to pick up that essential, Israeli trait: the ability to argue with ANYBODY, including one’s doctor, even if the doctor is a neurosurgeon who might be called upon later to do very delicate surgery on one’s face. In the meantime, however, my shrapnel has been classed as “mostly harmless”, a good chunk of it is still in me and I should be setting off metal detectors for years to come. Theoretically, the average terrorist should have an easier time getting into the Central Bus Station than I will (more on that later).

But enough of the bad stuff, now it is time for what makes shrapnel fun. After it goes in (not the fun part), it comes out! All by itself! What I have learned is that shrapnel often slowly but surely works its way up to the surface and is expelled from the body. Every day I check my body for objects which, like lounge lizards slinking out late at night from a singles event, are starting to emerge. I then do the following:

  1. I examine the item, and try to guess what it is. Metal? Glass? Plastic?
  2. I brush it gently with my fingers, to see if it will dislodge. If it does, and it isn’t really, really teensy-weensy and non-impressive, and if it doesn’t fall from my finger onto the floor and get lost, I put it into my “Official Machane Yehuda Bombing Shrapnel Collection Test-Tube”.
  3. If it doesn’t dislodge, I gently feel the area around the shrapnel to check for swelling, edges, etc. This gives me some indication as to the size of the piece, and whether it is going to require medical assistance to remove.
  4. Size and/or swelling be damned, I try to remove the item myself. I jiggle it a bit, push around it like you do with splinters and try to pull it out with my eyebrow tweezers.
  5. I smack myself on the hand and tell myself to stop playing with the shrapnel and to let it come out on its own. Bad BAD Gila!!!!!
  6. If my cooler friends are around (cooler being defined as anyone who find this whole process fascinating as opposed to disgusting”), I call them over, and show them. If no friends are present, I make a mental note to show them the next time I see them.
  7. I put a glop of iodine ointment on the area and cover it with gauze and tape. The combination of iodine ointment, gauze and tape is wonderful, and has become my standard medical treatment for just about everything.

Every day is a new adventure as I find all sorts of foreign objects emerging from my body. Just last week I had two pieces removed by the friendly neighborhood plastic surgeon: a piece of glass and a piece of metal. I would not be at all surprised to wake up one morning and find a rutabaga emerging from my right kneecap. Well, yes, of course, I am exaggerating. I have been in Israel for 10 months now (May 9 was my anniversary), and I have yet to see a rutabaga anywhere. A cucumber or tomato would be much more likely.

If I may digress for a cultural note, Israelis are obsessed with cucumbers and tomatoes. During Ulpan, they were served at every single meal. I have friends who, today, months after the Ulpan ended, still shudder at the thought of eating cucumbers and tomatoes. If you were to call them up very late at night, like 3 AM, (and I am not suggesting you do so, unless you think this might be fun), and whisper “cucumbers and tomatoes”, they would start screaming and call the police. Not that the police would come. The police are too busy guarding against terrorists using metal detectors which do not detect metal.

Metal detectors that do not detect metal??? Is that trauma you hear? Anger? Bitterness? No. It is crushing disappointment. In all of the times since the bombing in which I have been swept over by a so-called metal detector, not one has beeped. This includes the time I visited the police station to collect my wallet. Now I know that I have metal shrapnel. I have seen the pieces on x-rays. The fact that I have not had to explain ONCE that I am beeping because my body contains pieces of what was once a bus, a bus stop, my eyeglass frames (got the case back, but not the glasses), and perhaps random cars which were nearby and damaged by the blast, is not only worrisome, but also very irritating. Talk about wasting a chance for a good time.

Of course, shrapnel exiting the body does present certain dangers. The first and most obvious is that the shrapnel will get confused and will move in the wrong direction, and instead of popping out of one’s neck, will instead surface in one’s jugular, spinal cord or some other sensitive area. This possibility is particularly worrisome to this terror victim, who actually has a nice little collection of shrapnel in her neck. All doctors I have asked, including my father, have assured me that this is not going to happen, but I am not so sure I trust them. Every day, I feel the little lumps on my neck to make sure that they are still there, and that the shrapnel has not departed for warmer climates.

The second danger is that exiting shrapnel may endanger others. I do not refer to random bits of plastic being ejected forcefully and at high speed from my body, and lodging itself in someone else. Unless I blow myself up (which I have seen, with my very own eyes, to be fatal and generally not a good idea), the ejection of shrapnel, like everything else related to this process of healing is a painfully sloooooooooowwwwwww process, and, in fact, likely to continue for years and years and years. Wherein lies the problem. I have been assured that, someday, in the future, over the next year, or over the next couple of years, or perhaps never and I will just have to adjust to my new reality, but anyway, as the sloooooooooowwwwwww process of healing moves forward:

  • the scars on my face will fade, either naturally or with assistance from a dermatologist,
  • my bald spot and spot-with-a-crew-cut will grow in,
  • my eye will be fixed and will stop oozing goo and I will be allowed to wear makeup again,
  • the numbness in the left side of my face may diminish and the damage to my jaw muscle will be fixed and my face will no longer feel like stiff rubber,
  • some of the shrapnel in my face will come out, and my face won’t feel so lumpy to the touch,
  • the extensive collection of multicolored marks/scars from cuts, abrasions, shrapnel entry wounds and G-d knows what else which currently decorate virtually all of my body will fade and
  • I will be able to pluck my eyebrows and wax my legs.

