Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cool Random Things

Speaking to my normally sarcastic, slightly acerbic sister on the phone and having her burst into a paroxysm of giggles when I described how I gave myself a dizzy spell when I accidentally smacked myself in the face with my teddy bear. (My inner ears were really out of whack).

Plotting with my friend Debbie as to how we were going to disguise ourselves as Dr. Gila and Nurse Debbie, go prowling the hospital for cute guys and give them physical exams. My father was here for this conversation. I am pretty sure that he did not enjoy it.

Asking my father, while I was still in the ICU, whether the IV drip I was on was dietetic. I may be wrong about this, but I suspect that this rather typical (for me) question probably made him feel much better about my chances for a full recovery. Much to my disappointment, he said no. Nonetheless, I lost weight.

The day after I left the ICU, I asked the nurse if I could take a shower. Sure, but she would need another family member to help. Unfortunately, the only family member there was my father. However my friend Debbie was visiting and she immediately announced that, after five months of dorm life-there was nothing we hadn’t seen. I was covered with scabs, wounds, cuts, stitches-she didn’t bat an eye.

Even better--being able to take a shower on my own.

Walking around in slippers for two days after I left the ICU until it finally dawned on us that 1) I owned no slippers (or rather, I did, but they had been blown up) and 2) no one had brought me slippers and therefore 3) clearly, I had someone else's slippers. When I was transferred from the ICU, someone else's bag was inadvertently sent with me. My friends bought me lovely green monster slippers instead.

A friend of mine came to see me in the ICU. At the end of her visit, she told me that she would come back the next day. I told her to wait till next week. I had been told I would be hospitalized for a several weeks, and I figured that the visitors would taper off, and I would be lonely. It never happened. Every single night I had a crowd of friends come to visit me.

Blissfully bobbing around in my bed to and singing along with a Benny Goodman CD…and then opening my eyes to discover my bed surrounded by what appeared to be every last medical resident at Hadassah. Glad you liked the show, boys!

Receiving books of get-well pictures drawn by children from the pre-school I worked at during ulpan. I still have them (the pictures, not the children).

The hospital social worker, Barbara Jacobson, walking in with my mother's class ring the very morning that it occurred to me that it had been removed at some point, and that I should try to locate it.

Chatting with my aliyah shaliach (immigration representative), Gabi Raubitschek, about how the hospital food had not improved since the days when she was a child, and her parents worked in the hospital. (As an update, I have been hospitalized several times since the bombing and I can attest to the fact that the food has still not improved. Fortunately for me, however, they built a mall next to the hospital and the mall has all sorts of places with edible food.)

At my request, my bosses bringing an assortment of office supplies to the hospital to help me get organized. They had already figured out I was a bit of a control-freak; I don't think they realized it was to quite this extent….

After days and days fantasizing about flossing my teeth, (or rather, nights and nights-it kept me occupied during those hours when I could not sleep and could not do anything else) my friend Nomi bringing me dental floss.

Two of my friends going to the police station to collect my beloved Franklin planner and then sneaking into the hospital long after visiting hours were over to give it to me. One of the two had a broken leg; they pretended that he was a patient in order to get past the guard.

My dad telling me that he was proud of me.

BG (Barbara Goldstein, head of the Hadassah Organization for Women office in Israel) showing up at the hospital with a milkshake minutes after my father had left for the airport. It was 10:00 at night, and she must have been tired, but she knew my dad was leaving and wanted to make sure that I was okay. I was not okay. I was curled up in bed, holding my teddy bear and crying.

My friend Vered noticing that my lips were cracked and dry and rustling up some Vaseline to that I could do something about it.

The moment my friends finally managed to make it clear to me--after about a week and a half of my insisting that I must have been far away from the bomber because, look! I was really not that badly injured--that I had actually been very, very close to the bomber. Three meters away (ten feet), to be exact. My head literally started spinning.

Finally being able to read see well enough to start reading my Dave Barry book. After all the hordes of visitors had left for the day, sitting in the open area of the ward with a cup of tea and my book, and pretending I was a normal person having some quiet time before going to bed.

To Die in Jerusalem-UPDATE

First, thank you to "annonymous" who pointed out the blindingly obvious--namely that contact info might be found on the film website. I sent the following email. I would not count on a response, but if I do, and assuming there is no request to keep it private, I will share it with you.

Dear Ms. Medalia,

My name is Gila Weiss, and I, like Rachel Levy, am a victim of terror. Like Rachel, my bombing was in the Spring of 2002 and was perpetrated by a female terrorist. Unlike Rachel, I was lucky, and I survived.

I recently started a blog documenting my experiences as a victim of terror. One of my readers sent me a link to your website, specifically to the "director's statement". I posted a response on my blog and am writing to bring it to your attention. I would appreciate it if you would read it, and even think about it a bit.

There is another side to this story....


Gila Weiss

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Twists of fate

This morning I just missed a bus. I thought I was going to make it. I started to run to the bus stop, but no dice. By the time I made it to the stop, the bus had come and gone on without me.

Here are, in chronological order, the thoughts that went through my head:

Shit, I missed the bus!

Now I have to wait for the next bus!

Wow, if I had left the house a minute earlier, I would have made the bus.

Damn, damn, damn.

But you never know, that bus could blow up. And then, I would say that I escaped injury only because of that extra minute I spent surfing the net.

Or, perhaps the next bus will blow up. And I will die. And it will be only because of that extra minute I spent surfing the net.


Man, but I do have some whacked-out thought patterns. I should put this on my blog.


There are some who go through life with blinders on, blissfully oblivious to just how fragile their reality is. How their entire world can turn on a dime, or on an extra one minute spent surfing the net.

As for me, I am the opposite. I go through life with a freaking magnifying glass. It is amazing just how many random twists of fate you can find, if you just know where to look.

It used to scare me, a bit.

Now I am used to it.

Haveil Havalim #155 is up... Jack's place (aka Random Thoughts or "place with the oddest penis talk") .

All the best of the week's Jewish/Israeli bloggers in one location.... Go! Read!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Prayer

“I want you to know that I feel like crap. My face hurts, my eyes hurt, my whole body is sore, my ears ache and I have a fever. And, unfortunately for you, Dear Readers, if I can’t read blind, I can still write and I am going to take this opportunity to tell you how I feel: like crap. I can’t eat properly because there is metal in my jaw. I am not sure I believe the doctor when he tells me I will see and hear normally. I sleep barely at all-only in short spells, punctuated by vivid nightmares. No, not about the bombing….”

This is the one piece of expository writing I have from the hospital. I believe that I wrote it a couple days into my stay in the General Ward. I was feeling wretched. The shrapnel in my jaw had become infected, and I was running a fever. My sleep patterns had been wrecked by the stay in the ICU, and were being further disturbed by the nightmares. I could not sleep for more than a few hours at a stretch and I was exhausted and miserable. I tried to write, but soon gave up. I do not remember why; perhaps it was the frustration of trying to write blind. I laid back down and felt sorry for myself.

I wish I could say that this type of reaction was totally out of character for me, and that I am normally the type of person who shuns self-pity like the proverbial plague, who is always positive, who always looks on the bright side and so on and so forth. Alas, that would not be exactly correct. While I am not quite as heinous a whiner as I was as a child (a tendency which drove my mother absolutely bonkers) I do have my moments, and they are not especially rare. In fact, just how not rare these moments are, was recently driven home to me. I received a particularly good job offer and called a close friend to share the news. Her warm congratulations was followed up with a gentle: "now, even you have to admit that sometimes, pretty damn good things happen to you, and that G-d does not just send you catastrophes and other bad stuff". I got the point. I mean, I still whine, but she is right.

