Sunday, March 23, 2008

Perspective

One caveat....this article was written nearly six years ago. I look much better now!

Though I have (unfortunately) managed to gain back all the weight (and then some) that I lost on the exclusive and oh-so-fab Machane Yehuda bombing Diet Plan.

If only I would get off the computer and get the butt to a gym....

**********

June 2002

I am not dealing with the bombing nearly as well as everyone seems to think that I am. Everyone comments on my good attitude and how I am so “up” and positive and optimistic. Me, I don’t know if I would use those words. I am practical. I am pragmatic. I am good at putting things into perspective. Nonetheless, there are places where this ability has failed me completely and I have become hysterical.

The medical, financial and career related issues are easy enough to deal with. Yes, I was hospitalized for two weeks and was in danger of losing my sight. Yes, I am still undergoing treatment, and will be for the foreseeable future. But it could have been worse. Perhaps it should have been worse, seeing how close I was to the terrorist. I was actually unbelievably fortunate. As it was, I haven’t lost my sight and none of my other conditions are life threatening. All in all, they constitute a source or irritation and aggravation, not danger. I myself have seen others in far worse shape than am I.

True, I have been unable to work and am looking at a summer of not working or working half-time, at best. I am getting payment for the lost hours from National Insurance, but these are determined based on my salary through March…before the raise I received in April. That being said, if one were to do an accounting, I probably would be found to have come out ahead. The couple thousand shekels I will forgo in salary has been more than made up for by grants I have gotten from organizations which help victims of terror. (Sure, a chunk of that is paying for extra expenses which National Insurance won’t reimburse, but just the same.…) Add in the value of the computer I am typing on (a gift from the Hadassah chapter in DC, and nicer than anything I would have been able to afford) and I really have nothing to complain about.

Emotionally, it is a bit tougher for me to get past the fact that I pretty much lost the entire last semester. I was killing myself to get through my classes to prepare for the accounting boards. I lived, breathed and ate Israeli corporate, constitutional and employment law; I made such an enormous investment of time and energy. At the time of the bombing, the end was in sight. I was about two-thirds of the way through each of the classes and was registered to take the exams in May and June. Now I have to start the classes over and I won’t take the exams until November.

Even here, however, the situation isn’t dire. First of all, I have been set back six months. In the grand scheme of a lifetime (assuming I successfully avoid other life-shortening catastrophes) six months is nothing. As for having to review material I already learned, how well did I learn it in the first place? There is no doubt that I missed a fair amount of the material in the first place, just because of the language barrier. Plus, they offer the exam in English in November. All in all, I will have a far better chance of passing the exams.

So as you can see, up through this point, when I put it into perspective I see that it really is not that bad. I can deal with this.

And then I come to my face, my eyes and my hair…and everything goes to hell.

I have scars on my face. A pink scar is slashed across my forehead and brown spots are scattered on my cheeks, with an extra-large one on the side of my mouth. The right side of my jaw, where I took an extra dose of shrapnel, sports a combination of both brown and pink marks. My friends try to cheer me up by telling me that they look like acne scars. Right. They look like scars.

My right eye is surrounded by raised scars and requires plastic surgery to correct the shape. My eyes are framed by huge eyebrows I am not yet allowed to pluck and glasses I am not sure I like. My eyes are sensitive to light, and when I go out, I have to wear enormous sunglasses that fit over my glasses. You know the ones—the type senior citizens wear after cataract surgery. The only benefit is that no one can see my eyes. It cuts down on the “what happened to her” looks. My eyes are supposed to look normal after my plastic surgery; but what if the surgery isn’t successful? What do I do then?

My forehead, cheeks and jaw are full of shrapnel and are lumpy to the touch. The shrapnel damaged two nerves in my face, leaving portions of the right half of my face numb. You can’t see the lumps or the numbness, but I can feel them. I run my fingers along my jaw and it feels as though there is cotton between the lumpy, mottled skin and my finger. When I use the muscles in my face to speak or smile I feel as though I were stretching stiff rubber. The shrapnel may or may not come out on its own and the numbness may or may not go away.