In short, someday, in the future, I might actually look like someone that a guy might want to date, and I might actually feel like dating. Why is this a problem? Imagine the following scene (rated PG-13-me kissing a guy):

Him: Ouch! What the hell was that?
Me: Oh my goodness, you are bleeding! (feel around my face a bit) Yes, just as I thought. Some shrapnel which has been lodged in my jaw is now coming out of my face as part of sloooooooooowwwwwww process of healing. (run to the mirror to look). Hey! It looks like part of the bus!
Him: Yeah, well, it just severed one of my arteries!
Me: Zeh lo catestrof!

********

Just like the shrapnel, the bombing also works its slow but sure way out. But it does so through words.

39 comments:

JudithArnold said...

Gila--I am so glad you're sharing this. I've sent the blog address to friends, and they are in awe.

Barbara

Gila said...

Thanks. I decided to finally do something with all of the essays that have been mouldering on my computer for the last four-six years or so. Edit one essay a week, get it out there, and by the end of the year, I can move on to something else without feeling that I am neglecting a task undone.

A Soldier's Mother said...

Hi Gila,

This is a great idea - it brings an Israeli reality to others in a way that not much else could. I'm putting a link on my This is Israel blog (www.thisisisrael.blogspot.com) and a few other sites! Keep up the good work. It can't be easy...but it is so very important. All the best.

Paula

Gila said...

Thank you. :)

Gila

RayH said...

Gila, thank you for sharing this. This gives a personal perpsective to what is going on over in Israel.
I've bookmarked your blog and put it near the top of my list.

Gruven Reuven said...

Thank you for sharing.

elimelech ha-levi said...

Thank you for sharing what life is like so far away and so close to danger from ones who wish to kill us all. It is sad how human nature can be so devastating and so hateful. But your posts bring hope for healing out of tragedy. Keep up the good work.
Shalom-
Elimelech

Ahuva said...

Gila,

I think this is a wonderful idea. Of course, being the wimp that I am, I cried and wanted to run and give you a big hug.

Ahuva

Anonymous said...

Gila,

You should definitely quit your accounting career and embrace in the art of writing.

Your sarcasm is the ultimate indication that you have become an Israel.

Ofer

Anonymous said...

I am reading.

WashingtonGardener said...

Stopping in to say 'hi'

Risbyraz said...

Ofer beat me to it with his comment, "Your sarcasm is the ultimate indication that you have become an Israel." Was just about to write the same thing! A truly impressive dissertation on shrapnel - I will never look at a piece of it in the same way again!
Glad you are posting...
Rachael

Ralphie said...

Didn't expect to laugh when I came to this site - I appreciate your sense of humor. Fine writing indeed.

Shoshana said...

Wow - I've just read this one post and have to say that your writing is exceptional and your attitude even moreso. You should consider becoming a motivational speaker - I think your story and the way you approach it would be a tremendous inspiration to many.

texpat said...

Greetings from Texas, Gila. Well sort of, since currently I am a Texan living outside NYC. Your writing is warm, funny and inspiring. The description of the shrapnel working it way out reminds me of when I went through a windshield (twice!) in an auto accident. I had pieces of glass working their way out of head for ten years. There is certainly no comparison, but I have shared that odd feeling. Your courage is admirable. Good Luck and congratualtions on your new blog.

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff, catharsis I guess. Sounds like you already have expelled a lot of fear and anger. Glass and metal are next.

All the best. I admire your courage.

american woman said...

Thank you for writing. I think you are brave, and I think you won't live your life with regret. Good for you. Another Texas " Hi" from another Texan

Stacy said...

Wanted to leave you a comment and let you know I am reading.

You have a great talent for writing. I hope to read more of your stories.

mother in israel said...

Got here through Muqata and looking forward to more.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful writing. Another wonderful thing about blogging...

westbankmama

LindaSoG said...

That was an amazingly powerful bit of writing, thank you so much for sharing. You are amazing.

Howlsatmoon said...

Wow. Hold onto that wonderful attitude. When you can occassionally laugh at the pain, you'll heal.

Wollf

Anonymous said...

Directed here by LindaSoG. Great writing. Good luck on your recovery.

from Texas, USA
mary

Alan Peters said...

Hello Gila,

I found the link to Shrapnel on Linda Sog's website and having had a very minor experience of bits of glass coming out of parts of my face for a while after an accident put bits of windshield into me, I can visualize your plight that you handle with the best weapon - humor.

FYI, an objection to this kind of thing - among many others - are partly why I set up http://www.antimullah.com

Another thing I found on Linda's site and placed on three of my web pages is a youtube of a singer (no idea who it is) that woke my heart. Check it out on her site or mine and it may soothe yours with the beauty of the sound and words.

faith/emuna said...