All that being said, when it came to the bombing, I did a pretty solid job of keeping my baser impulses in check. My mother had passed away twelve years before, but after hearing her lecture on the subject of self-pity approximately five million times growing up, I had no trouble remembering her words and adopting them as a sort of mantra that got me through those first tough weeks during which we did not know how much of my vision was going to be restored. "Do you think blind people ask for sympathy? Do you think deaf people want sympathy? No! They do not want sympathy! They are offended by sympathy! They spit on your sympathy!!" (Here, I may be embellishing my mother's words with those of Monty Python, but whatever, it still works). Accordingly, I did not cry at the thought of going blind, nor did I think my life was over. Instead, I kept telling myself: "there are plenty of blind people who have jobs and who have lives and who have families and who do everything...and if they can do it, you can do it. G-d helps those who help themselves. You will work and you will do it".

Until this morning, I did my job and G-d did His. I was almost maniacally peppy and optimistic and G-d made me better. The de facto partnership was working great. But this particular morning, I just could not do it. It was early-too early for visitors and even too early for the doctors. I had nothing to do and no one to comfort me. I lay there, with nothing to fill my mind but sadness, self pity and despair. I had no strength to fight them.

And then I heard the prayer.

At some point during the night, an Ethiopian woman had been placed into the bed next to mine. She lay there, tightly curled up, and moaning in pain. An elderly Ethiopian man started to pray over her in Amharic. But as everyone knows, prayers cannot be controlled, and sometimes they go places we do not intend for them to go. This particular prayer filled the room, searched out pain and found it. It curled around me, and I felt a cool tingling all over my body. By the time the prayer was over, my sadness was gone. “And thy word broke their swords when our own strength failed us”. When I had no strength, when I was alone, when I could not help myself any longer, G-d came to me.

Since that day, I have yet to have another prayer affect me so much, to touch me so directly. But that is okay. For something such as this, once in a lifetime is still a great gift.

Even I have to admit that.

(A special "thank you" to Gayle Meyers Cooper for her help with this post.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Another non-sequitor

Last night, I had a nightmare. I dreamed about my biological clock. And how it is ticking away. And running out. And my father, who in real life says virtually nothing on the whole subject of me/children/husband/lack of both…apart from to assure me (when I asked) that he would completely support my decision if I decided to have a child solo, was telling me that I can probably have one kid at this point. Maybe. If I am lucky. And he was doing it in a really, really nasty way.

Now THAT is f*cking traumatic. I woke up convinced that I had to go have a child on my own RIGHT NOW. Like TODAY.

I do so need a Valium.

Give me a week to fully recover from Valentines Day and I should be just fine.

We will now return to our regularly scheduled bombing.

To Die in Jerusalem, Part II

Dear Ms. Medalia,

For a long time after the bombing, a common question I was hit with was: "how do I feel towards the bomber?" My thoughts have never been filled with hate toward the terrorist who tried to kill me. Nor have they filled with pity, love, or forgiveness. If the truth be told, my thoughts have not been filled with her at all. What is there to think about? The woman is dead.

Recently, however, your movie (or at least, the bit of it I have been exposed to on the film website), inspired me to do a bit more research into the woman who tried to murder me. Her name was Andalib Suleiman. Here is what we had in common as of the date of the bombing:

1) We both have brown hair and brown eyes. We do not look like sisters, but hey, my actual sister and I do not look like sisters (a point which pleases said actual sister no end).
2) We were both female. (I still am. Not so relevant for her)
3) We were both single.

Now let us suppose that my luck had been different, and I, like Rachel, had been killed. And now let us suppose that you decided to explore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and decided that since I too, was single and female and had brown hair and brown eyes, an effective method would be to comparing and effectively equalize me, a normal, law abiding citizen, to a mass-murderer.

I would have come back and haunted your sorry ass from the grave.

Your movie appears to contemplate Ayat and Rachel as equal victims of the conflict, one the mirrored reflection of the other, even though one willfully murdered the other. Even though one of the two was, quite simply, a murderer. The language you use in describing the act in your statement minimizes the act of murder: "[w]hat would lead a beautiful girl just starting her life and with plans for the future, to wake up one morning, take a bag of explosives and put an end to her life". Poor, innocent Ayat... another perfectly normal teenager, just depressed over the situation in the West Bank. There is no planning here. No intent to murder. Oh no! Because, you know, every teenager has a bag of explosives lying around the house, in the event that he or she wakes up one morning and wants to put an end to her life.

Yeah, and the Al Quiada guys just woke up one random morning, took four planes, and put ends to their lives. Are you for real?

But you want to pull up, to rehabilitate the memory of Ayat. Okay. You want to establish that she is also a victim. Knock yourself out. You wish to do so by playing her against one of her victims? Not okay. Who does Rachel's memory belong to? Who does her identity belong to? From now on, everyone who sees this movie will remember Rachel as "the girl who could have been sisters with a suicide bomber". Where do you get off? What gives you the right?

You boldly proclaim your identification with Ayat. How much time have you spent trying to identify with Rachel? Where is Rachel in this story? Is she important because she was, because of the person she was…or because she was a particularly interesting victim of terror--a victim the same age as and with a striking resemblance to her murderer? This is how I see it: the only reason that you care about Rachel at all is because she makes the story of your darling, tormented suicide bomber that much more dramatic. She is a foil for the blade to play against. If she were blonde, if she were ten years older, if she were, say, the downright heroic security guard, she would not have mattered to you at all. She would have been just another sad, but rather dull, statistic.

No drama. No "in another life they could be friends". No edge. Just another dead girl.

You like to imagine, yes? Imagine this: suppose that the next time you come to Israel to visit the folks, you pull the short straw. What a dramatic movie that would be! The rising young film producer, making her mark through her heartrending movie on terror, herself a victim! Then someone could like, explain how really the terrorist was a victim. And identify with the terrorist. And try to understand the terrorist. But do not worry-you would make the terrorist that much more interesting! The terrorist would be downright fascinating, because he had such an interesting victim. And you, yes you, WHAT ABSOLUTE GLORY! could contribute in your own little way in the rehabiliatation of his memory.

Any problems with that?

Is this how Rachel would want to be remembered? Is this how she would see herself in relationship to Ayat? Is this how she would see this story? It is her story, too, you know. Not just Ayat's. Never yours.


Gila Weiss

Getting it Together

September 2007

Once I was out of the ICU, and the various hallucinatory drugs had largely washed out of my system, the real work of recovery began. While I did not realize it at the time (it really did not hit me how long this was going to take until the day I was discharged from the hospital), this work was going to absorb a significant amount of my time for the foreseeable future.

To a large extent, bombings are no different than any other medical crisis. All of a sudden one finds oneself juggling medical appointments and paperwork. As time consuming, unpleasant, frustrating, irritating and often painful as it was, this also provided me with an opportunity to take back control of my life. I asked the questions. I made the phone calls. I made the arrangements. For someone whose life has been literally blown up, a single, successful phone call to put on a hold on a bank account or convincing a doctor to check out this or that can be profoundly satisfying. There is nothing nicer than feeling as if you are in charge of your life when it has just been proven, beyond all reasonable doubt, that you are anything but in charge of your life.

True, most aspects of medical care are anything but empowering. Being constantly subjected to the application of copious quantities of varied drops, slimy creams and ointments and gauze bandages and surgical tape to what seemed to be my entire body was not the sort of thing that made me feel like A Woman In Control. (At times I found myself thinking that was covered with enough gauze to clothe an entire third world village; whether this description became more apt if the village assumed to be starving, and thus thinner and easier to clothe can be avoided as being in appallingly poor taste). In addition to bandages, slime and drops, there were also the requisite thermometers, IV drips, blood pressure tests and pills that must by necessity must be administered at 11:00 PM, just when I had finally fallen asleep. This, of course, did wonders for sleeping patterns already whacked out by five nights in the ICU. Once the nightmares tapered off, I spent countless nighttime hours lying in bed, unable to read, write or go off and do something, bored out of my mind, holding my teddy bear and fantasizing about actually getting my hands on some dental floss and flossing my teeth.

So, it was not the day-to-day medical care that empowered. Rather, it was my interactions with certain medical care providers, namely, with my doctors. In some ways, this is counterintuitive. Doctors make pronouncements. Doctors tell you what is possible and what is not. Doctors shuffle you off to other departments. I spent a fair amount of time loaded into a chair and being ferried from department to department to have this and that prodded, poked and checked. Doctors (and in particular Israeli doctors) often do not bother to explain things, do not appreciate questions and expect be listened to, and obeyed.