My hair was shaved around my forehead so doctors could close up a gash on the top of my head with 10 inches of staples and stitches. I have a long white scar centered on top of my head. I cover the area with a headband and take comfort in the fact that my hair is growing in, and that I prefer to part my hair on the side anyway. The real problem is in the back of my head. I have developed a huge bald spot where my hair fell out as a result of the trauma. So far, not only is the bald spot not growing back in, but I believe that it is actually spreading. I am afraid to wash my hair, afraid to brush it, afraid to do anything which might cause more hair to fall out. After a lifetime of playing with my hair, twisting my curls, tossing locks back off my face, I hardly dare touch it. There is one exception. My bald spot is still covered by other hair, but it may be only a matter of time before that falls out. Whenever I move my head to the side I gingerly touch the area. Is the bald spot exposed? Is the hair which covers it thinning out? I am even more terrified by the prospect that my hair may never grow back, or will grow back thin or straight or both.

It is just not fair. I never saw myself as being particularly pretty but the weekend before the bombing I felt beautiful. I had started exercising very intensively about six weeks before and had lost quite a bit of weight. My roommate had a Shabbat lunch and I remember dressing for it quite carefully. Tan pants which showed off my improved figure. A simple white button- down shirt that fit me just so. My gold and silver watch, received for my graduation and simple silver earrings. My eyes and complexion were enhanced with neutral, barely- there makeup. I may or may not have put on foundation. I really did not need it, a point my roommate much envied. To complete the look—my hair gathered up into a simple knot on the back of my head. My version of a Grace Kelly look. I do not remember exactly how I looked, but I remember precisely how I felt: lovely. Less than one week later, all of my good features: my eyes, my complexion and my hair were destroyed, just shot straight to hell. And it doesn’t matter if I have makeup or headbands to hide the damage. I know it is there. I know that I am an ugly woman and that there is a fighting good chance that this is all I will ever be.

Sometimes, I look in the mirror and am struck by the overwhelming sense that I almost look like me. It is surreal. In the space of an explosive second, I disappeared, and was replaced by someone who is almost, but not quite, me. I look in the mirror, and see a stranger with a scarred face and thinning hair and I think, “I will never really be me again”. How do you deal with that? How can I possibly put this into perspective?

How can I put into perspective the fact that no one is going to want an ugly me? What hope is there for me? I am already 31 and I never had much luck in the romance department. The last “long-term” relationship I had lasted for about two months, and took place six years ago. In the 4 ½ years before the bombing, I had no boyfriends, and virtually no dates. No one thought I was interesting or pretty or anything enough to even invite me out for a cup of coffee. And now this happens. If no one wanted me then, who the hell will want me now? Or consider the flip side, even if someone were to ask me out, how could I possibly accept? I cannot, in a million years, ever imagine kissing a guy so long as I have a face like this; so long as humiliation is barely hidden under a headband and foundation. What else can I do but panic?

My doctors, my friends and my family tell me: wait. In a year, two years, I will see, it will get better. The pink scars will fade. There are creams to clean up the brown spots on my face. There are lasers to clean up the blue spots on my arms and legs. My hair will grow back—normally it starts within a year. Relax. Don’t panic. Give it a year. Give it two. Did I mention I am 31? Did I mention my birthday is in September? I’ll be 32? Did I mention that I was already thinking about looking into freezing eggs? How many years do I have anyway, before it is too late?

How can I put this into perspective? How do I rationalize this away? Unlike the health, the finances and the classes, there is no “at the same time” or “however”. There is no bright side. I lost something and I am simply not going to get it back. I have been taken away and been replaced by someone with a far lonelier, bleaker future.

What the hell do I do now?

13 comments:

kleine Maus said...

BUTT?

GET OFF YOUR BUTT AND JOIN THE MARINES!

JOHN WAYNE

lizarosenberg said...

Wow. I think this has got to be one of the most powerful pieces that you've posted so far.

What you're doing here is so important. I think people tend to forget about the victims who survived and all that they have to endure. You "force" people to think about it. Keep it up.

Baila said...

The scariest thing is the not knowing how much of what you lost you will recover. You can be reassured 1000 times by the experts that it will get better, but its hard to believe them...

Now six years later, you probably have recovered as much as you are going to; I'm glad you seem okay with where you are.

As always, your honesty is just gripping.

Raul said...

SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.

Lord Byron

From your overseas friends Fidel and Raul ( Fidel loves to drink Rooibos tea)

Mia said...

Oh Gila!
Of all of the painfull posts I think this is the most painfull. I'll have you know I just ran off the the ladies room in tears.
I'm glad to know you are better now and feel better with yourself.
I have a feeling your Mr Right is around here somewhere, and will show up soon.
You really look very good from where I see you.

Eric said...

Tough. I died on the operating table, then spent a month in ICU. And that was just the first time. You're still breathing, be thankful.

Gila said...

Kleine Maus/Raul--well, at least now you are posting poetry in English. :) As for the rum and cigars--so sorry, but not offered.