'i am reading' but find i cant take it all in at once. i now have another reason not to want to be in a bombing - fear of dead terrorist peices being lodged in my body. humor is great. our car was hit with a rock recently and when i immediately called it in to the army (you know you live on a yishuv when you have the army on speed dial right after your husband and 2 sons) i kept saying that we were hit in the shimshia (sun umbrella) instead of shimsha (windshield) and my teenage sons rolled their eyes and said 'the soldiers arent going to take you seriously, they think your on the beach sunbathing.' so when people ask me about the incident i have to stop myself from laughing bc i keep thinking of being under a sun umbrella at the beach and having a stone popping through behind me. feel guilty laughing but you are really funny. all the best faith/emuna

Gila said...

Emuna-
Why feel guilty about laughing? It is supposed to be funny! I mean, I could have made all of my articles depressing, but then no one would read them or comment and that would be dull. :)

As for the Hebrew blooper--yes, I think all of us new olim have our own little collection. One of my fave's is that of a friend of mine. He was at the Super and asked for "shada'im oaf", or chicken boobies. He was, of course, translating literally from the English.

I have my own, but (ahem) cannot think of any right now.

faith/emuna said...

why feel guilty? lets see ...imagine this scenario..
me sitting at computer laughing out loud
someonewantingthecomputer - whats so funny
me - this blog
someonewantingthecomputer -whats it about?
me - oh this really funny woman who was wounded from a bomb in mahane yehuda and was unidentified in the hospital for 2 days and still finds unidentifiable peices of shrapnel coming our of her body
someonewantingthecomputer oh ha ha ha your right sounds very funny - you are sick

about the shimsha/ shimshia im sure the soldiers didnt hear my blooper through the static, and it was almost midnight in the winter so they were not confused by it, the soldiers were unfamiliar with the area they were stationed in so didnt understand where we were. so when my kids made fun of me it was just an absurd joke in an absurd situation

tnspr569 said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing. I couldn't decide which post to comment on, so I just picked this one. Keep up the good work in the Holy Land!

Jesse said...

Gila -

Your blog was linked to from Treppanwitz...just so you know how I got here ;-)

Your writing, and more inportantly, your story are absolutely inspirational! My family and I are making Aliyah over the next couple of years, and to read that this happened only months after you made the jump...and that your still there...give me hope that we'll make it.

Thank you so much for your courage and for sharing your essays!

cba said...

Gila,

Kol Hakavod! I got to your blog via Discarded Lies (the posts aboutTo Die in Jerusalem) and am delighted to make your cyberspace acquaintance. You are a treasure, and I look forward to reading many more of your posts.

And yes, I will be telling my friends and family to go read your blog right now!.

Penguin-lovin' Trollmamma said...

I'm in awe. Oh no, wait, someone already said that in the first comment. (Allahdammit.)

I love the way you write. And now you have me as a reader, try and get rid of me. Just.... try. Dare ya.

Trollmamma x

YMedad said...

HH #164 brought me here. Keep on tapping those keys.

debizblog said...

Gila - this is amazing writing. I was intrigued when you spoke at the Blogging convention last night, and decided I had to come and see for myself.
Thank G-d I've never been through something like you have, but somehow you found the humourous side of it. I'm in awe.
Debi

ahuva said...

Gila,
It would be so very uncreative and boring to repeat everyone else here by telling you how courageous, fantastic, and witty you are (although I am very tempted to)-
I just wanted to leave a comment thanking you for sharing this. I am looking forward to reading much your from your pen...well, keyboard. kudos on your blog.

ahuva

Joshua Skootsky said...

You are wondering why your shrapnel does not activate metal detectors.

The answer is that metal detectors are not very sensitive. The "wand" and "walk through" detectors are looking for substances that conduct electricity very well, not just metal.

This gives them a problem: human blood is a good conductor of electricity, due to the salts, and so if a "metal" detector was made too sensitive, it would detect this conductivity and give a false alarm.

So, metal detectors cannot be made sensitive enough to find the small pieces of shrapnel in you, or, more accurately, a metal detector that could would be useless.

Anonymous said...

Gila,

I have roughly 7 pieces of Shrapbel in my lower right leg (7 that you can see on an x-ray that is)......I find comfort in reading your blog,,,, it makes me feel a little normal knowing that, for some others, this is nothing out of the ordinary.

Thanks for sharing....

Victim of Circumstance.

KatWomanUSA said...

My Hebrew name is also GILA- I enjoyed reading your blog and linked to this page from Elder of Ziyon- your account of the aftermath of the bus bombs - I wish everyone could read this and see - that surviving an attack is not without long term consequences- physical and mental- it is only one week since since the Fogel Murders and another Jeruslalem bus bombing- one died- but there are 11 more like you- who will live a life of expelling shrapnel- USA born- raised by Jews and converted (my mom was not Jewish)

Anonymous said...

Gila, thanks for this blog. I'm an American (Atlanta, Georgia) and wanted a basic account of shrapnel after coming across a reference in a book. I appreciate your firsthand account. While I'm sorry that you had this experience--that anyone has had or will have this experience--your reaction reveals your strength. Blessings, and thank you again for sharing this with the world.

Alex South said...

Thank you so much for sharing. You write very well, and have opened my eyes to an experience I knew nothing about.