But it was the very intransigence of Israeli doctors which did the trick. I would ask the doctors to explain what they were looking for in English, so my father, also a physician, could understand and promptly hit the unsuspecting doctor with a barrage of detailed questions. I myself asked questions, and demanded answers. If the answers were too complex, I insisted on, and received, answers in layman's terms. I got into the habit of tracking all of the medical questions that popped into my brain in a notebook. Each time the doctors came by on their rounds, I would hit them with the list and demand answers. To a man, they hated me. I did not care. Questions were power. Knowledge was power. Asking questions and extracting solid, understandable answers out of people not particularly inclined to provide them meant I was not a helpless, powerless cripple.

Doctors were part of my medical crisis experience from the day one. The "paperwork" angle only kicked in at the beginning of my second week in the hospital. By this time, I could read letters about ¼ inch high, so long as I held the page close to my left eye and gave it time to focus. This was good enough for me. I announced to my (probably somewhat amused) father that my first week had been something along the lines of a vacation and that now it was time to get serious.

My hospital bed became my command center. Every morning I drew up a daily to-do list: call this organization; ask National Insurance about my rights; ask my social worker to clarify something. My father, who is at least as anal as I am in such matters, helped me to compile data. In the afternoon before my father flew back to the States, we sat in the café of the hospital (good coffee) and drew up lists of useful information organized by function: names and phone numbers of all of my doctors, names and numbers of non-medical contact people, names and numbers of aid organizations and what each was useful for. Back in the ward, the nurses dictated to me detailed instructions for taking care of each of my injuries. I filed everything away into a binder that would become my 'Bombing Bible'.

At least during this period, all of this proved to be very therapeutic. Again, this may seem counterintuitive, in particular as I was still a very new immigrant with no experience whatsoever with the Israeli medical system, National Insurance or bombings. (They covered a lot of very useful subjects at Ulpan Etzion, right down to "how to argue" and "how to complain". Unfortunately, we never got around to bombings). Here as well-the challenge did the trick. The process of proving to myself that I could handle this situation, blind or no and clueless new immigrant or no, allowed me to feel competent, confident and in control.

Item by item, question by question, I started to pull my life back together. Bombing or no, vision or no, I was not helpless. Things were going to get better. I was in charge now and I had decided: I was going to be okay.

It sounds really, really hokey, I know. But hey, it worked.

Monday, February 18, 2008

To Die in Jerusalem, Part I

Judith brought to my attention the movie To Die in Jerusalem, which contrasts the lives and deaths of two seventeen year-old girls: a suicide bomber and her victim. In particular, Judith was disturbed by the Director's Statement.

I read the Statement as well, and decided that it was interesting enough to post it for all of my readers. You know, to see what you think.

With some minor amounts of commentary, of course.


While working on my master’s degree in film and television at Southern Illinois University, I read a newspaper article about a bombing in Jerusalem. Shortly thereafter, I saw an article in Newsweek about the event, with a close-up photograph of the two girls on the cover. I couldn’t stop looking at them! Here, at last, was my master's thesis! The more I read, the more I realized that this tragic story ironically represents everything I feel regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As I started to learn more about the girls, it struck me that in a different time and place, they might have been best friends or even sisters who were simply out shopping together. Yes, and to quote the immortal Dave Barry, if your aunt had testicles, she would be your uncle. Whatever! Faith, or fate, or a friendly neighborhood Al Aqsa Martyrs brigade operative brought each of them to the end of her life in such a tragic manner!

Is it just me, or does "Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade" kind of sound like something out of a Monty Python skit? Come to think of it…there was a suicide brigade in "The Life of Brian". Wait…that means, oh my….YES! the terrorists are Monty Python fans! Who knew? Wow! And so am I!

Walla! A point of commonality!

I tried to put myself in Ayat’s place. With or without the bomb? I tried to understand what would lead a beautiful girl just starting her life and with plans for the future, to wake up one morning, take a bag of explosives and put an end to her life (because her plans were to be a suicide bomber, duuuh)-and in the process end the lives of others.

Forgive me, but again, I must interrupt.

There is just something here that is confusing me. I realize that this may make me come across as a particularly naïve American, but I always thought that it was the other way around. As in: she wanted to end the lives of others and in the process she would die?

But I suppose the director could be right. Maybe Ayat was just depressed, and simply wanted to kill herself. And that, like everyone's favorite for this year's
Darwin Award, Ayat was simply unaware of the unfortunate tendency of bombs to blow up over a large distance.

If so, then clearly, this is an issue that needs to be addressed. As a Poor, Sad, Heroic, Victim of Terror, I feel that it is my responsibility to take ownership of this issue, and to use the bully pulpit that is my blog, to Make A Difference and to Prevent Anyone Else from Making this Tragic Mistake.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Folks, bombs are dangerous. If you absolutely must kill yourself (which we do not recommend, as it tends to be fatal), please stick to OD'ing on prescription medication, jumping off of buildings and other activities which are not likely to injure others.

Remember, it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye.

Thank you.

The Bombing Victim Muppet

I contacted the mothers of the girls- Avigail Levy and Um Samir al-Akhras -and found them to be two wonderful women, each struggling to cope with her daughter’s death. They opened their hearts and shared their pain with me. This is where the real challenge began: Could I help close the gap between them or would cultural differences and hate ultimately stand in the way of reconciliation? Are their lives permanently unbridgeable in light of pictures/posters praising the young Palestinian’s actions and her parents’ hesitant pride as a result? Ya think?

The more I got to know the mothers and their stories, the more I felt a deepening desire, along with Avigail Levy, to embark on a journey in search of the answer to the most basic question, Why? The highlight of the journey -for all of us -but especially for me because, without it, hey, I have no movie, is an emotional meeting between Avigail and Um Samir

Just as seeing the pictures of Rachel and Ayat - so similar and yet so different - one an accomplished high school student, the other an accomplished suicide bomber-drew me into their story in the first place, the dream of a meeting between the two women stirred me to take my own personal journey with this film. I believe that theirs is a story that needs to be told, in part because we can all identify with the individuals (with Ayat? Well, not really....) in this tragedy. Most of us have been 17, after all.

Now this just begs the question: what, exactly were you doing when you were 17?

Hilla Medalia,


Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Long Night

First there is evening and then there is day, but there is night in between, and the night is terrible and long.

On Wednesday April 17, 2002 six days after my arrival, I am transferred from the ICU to a general ward. The mood is festive: my father and my friends gather around my bed and celebrate this giant step in my recovery. Unlike the harsh white and incessant beeping of the ICU, the light here is warm and golden and beeps are mercifully absent. Through the haze of my bad eyesight I see the outlines of beds in the other parts of the room. The evening wears on, visiting hours draw to a close and it is time for everyone to go home. The nurse comes, checks my temperature, adjusts my IV, changes my bandages, fills my eyes with drops and turns off the lights. I sleep.

Somewhere in the middle of my sleep, there is a clap. Not a clap like clapping of hands, but rather the physical sensation of being ripped from one second to the next, of losing consciousness and then regaining it. I am shocked awake. I have been hit on the head. I reach my hand to my forehead but feel no wound. Nonetheless, I ring for the nurse.

“Something fell on my head”.

“Nothing fell on your head. Go back to sleep.”

I know that she is wrong. Something did fall on my head. I felt it. It might fall on me again. But what can I do? I am stuck here. I go back to sleep, but warily. I am right to be wary, for now my mind is caught up in a bizarre dream. I am in the elaborate main entrance to the hospital, looking up the grand staircase. Now the staircase is transformed into a deep waterfall fountain decked with flowers on every level and I am swimming along the stairs, trying to get to the top. All around me in the water are cavorting babies of all races. I rest along one of the stairs and try to pull the babies out of the gurgling water but there are more and more of them. Now the babies and the staircase are gone and I am trying to get out of the hospital, but the nurses are taking my temperature and will not let me go. At last I am out but now I am trying to get back into the hospital, as I am due back at five, and I have to hurry and I am rollerblading like nobody’s business, skating fast and wild, doing flying leaps off the backs of speeding dump trucks and flying through the sky until my mind spins out of control is just whirlingandwhirlingwhirling and going fasterfasterfaster like your VCR when you fast forward it and watch it as it goes. I cannot take this I am going to explode…CLAP!