Liza--then consider this my official "thank you" for your oh-so-cool UN piece.

Baila--the truth is that I really do look fine now. I mean, I still bitch about my scarred legs, but whatever.

Mia--AACCKK--sorry!

Eric--and your point being? As I tell my friends when they would start to tell me their troubles and then stop and say "oh, but you had it much worse..." --"Nu, and that helps you how?" Okay, I went through a bombing--that will not help you walk if you tear a ligament in your knee.

Your email seems to indicate that you who never complains and can look at the bright side of everything from the first moment and who never feels sorry for himself. As in, your gratitude is just there--you never have to journey to get to it. And that you look down at people who are not like you.

If you are not the perfect type--nu--there are people who just die on the operating table and that is it. Quit yer bitchin'.

And if you are like that- more power to you. Most people are not like that.

Speaking as an average person, I am more inspired by the people like me (who bitch, moan and screw up yet still manage to make it through) than by the superheroes. I look at a superhero and say "I could never do that". I look at the average person who has accomplished something impressive and I say "wow--if she can do it, I can do it".

Case in point...I am about 20 lbs overweight. When I look at gorgeous 20 year old fashion models, I despair. When I meet someone who, at the age of 40, after years of being overweight, managed to get herself in shape, I am completely pumped.

The Bears From Hell said...

Eric,

How thoughtful of you, she wants to walk the streets, dress up, flirt and live the life of a woman in the coolest place on earth, Tel Aviv.

You died on the operating table, than what are you doing here?

Eric said...

Bears: They zapped me, cut a hole in my throat, put me on a respirator and stuck me
in ICU for about a month. I would much rather have spent it by my pool.

Ahuva said...

Eric,

Gila has said many times that it could have been much worse. That doesn't mean that what she went through wasn't pretty awful-- she has every right to feel the way she does about what has happened.

Gila, honey, I love this post-- even though I don't remember your scars as being particularly noticeable. Maybe they'd vanished by the time I saw you, or maybe we're just all our own worst critics.

vedaal said...

" [How can I put into perspective the fact that no one is going to want an ugly me? What hope is there for me?]"


the 'perspective' is that the description of 'an ugly me' is *totally* inaccurate!!!

understandably, in your modesty, you didn't completely or accurately describe your appearance,

allow me to try to fill in the parts you missed ;-)

the beautiful radiance of the 'True You within', shines through and eclipses whatever external details you mentioned, (and would eclipse even the lovely vision you shared of 'yourself before the bombing'),


"[no one is going to want]"

well,
maybe no jerks you are better off without ...

this may save you a great deal of time, in that it can be a 'fast track' to dealing only with those who are 'already' attracted to the Total You, as opposed to those who might be only superficially interested,

(and, btw,
must point out an xy chromosome quirk here that you might not have considered;
believe it or not,
facial scars are 'not' the first thing a guy notices [or even the second or third ;-) ]

"[this article was written nearly six years ago. I look much better now!]"

which you might not have believed then,
so also, now,
believe too that there is HOPE that things will get progressively better!

If you have doubts about any of this,
consider 'updating' your 'muppet photo,
and seeing the reaction you get,

you might be VERY HAPPILY SURPRISED ...

QuietusLeo said...

A very moving post.
I'm reminded of yet another soldier I treated. He was brought in unconscious to the hospital with a bullet wound to his chest. After emergency surgery which saved his life (kudos to the most excellent surgeon), he was brought to me in the ICU. After he recovered from the anesthesia I discovered that he was paraplegic. Interestingly, after apprising him and his family as to his condition, it was his younger sister who asked if he will be able to have children.

RivkA with a capital A said...

TOTALLY IDENTIFY WITH:
1. feeling like I'm fooling everyone with my "positive attitude"

2. afraid to brush my hair and lose what's left

3. afraid my hair will never grow back (once my best feature -- long, red, and did I mention it was down to my....)

4. poor complexion -- I get cortizone with Herceptin and it gives me the acne I never had as a teenager. Oh yeah, and it doesn't go away because I heal so slowly, thanks to the chemo. (need I say more?)

5. lost (stolen) time, that I'll never get back! (TOTALLY SCARED of losing more, btw)

6. I am also "practical... pragmatic.... good at putting things into perspective." It's all bullshit.

If I keep moving, I don't have to think about how scared I am all the f***ing time.

Btw, it's 3:21 at night. After laying in bed, tossing and turning, I finally gave up and got up.

Cancer SUCKS!