September 2004/ February 2007
For better or worse, Israeli hospitals have the whole bombing routine down pat. Mere moments after the bombing, local hospitals were notified and the established emergency procedures were put into effect. By the time I arrived at the hospital an experienced team of medical personnel had been assembled outside the emergency room entrance to receive the wounded. Professor Avi Rivkind, the head of the Shock Trauma unit, received a rundown of my injuries from the Magen David Adom paramedics, downgraded my condition to serious and admitted me to the Shock Trauma unit for a much more thorough examination and treatment.
Recently, I spent some time reviewing my hospital records. Here, in bullet point form, is what was wrong with me and how it was treated.
- Injury: my entire body was liberally coated with cuts, abrasions and shrapnel wounds. Apart from one large wound to my arm, and a puncture wound to my leg, all of the wounds were superficial. Treatment: wash it all down, cover the wounds with ointment and bandages and allow the wounds to heal naturally. Shrapnel was removed only as needed (that is, as larger pieces came out on their own). A year after the bombing I started a six-month series of laser treatment to reduce the scarring on my right leg, with limited success.
- Injury: blast damage to my lungs. Treatment: I was put onto a respirator to allow my lungs to heal.
- Injury: there was an approximately 10" T-shaped gash across the top of my forehead and down the center of my head. A CAT scan showed no swelling of the brain. Treatment: closed up with staples and stitches.
- Injury: shrapnel entering my cheek and jaw created small fractures in the bone and severed nerves in my cheek, mouth and tongue. Treatment: the entry wounds were stitched up. The damage to my jaw was ultimately treated with physical therapy. The nerves were left to regenerate (or not) on their own.
- Injury: various shrapnel entry wounds were noted in my neck with one piece of shrapnel nestled a mere centimeter away from my cartheroid artery. Treatment: a decision was made not to try and remove the shrapnel from my neck, on the basis that the risk would outweigh the possible benefit.
- Injury: both eardrums and the inner workings of my right ear were damaged by the force of the blast. Treatment: a surgery was performed seven months after the bombing to repair my right eardrum. The left eardrum repaired itself on its own.
- Injury: a hooked piece of copper wire had entered my left eyeball, endangering the vision in my eye. Treatment: surgery was performed to remove the wire and laser closed the hole caused by the wire.
- Injury: a piece of shrapnel had ripped off part of my right eyelid and trauma had caused hemorrhaging within my right eye. (Although sedated and seemingly unconscious, I was "awake" for this part of the examination and was heard Dr. Antebe's description of the damage to my right eyelid, and what was to be done about it. The very fact that the doctor had a plan and that the plan did not involve eyeball removal comforted me.) Treatment: Dr. Antebe stretched what was left of my eyelid over the gap left by the shrapnel. Although further surgery was expected, in the end, none was necessary.
What is lacking in this vast ocean of medical records and newspaper articles is a true description of the human cost. Across the ocean, my friends and family waited anxiously for news-first of the extent of my injuries, and then of the progress of my recovery and what on earth they could possibly do about any of it. At the same time, on this side of the planet, it took a while to piece together the puzzle of my injuries and how to treat them. For all concerned, this was a process alternatively full of fear, frustration, depression, joy and ultimately, astonishment and overwhelming gratitude that it was not worse.
I originally wrote this article in September 2004. At that time, I noted that the treatment period was stretched out over approximately a year. But as I learned the following summer when my a hole developed in the macula of my right eye due to the original trauma, and as I was recently reminded in September 2007 when I underwent emergency surgery to repair the now-expanded hole and then again three months later, when a routine hearing test revealed further deterioration in the hearing in my left ear, the treatment period is never really going to be over. It is an unpleasant fact, and one that I have learned, or rather, I am still learning, to live with.