I am shocked awake. The nurse was right! Nothing hit me on the head. I am having seizures! I ring for the nurse.

“I had a seizure”.

“You did not have a seizure. Go back to sleep”.

As we speak I notice that my bed is no longer in its place. I have been moved into a very dark closet, and I am all alone.

“Why did you move my bed into a closet?”

“We did not move your bed. Go back to sleep”

I really, really do not want to go back to sleep now. But it is dark and quiet and I have nothing to do and after what could be thirty minutes or two hours (I really do not know) I drift off again. The dreams come back and the whirling mind and the clap. I try one last time to get some assistance here. I ring for the nurse.

“Really, I had a seizure”.

“We will tell the doctor in the morning. In the meantime go to sleep.”

Now I am angry. It isn’t bad enough I was in a bombing, I have to be brain damaged as well? I try to figure out how much brain damage I have suffered thus far. Three seizures so far? Hopefully not too much. If I can just not sleep anymore. If I can just hold on until morning….

In the morning, it will be a bright sunny day and the room will be light. I will see that I am not in a closet. There were curtains drawn around my bed. The attending physician, after listening with a solemn expression to my complaint, will call Ruthie, a psychologist. Ruthie will arrive, and after hearing me out, she will explain to me that I am not having seizures. Each night, one’s brain looks at the day’s activities and puts them into the proper drawers. Where do you put a suicide bombing? My brain is simply recreating the bombing-or rather what I knew of it, the moment of unconsciousness-and trying to figure out where it goes. This is a question that will occupy my brain for the next couple of nights. Based on the amount of times that rollerblades appear in my dreams, it appears that my brain eventually decides that, when it comes to stupid things you can do to endanger your life, rollerblading and bombings are at about the same level. As soon as Ruthie explains all this, I will be comforted. It will all make perfect sense. Her explanation turns into a sort of magic talisman, and the next night, when my mind once again starts spinning I will parrot her words back to myself, thus waking myself up and ending the dream.

When the morning comes, the morning of the seventh day, all this will happen and it will be good. But now it is still night and who knows when or if morning is going to come for me? Maybe I will be a vegetable by then? Now is dark, and I am alone and frightened beyond belief. I clutch my teddy bear to me, and I wait for morning.

Haveil Havalim #154 is up... Esser Agaroth. All the best of the week's Jewish/Israeli bloggers in one location (and thanks for including yours truly!) Check it out!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bamba and/or World Peace

With all of the buzz around now about the incipient Gaza invasion, collapse of the government or some combination thereof, I decided that the time had come to break my little rule and talk a little politics.

My take on the situation is that I feel really bad for Olmert right now. I mean, the guy is just so completely screwed at this point. It does not matter what he does--invade Gaza, not invade Gaza, find a cure for cancer--the print, web and television media will be chock-full of headlines about Olmert and his lack of a clue. In fact, it would not matter if G-d himself could come down from heaven and issue a heavenly decree that Olmert does, indeed, have a Plan and that G-d has seen the Plan and that the Plan is Good. All that would happen is that, within 24 hours, the extreme right would be running around Jerusalem, plastering every last godforsaken wall in the city with posters showing G-d dressed as a Nazi, G-d's picture with poshei oslo l'din (criminals of Oslo to justice), etc, and the extreme left would be doing the same thing in Tel Aviv, though their posters would show artsy-fartsy Betselem photos of random Palestinians just, like, standing there and lots of slogans calling for Peace Now! and condemning G-d, the occupation, carnivores and whatever other causes happened to be handy.

(The remaining 95% of the populations of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv would be tossing back lattes on Emek Refaim and Sheinkin, respectively, and trying to pretend that they lived in a normal country, like everyone else).

So, anyway, in this, our time of trouble, I thought I would try to raise your spirits by sharing with you a little story of how I tried to bring about world peace.

While I was in the hospital, I was inundated with gifts of food. Within a day or two of leaving the ICU, I had amassed an impressive collection of chocolate, cookies, and various other snacky stuff including a nice-sized bag of Bamba, a wildly popular peanut flavored baked snack. Children here are practically raised on it--think of it as Israeli Cheerios. For my part, I do not like Bamba, and so the bag just sat there.

There was an Arab patient in the room next to mine. One day his family, including two small children, came to visit. The children looked bored. I could not say I blamed them. Then it occurred to me: children=Bamba disposals! The next time their mother was in the hallway, I offered her the Bamba to give to her kids. Their mother looked at me as though I were offering poison, gathered up her children to her and scurried back into the hospital room.

At first, I was happy, because I thought "Walla! A point of commonality! Arabs hate bamba just as much as I do!" Yes, granted, it is weak, but hey, oak trees from little seeds grow blah blah blah. Unfortunately, one of the nurses burst my bubble by gently explaining to me that the woman actually thought that I was offering poison--that I had put something in the snack to kill her children. At which point I thought "Walla! A point of commonality! Arabs distrust us just as much as we distrust them!"

(Of course, I am not sure how well the theory holds up in reality. Granted, I only know one Israeli Arab, so I am probably not in a position to be coming to any conclusions. But whatever, not only does he have no fear that I am going to poison him, he is a big fan of my chocolate chip cookies. He will not eat my cornbread though. He thinks it is disgusting. But I digress. As usual.)

Anyway, so the moral of the story is that I did not bring about world peace though I did score a great story with which to irritate the hell out of the far right, in particular if told in Jerusalem, at a Shabbat lunch, in Jerusalem, during the hitnatkut (withdrawal from Gaza). "You would give up Jewish bamba? Have you not read what the Torah says on the subject??? Apikoras (heretic)! Nazi! Poshei Oslo l'din!"

Ahhh…those were the days. A bit dangerous perhaps, but wildly entertaining.

[Whoops! In the name of being fair and balanced and skewering both sides equally, I should include some verbiage about how the far left would have its own problems with the story. I don't know--I will think about it and post an update at a later date. Suggestions are welcome.]

All joking aside…wouldn't it have been great though, if the woman had just smiled, and taken the bamba? Then I would have a nice, optimistic and hopeful story to tell.

And frankly, I think that we could all use a little optimism and hope right now.

Equal opportunity skewering alert!

Liberal position: You only offered her Bamba? You were trying to poison them with the most non-nutritious food known to humanity. For shame! Don't you know that Arabs are denied the same right to fresh fruits and vegetables that others enjoy? Fresh fruits and veggies for all! Organic, of course.

Or: You were patronizing them by assuming they would be grateful to you for giving them the culinary equivalent of crack, or dirt? How dare you? Chutzpan!

Thanks to Ari. Of course, now I have skewered the far left more than the far right (2:1). Not good, not good....

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


I spent six days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). My friends and family may have been going a bit crazy---sending frantic emails, exchanging phone calls and scraps of information, anxiously sitting around in the ICU waiting room, rescuing random people's cell phones from Zvi's clutches and the like---but not me. I was having a good ol' time with no worries at all.

One of the fun and under appreciated benefits of being in an intensive care unit is getting the golden, once-in-a-lifetime (presumably) opportunity to check out what it feels like to be on LSD without experiencing any of the nasty side effects normally associated with the use of illegal substances, such as social ostracism, and criminal charges. My time in the ICU provided me with that opportunity and not only did I find it wildly entertaining, I believe that those around me had a good time as well.

Drugs make you hallucinate. Independence Day celebrations complete with flags, stadium seats and speakers-right in the middle of the ICU. Small children. That the ICU is about the size of, and in fact strongly resembles, the gymnasium at my high school. An Orthodox man with a long beard and in Hasidic dress standing stooped over a prayer book, next to my bed. Someone more spiritual than I might suggest that some phantom ancestor came to pray on my behalf and my highly wired state simply made me more perceptive. I doubt it. In Jerusalem, unlike most other places, Hassids in traditional dress can be found everywhere. They are a perfectly normal thing to see. The bunnies and babies twisting around and cavorting inside the floors and walls…well, that is another story.

