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.
- 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:
- I examine the item, and try to guess what it is. Metal? Glass? Plastic?
- 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”.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!!!!!
- 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.
- 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.