The drugs are good because they keep you entertained. Face it, the ICU is boring. There is nothing interesting to do. Everyone kept on telling me to sleep. But I had already slept. I was not tired. Time does not exist in the ICU, nor does real sleep. Instead, there is this endless day punctuated with incessant beeping and a sort of drifting in lieu of sleep. One moment you are there and the next minute you are flying along. The drugs provide the in-flight entertainment.

I traveled to Southeast Asia. At least I think I did. I found myself floating down paths lined with lush, verdant, exotic vegetation, snaking through narrow alleys in crowded markets crammed with vividly colored vegetables, spices and Asian wares, and approaching simple homes and enormous, calm Buddhas. My sister has spent a fair amount of time in Southeast Asia, and somehow it got into my mind that I was borrowing my sister’s memories and that I was seeing things that she had seen. Everything was so clear, so exuberantly colored and exquisite in its detail-right down to the round, shimmering gray stones on the path. I have never actually checked with her on this, but I have the strange feeling that if I ever do go to Southeast Asia, I am going to be in for a real disappointment. The only time I did get to Southeast Asia was when I was en route to Australia and I changed planes in Bangkok. From the sky, the area around the Bangkok airport looks suspiciously like Tel Aviv: white buildings, red roofs and not a benign Buddha in sight.

These trips provided another sort of consolation. As I was drifting along, marveling at the colors, the delicate flowers and the fine goods for sale, I believed that this is what it was like to be blind. The external colors are taken from you, but your mind’s Technicolor system is enhanced to make up for it. And so blindness would not be so bad, if, indeed, it came to that. I wondered at G-d’s goodness, that he could give such wonderful reparation for a world of darkness.

At the time I left the ICU and was moved up to the general ward, I was still very much in the hold of the drugs. Shortly after I was settled in, I needed to go to the bathroom. My catheter had finally been removed, and I was now permitted to use a toilet like a normal person. A nurse helped me walk to the bathroom where I was thrilled to see how my Hadassah contribution dollars had been spent. The bathroom was BEAAAUUUTIFUL! All white, and foamy with water gushing here and there. The actual fixtures had been cleverly disguised and so I could not locate or figure out how to sit down on or use the toilet. Fortunately, the nurse helped me with these technical details, but the entire time I was thinking to myself “Wow, Hadassah really did go all out! This has got to be like a five-star spa!”

By the next morning, the drugs had largely worn off. I cannot describe the disappointment I felt when I went to the bathroom again.


A frequent question I get when I tell my story goes something like this: Gila, your friends managed to track down your father Saturday night. He only arrived in Israel on Tuesday afternoon. Are the international air travel delays really that bad?

As any Israeli can tell you, (and in particular, my friend Kayla), the answer to that question is a resounding "YES, if there is a general strike". In this instance however, the answer is slightly more complex and requires more background. As follows: my sister is something of a globetrotter who never lets minor details like military unrest, student crackdowns, government-established bounties on the heads of Americans, etc. get in the way of her travel plans. I, as you know, moved to Israel. My father, being the rational and level-headed physician that he is, responded to this state of affairs by sticking his passport into a safe deposit box at the bank on the basis that, this way, he would never need it. Otherwise known as--not accessible if one wishes to take advantage of a last-minute travel deal or go see your daughter who has been injured in a bombing. My father spent nearly two full days cooling his heels in the States until he was able to get on a plane to Israel. The experience, to put it mildly, was traumatic.

Recently, I got to wondering: what lessons did my father learn from the experience? I decided to ask him.

Me: So, Dad, do you still leave your passport in the safe deposit box in the bank?

Dad: Oh no! Now I keep it at home.

Me: (touched) Don't worry Dad, I know, I know, I am still not allowed to be in another bombing.

Dad: (chuckling) Oh, it's not that.

Me: (startled) Emmmm…it's not?

Dad: Nope! It is the new TSA rules. Pretty soon I am going to need my passport to fly to Florida [ed: location of hospitable in-laws with beach house].

Me: Oh, well then. Good to be prepared!

Dad: Yep!

Where terrorists and all of the world's other assorted lunatics have failed, TSA has succeeded.

Better not let the local terrorist organizations get wind of this.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Waiting Game

In a previous post, I joked about feeling as if I were trapped in the Truman Show-my life is playing on around me while I remain clueless. Part of this is due to circumstance. Plain and simple: I was really not there for the first five days of my hospitalization. The rest of my ignorance can probably be attributed to: the desire of others to protect me when I was healing, my own subconscious desire to not know stuff and plain-old-fashioned overload-induced forgetfulness.

Whatever the reason, this has led to some somewhat bizarre situations, such as the time, some five months after the bombing, when I gave a speech at a Hadassah fundraising event. In my speech I noted that (really!) I was not that badly injured and that I was in the ICU merely because of the damage to my eyes. By chance or by design (I no longer remember), the next speaker was the physician who had treated me in the ICU. Before launching into his speech, he took time to correct mine. "You were in serious condition; you had blast damage to your lungs. We do not keep anyone in the ICU who is not in serious condition. We need the beds". This was the first that I knew of any injury to my lungs.

However my friends and family experienced their own share of confusion, in particular during the three days until my father arrived. I was in a coma, completely useless and my (non-Hebrew speaking) family and friends were thousands of miles away, trying to get a handle on my status. Even once my father arrived, there were no immediate answers. Medical trauma is, by its very nature, something of a waiting game; it takes a fair amount of time to figure out what has gone wrong, why it has gone wrong and what, if anything, can be done about it.

The year before I moved to Israel, I set up a "Family email list" on Yahoo groups. Around the same time, I set up a similar group list for the Hadassah group I was co-president of. When I was injured, these lists were used by my family and my friends to exchange information, updates and support. Some years after the bombing, I used the email as a way of learning about the other side of the story; the bombing as experienced by those who love me.

I offer one caveat. In the process of stitching together the various emails into an article, I noted certain inaccuracies between what was written and what really was; in particular in respect to my condition and my injuries. At first, I was going to correct these mistakes. But then I realized: the confusion, rumors and inaccuracies do not detract from the story; they are the story. This is what happens.

From: Fred (father)
To: Family email list
Date: April 14, 2002 12:23 AM
Subject: Gila

I was called a couple of hours ago that Jen [ed: my English name] was one of the people injured in Friday's bombing. Information is very minimal at this point because she's been sedated and it took three days to identify her &/or contact me (I'm not clear as to why the delay). She'll be undergoing surgery today on one of her eyes. Except for that and a lot of minor shrapnel wounds she's alright.

From: Fred
To: Family email list
Date: April 14, 2002 5:00 PM
Subject: Jen Update

Jen has had two operations so far. The shrapnel was removed from her left eye & there seems to be some optimism that her vision will be preserved there. Apparently there has been some bleeding in her right eye and the opinion isn't as good for vision on that side. I don't know about the shrapnel in her neck or chest. She's still in a drug induced coma or semi-coma because they don't want her moving and perhaps damaging her eyes more. It took about a day and a half to identify her and that was only possible because her friend knew Jen had just polished her toenails---the rest was bandaging and tubes, etc. The calls and support here and from Israel has been wonderful. I'm leaving tomorrow evening.

From: Lisa (President Knesset Hadassah Group)
To: Knesset Hadassah email list
Date: April 14, 2002 5:30 PM
Subject: A personal connection to the Friday bombing in Israel

As many of you may know by now, Gila Weiss was among the many injured in the market in Jerusalem on Friday. We believe she is okay, although still in the intensive care unit at Hadassah's Ein Kerem.

For those of you who do not recognize Gila's name, she is the past co-President of Hadassah Young Professionals and a formerly very active member of Adas Israel Congregation. She is the one who certainly got me involved in both those organizations, starting with a Shabbat dinner she hosted where I was introduced to active Hadassah members, and active Adas members.

About nine months ago, Gila made Aliyah. She has a job in an accountant's office, and has made her home in Jerusalem. She has also been taking classes to improve her Hebrew, and prepare for the accounting exam in Israel. With the current situation in Israel, many of Gila's friends have asked her when she is coming home. She replied just last week that Israel is home.

Gila was injured by shrapnel to her neck, chest and eye. She has been in a drug-induced coma since she was brought to the hospital. She has had one surgery so far. I do not know if more will be needed. As I understand it, the greatest concern is the shrapnel to her eye.

But the good news is that Gila is at a Hadassah hospital. We all know that if one must be in a hospital, Hadassah hospitals are the best place to be! She is in the best of hands, thanks to the hard work of many of you to raise money for Hadassah and its hospitals.

So, if any of you needed any more of a reason to go to the rally on Capitol Hill tomorrow, or to attend our Spring event in celebration and support of Israel's birthday next Saturday night, then I hope this inspires you to do so. (By the way, at the rally, look for the Hadassah area, which is where I will be.)

Many of you have also asked me what else you can do. For now, just put Gila in your prayers, and when I find out what help Gila needs I will pass that on to all of you.

Thanks for all of your concern!
From: Lisa
To: Knesset Hadassah email list
Date: April 15, 2002 8:31 PM
Subject: An update on Gila

The doctors sound hopeful about Gila's vision - we will all hope for this!

The update: Today, Gila's family spoke to the physicians at Ein Kerem. They were told she is still on the ventilator because she has too much fluid in her chest to take the tube out. She is very swollen because of the bruising and cuts. The metal pieces flying from the bomb apparently mainly hit her chest, neck and face. They were told the doctors are hopeful that her vision will return. They did not allow visitors today to allow her to rest. Her father will be arriving tomorrow afternoon and will going straight to the hospital and will stay there.

While I do not yet know what all of us can do to help, one idea, which I intend to do, is to gather a care package of audio tapes - books on tape, comedy on tape - I was thinking of the Capitol Steps, etc...which if you bring to me at the event next weekend, I will send it off the next day. I will also have a blank tape and tape recorder for everyone who would like to send a message to her.

Thanks for caring!
From: Lisa
To: Knesset Hadassah email list
Date: April 16, 2002
Subject: Gila is breathing on her own!
I just received the following information from Gila's family:

I just spoke with the nurse taking care of Gila. She has been taken off the respirator. SHE IS BREATHING ON HER OWN. Gila has responded to some questions by nodding her head, either yes or no, to questions. Although she is still not completely oriented from the drug induced coma she was in. That will take some time to completely clear out of her system. Apparently, she motioned to them as to where she was. As I understand it, she will remain being fed by IV today.

At one point, Gila tried climbing out of the bed today, and they let her know she needed to stay in the bed. They are unable to tell me anything about her vision at this time. They are hoping that tomorrow (although it is a holiday, so probably the next day) she will be moved out of ICU and into a regular ward.
From: Lisa
To: Knesset Hadassah email list
Date: April 17, 2002
Subject: Some positive news re: Gila
I have some good news to report. Gila's father is now with her, and has some good news to pass on.

She is lucid and they were able to talk. She sends her love and a hello. Her memory is returning a bit more every hour. Also, she can already see shapes and colors. Contrary to some reports we have seen, she does still have both of her eyes. Hopefully she will see even more as the hours pass.

She does still have a lot of shrapnel in her. It apparently hit her everywhere. Her more serious injuries were to her eye, neck and chest, and to one of her arms and legs.This truly is positive news.

Her family thanks everyone for their good thoughts and prayers. And they ask that everyone keep thinking positive thoughts!
From: Meredith (sister)
To: Family email list
Date: April 18, 2002
Subject: Update

Hi all.
First, there's an article in today's Washington Post about Jen. I tried sending it out to this group last night, but I don't think it went through. The web link is, but if you can get the paper version, that apparently has an actual photo.

As for an update, sorry about that -- my father (Fred) has not had email access in Jerusalem, so I'll try to bring you all more or less up to date. Jen is doing much better. She is out of intensive are and in a general ward. She is coherent, speaking, and starting to see a bit. She even managed to walk a bit yesterday. She apparently has had a steady stream of visitors, plus our father has been there since he arrived Tuesday. The condition of one eye is still uncertain; the other is healing well. She has some damage to her ears (not sure yet how much), but at least one ear should be alright without surgery. She has an enormous number of superficial cuts, bruises, etc., plus shrapnel in a few spots (neck, chest, jaw). I don't think they've decided yet if they'll remove any or all of the shrapnel, or just leave it there.
I think that's about it. Jen's apparently getting excellent medical care and it sounds like she's in pretty good spirits and not too much pain. Also, as the WP article mentions, she's planning to stay in Israel -- that level of Jen-like stubbornness has got to be a good sign! I'm sure Jen appreciates everyone's thoughts, prayers, and concern -- as does the rest of the family. Feel free to email me or call if you have questions, though I can't promise answers ….
From: Meredith
To: Family email list
Date: April 19, 2002
Subject: Update

Jen's condition continues to improve. She can already read large type (i.e., the title of a book), she's resigned to wearing a hearing aid as she has suffered some hearing loss (won't know how much for a couple more days yet), and she's apparently looking much better. In about a month, she will be fitted for new glasses, as the shape of her eyes has changed from the injuries, but it looks like she will not lose too much of her vision. She has all her memory back, too. Most importantly, she is in excellent spirits, happy to be in a Hadassah hospital, and thrilled to have our father and so many friends and relatives there with her. On the down side, Jen has developed an abscess on one side of her face, so that is swollen, but it's being treated. Also, the shrapnel in her jaw (TMJ) is quite painful and will have to be surgically removed. Jen was waiting for a bus and only about 10 feet from the blast when it happened. She's apparently one of the closest-in survivors of the attack, so it's really a miracle she's doing as well as she is!

Again, let me know if you have any questions and I will try to get answers. Also, if you have any specific messages for Jen, let me know and I'll get them to my father to pass to her.-meredith
From: Lisa
To: Knesset Hadassah email list
Date: April 23, 2002
Subject: An update on Gila
This e-mail came from Gila's parents:

Gila's spirits are great. The reason last Sunday's surgery was so extensive was due to the fact that besides the bolt in the globe of her eye, there was also a copper wire. A silicone band was placed around her eye to hold it in place. Gila's right eyelid had apparently been blown off. On Wednesday the ophthalmologist told my husband he was still hopeful of her seeing. AND ..... Erev Shabbat Gila began to read large print but was unable to read a book. Gila has hearing loss: Gila has a small perforation in her left ear that should heal on its own. The right ear has a large perforation and will need surgery to be patched. Probably this will take place in about a month and at that time they will see if any nerve damage has occurred and if the small bone has any damage. She is resigned to the fact she may end up with a hearing aid.

Gila has an injury to her arm, but luckily that does not involve any muscle so they will let the wound granulate in. As far as the shrapnel that entered the front of her thigh and exited the rear of her thigh, they will allow this too, to granulate in. Gila has an 8 and 1/2 inch long wound across the middle of her forehead. They are going to leave the shrapnel in her neck and chest. There is, however, a foreign piece of matter in her tempo mandibular joint, which will not allow her to chew or open her mouth much. The right side of her face is numb. This is worrisome because this involves the trigeminal nerve. She still smiles and has no paralysis, but the surgery is necessary.

Thursday she was moved out of the ICU and into a ward with 5 other women. I spoke with the night nurse on just before her shift was about to end. The nurse said she had never seen anyone so close to a bombing survive. When I asked the night nurse, "How is she, really", with bated breathe she responded, "Oh Gila, she is wonderful. We rate our patients from 1 to 100. With l00 being the highest. She is l000. Gila is so sweet. Always pleasant and kind and a pleasure to be around."

Her right eye has a much harder road ahead. But we are so very thankful about her beginning to read, even if it is large print. Gila will be seeing an ophthalmologic surgeon on Thursday. The oral and maxillofacial surgeons do not want to perform surgery on her face because of the position of the trigeminal nerve. They have referred her to a neurosurgeon.

Gila met with the President of Israel and his entourage. When he asked Gila, "So what were you doing at the bus stop?" She said, before she realized came out of her mouth, "I was going to some friends for a Shabbat dinner and I had heard that this bakery has rugalach you would die for." The president and everyone broke up in loud laughter. When she realized what she had said, she was laughing too.

I thank you for your caring and thoughtful words at this time. Her father and I feel so blessed to have all the love, support and prayers coming to Gila. We cannot thank G-d enough for blessing Gila with so many who love her and are praying for her recovery. We are so lucky to have so many wonderful and caring people giving us such tremendous strength through prayers at this time.

Susan (stepmother)
From: Fred
To: Family email list
Date: April 24, 2002
Subject: Gila’s out

I just got back yesterday morning with office hours until 9:30 PM last night. Fortunately I don't have a lot of problems with jet-lag.

Gila was discharged today. She's staying with a wonderful family that know her very well and are looking after her---no phone calls, complete rest, good food, etc. Her cousin Talia is an attorney and is helping her through the legal/financial mess.

The vision in her left eye is slowing returning. She presently writes with letters about 1/2 inch high. The right eye is still a big question mark and may remain that way for the next month. At present there is very little vision on the right. She has her ophthalmology plastic appointment tomorrow for the right eyelid.

Her bilateral hearing loss is only moderate and not related to any nerve damage. This means that is could be surgically correctible in the next few months.

Neurosurgery seems to feel the shrapnel in her right cheek has to come out but is going to review CT scans with ENT before anything more. Maxillofacial surgery bailed out last week about feeling that they felt comfortable with it. ENT wasn't comfortable even before that but that was before Gila began having symptoms because of pressure on the nerve.

Right now she's in good hands and beginning to realize that her nerves are a bit brittle from lack of sleep, fright, too many visitors, etc. Now it ought to be a bit slower a just healing, resting, consolidation of data, and getting back on her feet.

Thank you for all your good wishes, prayers, thoughts, and concern through this entire process.
From: Gila Weiss
To: Family email list and Lisa
Date: May 5, 2002
Subject: Blasted in Jerusalem, Installment 1

Hello! Am using my cousin's computer, and have already been on for a while to clean out the mailbox, so this will be short....

First, good news-thanks to the Machane Yehuda bombing diet plan, I have finally reached my target weight, and as soon as I can see well enough to see the clothes, my friends and I get to go shopping for clothes that actually fit me. :-)

Second, thanks for all of the prayers and support. I got out the hospital about 1 1/2 weeks ago, and am doing much better. My eyesight is much better (though not strong enough yet to do effective editing-am basically blind typing now and hoping for the best), but I get to see an optometrist next week, (glasses!!!!!) and will be able to see much more clearly.

Update on the condition-left eye should be fine, right eye-still waiting and seeing. The pressure in both eyes is normal now--good sign.

Ears-both eardrums punctured, and still have the irritating ringing in the right ear, but I think it has gone from the left ear. (perhaps wishful thinking). The doctor wants to wait several months before doing any surgery to see if my eardrums regenerate.

Problems with my jaw-the doctor I saw last week believes it is muscular, and has me on Valuim, a pain reliever and a course of physiotherapy for 10 days to see if that helps. (Yes, I do have shapnel in my jaw, but that area isn't bothering me at all). If this treatment doesn't work, we will try something else.

Nerves in face-Basically, one nerve is damaged and will either regenerate or it won't, however the numbness in that area isn't profound. The other nerve has been affected by the shrapnel, but the doctor said that, as there is no guarantee that a surgery will help, it is better to just see if the nerve regenerates. I will be waiting a bit to see what happens with the jaw (there is a connection here, but it is long and boring), and then I will make another appointment, with another doctor if necessary, and try to get this taken care of. Basically, half of my face feels like it was made of hard rubber (in the sense that it is stiff--not to the touch though). God only knows what sort of crap is buried in my cheek.... It turns out the the sister-in-law of one of my fomer AACI coworkers also suffered injuries to the face in a pigua a couple years back-am going to touch base with her to see what she suggests.

Body is fine-all of the cuts, contusions etc are healing nicely. According to the plastic surgeon, I won't have any scarring (aside from where I had a couple deeper wounds on my arm and leg). Right now, I look at my face every day, start to panic, and remind myself, "he said no scarring he said no scarring" and just tell myself that I have to wait. I will need plastic surgery on my right eyelid, though I should say that Dr. Entebbe did a kick ass job in the original surgery-the follow up will be to connect the tear duct or something along those lines, but the shape of the eye even now is remarkably normal. Dr. Halpert, who saved the left eye (removed shrapnel) is also high up on my list.

I really am extraordinarily lucky. Not dead, no internal injuries, no muscular or skeletal damage, and most of my injuries nearly 100% reparable. I have also been absolutely blown away by the support I have been getting here. A lot of the people who came to visit, and who have brought me food now that I am home, have helped me with errands,etc....are either acquaintances or people I met after the bombing (one I actually met in the ICU), Israelis, including olim (immigrants), really do come together when one is is need, and when they say they want to help, they mean it. Though, I should point out, I am *not* a loser, and I do have friends, and I didn't have to get bombed to get attention. Just in case any of you were wondering. :-)


Darwin Awards: Category-Suicide bombers

Tonight my friend Rachel and I met for dinner. Over soup and salad we discussed her news, my news, and the country's news--namely, the bombing in Dimona and the widely disseminated footage of the police officer shooting the terrorist. Rachel had seen it; I had not. I just do not do gory stuff (no-not trauma--it just grosses me out).

Me: So, let me get this straight--he was on the ground.

Rachel: Yes. He was injured in the first explosion.

Me: Like, this guy did not have enough sense to keep out of the range of the bomb? What sort of jackass goes off to do a double bombing and gets knocked down by the first bomb? What, he did not realize that bombs are dangerous?

Oh, this guy is such a candidate for a Darwin Award.

Rachel: Oh yeah-in the suicide bomber category. Actually, I heard he was depressed. Before the bombing, I mean.

Me: So was he trying to kill himself by being blown up or by blowing someone else up? Couldn't he just, I don't know, OD on sleeping pills or jump off a building like everyone else?

Rachel: Could not tell you. Maybe neither? You know--maybe no one told him that bombs are dangerous. That would explain a lot.

Me: Wow, you might be on to something there. So, does this mean that we should start to feel better? Like the terrorists have now reached and are scraping the bottom of the barrel?

Rachel: No. The ones here still have not reached the point of strapping remote controlled bombs on the mentally disabled, like in Iraq .

Me: Oh right. So we still have a ways to go.

Rachel: 'Fraid so.

Me: Damn.

Haval Haveilim #153 is up...

at I'll Call Baila. All the best of the week's Jewish/Israeli bloggers in one location (and thanks for including yours truly!)

Check it out!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Trauma and/or freaks of nature

I was going to discuss this issue later, but it appears to be relevant now. So here goes!

One day, maybe a week or so after I was released from the hospital, I started getting odd phone calls. The calls went something like this:

Caller: How are you?

Me: Fine!

Caller: (hesitantly) There was a bombing today….

Me: Yes, I know. Don’t worry; I was not anywhere near it. [Right. I could not even leave the house on my own at that point; like I am really going to be traipsing around up North on a bus. Yeah, but okay, whatever. People are a bit gun-shy. I get it.]

Caller: So, how ARE you?

Me: Fine!

After about the third call or so, sof sof, nafal li ha-asimon (the penny finally dropped). Everyone expected me to be freshly traumatized because of the bombing.

Hell, I was not particularly traumatized from my own bombing. I was supposed to get traumatized from someone else’s? Right, rak zeh haser li (that’s all I need). I had doctor appointments up the wazoo, was trying to get a handle on the Israeli medical and social welfare system, was trying to do all this when I could not leave the house solo and I had incredibly bad hair. On top of that I was supposed to turn into a quivering wreck? Thank you, but that was just not going to happen.

Anyway, so I just assumed that everyone was insane. Which may or may not have been a fair assumption.

So life went on. Over the next couple years, I was asked several times to meet with other people who had been injured in bombings. Generally this was due to some similarity between our cases-be that in respect to the nature of the injury or the nature of our backgrounds (fellow Anglos). What was interesting to me was seeing how they displayed the effect of the trauma and comparing their reactions to mine. As an example:

Them: some could not or would not leave their houses, apart from trips to and from the hospital. Me: at the mall just as soon as I was in good enough shape to be led there.

Them: depressed. Me: bitchy, yes. Cranky, yes. Depressed, no. (And some might say that I cannot blame the bitchiness or crankiness on the bombing).

And so on.

Most of the time, I was able to find solid reasons for the differences in our respective reactions to the experience. This one had lost close friends in her bombing. That one suffered far more severe injuries. Another had been a real beauty before and was much less of one after; suffice it to say that I never had any illusions that I could get by on my looks. And then there was the day whenI popped by the house of a fellow poor, sad victim of terror and found him to be a complete basket case.

Me: What happened?

PSVOT #2: There was another bombing today.

Me: Yes, I heard.

PSVOT #2: I had to take a Valium.

Me: (shocked) Really?

On my way home I mulled the whole thing over, trying to find the angle which would explain the differences in our reactions. Finally, it hit me! I called up Hadara, the National Insurance volunteer who had been assigned to help me when I was injured, to get her opinion:

Me: Hadara, am I a freak of nature?

Hadara: Yes. But I like you anyway.

Well now, glad we got that settled.
I am bringing up this topic now because of the responses to my previous post on the bombing in Dimona. From the comments, and from similar comments I have received over the years since "my" bombing, I gather that people expect me to suffer from flashbacks or other post-traumatic symptoms in general, and in particular when there is news of another bombing.

I do not. I never have. Do I react to bombings differently than others? I do not know. I cannot tell you what you see in a bombing, only what I see.

So this is what I see. When I think about the victims, my thoughts are rarely with the dead. Instead, my thoughts are focused on those who have been left behind: the injured and the bereaved. In my minds' eye, I see their grief. I see the pain of an empty chair on Shabbat and on Hagim (Jewish holidays). I see men and women now destined to be alone.

For all that I have met people who were traumatized, when I think about the injured, I really do not see drama and trauma. Instead, I see the practical, physical manifestations of a life interrupted by violence. I see a person's entire life being put on hold for months and months while he endures physical therapy, every single day. Yes, I can imagine people making a full recovery, as did I, but I also imagine many who simply will not ever get better. I see: months of doctors, months of surgeries, months of paperwork, countless National Insurance committees, a life turned upside-down, a life taken over by this thing that just will not go away.

What do you see?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Conversation with my Ophthamologist

First, something in the way of background would probably be helpful. Out of the myriad of injuries I suffered in the bombing, the most serious injuries were those to my eyes. Of course, I am not sure what the shock trauma doctors would say about this. They might vote for the blast damage to my lungs. But hell, let them write their own blogs then.

Okay, digression over. Back to the subject.

Anyway, half of my right eyelid was sheared off, my right eyeball suffered blunt force trauma and shrapnel was lodged in my left eye. I underwent two surgeries to correct the damage immediately after the bombing. The surgeries, in combination with approximately a zillion gallons of assorted eye drops and eye creams, were a success and the vision in both of my eyes was saved. And I was one happy camper.

Fast forward three years and wham! thanks to the earlier trauma, a hole developed in the macula of my right eye. Since it was a small hole, and not causing much in the way of problems, apart from distorting my vision so that, sans glasses, my visual world was like living in a circus funhouse, it was decided to hold off on surgery, in hope that the hole would close on its own. By the fall of 2007, the hole had expanded to the point that it could no longer be ignored (a shame, as that is one of my favorite tactics when it comes to dealing with medical issues) and it was back under the knife for me. Two additional surgeries and another zillion gallons of assorted eye drops and creams later, the hole is now closed. I am slated to undergo one more surgery to remove a cataract at some point in the next six months. And then that is it. I hope.

Anyway, the second surgery was about seven weeks ago. Yesterday I went for a follow up visit to Dr. Halpert, my ophthalmologist. Dr. Halpert is great. He is friendly. He seems to like my visits. As much as I would like to attribute this to my wit, charm and sunny disposition, I suspect that the real attractions are my eyes. Dr. Halpert worked very hard to save my vision and he is exceedingly proud of my eyeballs. It gives him great nachas (pleasure) to see them healthy, functioning, not sporting random holes or metal objects, etc. Yesterday, my eyeballs made him very happy, and passed the examination with flying colors.

At the end of the visit, I told him about my blog. At his request, I brought up the blog on his computer. He was quite excited.

Dr. Halpert: You should tell them that I had to sign off three doctors in order to perform the surgery.

Me: Really?

Dr. Halpert: Of course! You were unconscious and we did not know who you were. We cannot do a surgery without consent. So I signed off myself and had two other doctors sign off as well. (Starts rifling through my file). It should be in here somewhere.

Me: I think that it is in my other file. The hospital has a nice assortment of files on me.

Dr. Halpert: Ahhh… I put your shrapnel in here as well; the piece of copper wire I removed from your eye.

Me: I remember. I think that this was in the other file as well. You tried to show me once, but apparently the wire had fallen out.

Dr. Halpert: (Still flipping through the file). I remember--Dr. Entebbe checked you Friday night and stitched up your right eye. She also performed a CAT scan of your left eye and discovered a foreign body lodged inside. She called me that night. I wanted to do the surgery right away: Friday night or Saturday morning. But the head of shock trauma said your life was still in danger.

Me: My life was in danger? [I hate when this happens! This seems to happen all the time. I finally think I have a handle on what happened and then it turns out that I have been clueless the entire time. I feel like the title character from The Truman Show].

Dr. Halpert: You had shrapnel in your neck, near major blood vessels. They wanted to see what would happen. I told them that I would be available to do the surgery as soon as they gave the okay. On Sunday morning, I got the call. I did the surgery that same morning. The shrapnel was small, curved piece of copper wire.

Copper is very dangerous for the body. In the eye it causes chalicosis; it breaks down and kills the retina. This process is very fast, which is why I wanted to do the surgery immediately. A month after the surgery, the copper had already started oxidizing and had turned green…. That would have happened inside your eye! Actually, it was from your case that I learned that terrorists put copper wire into bombs on purpose.

Me: (Theme from the Truman Show now playing madly in my head) But I thought that the bomb was a clean bomb?

Dr. Halpert: Hmmm…it could be. Maybe it was from the detonator. (Changes the subject and goes to the Hadassah webpage) Look what Hadassah has posted on the net: videos of surgical procedures!

He proceeded to click on one of the links. All of a sudden I am staring at an eyeball.

Me: Ummmm…this is you performing the surgery?

Dr. Halpert: (Nods happily). This is cataract surgery. What we are going to be doing for you in a few months!

Suddenly, a knife approaches the eyeball and starts slicing away the top portion.


Dr. Halpert: (looking at me) Don't pass out!

Me: Really, Dr. Halpert, I think I am better off not knowing what you are going to do to my eye.

Dr. Halpert: Okay. But post the link!

Link for those of you want to see Dr. Halpert play with an eyeball.
Link for those who would like to learn more about Hadassah Medical Organization.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Eleven people are injured. Some of them are likely to spend years (if my case is typical) dealing with the bombing. One family is probably right now in the process of burying their loved one.

In Gaza, children are giving out sweets to celebrate.

There is something just terribly, terribly wrong here.

I have radical right-wing friends. I have radical left-wing friends. I have friends of every stripe in between. I can state, categorically, that I have never seen any of them celebrate in any way, when innocent Palestineans are injured or killed.

Suicide bombings are wrong. Everyone repeat after me: Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Now, if only I could get the terrorist organizations to read my blog. And, like, repeat after me and all that.

Somehow, I do not think that this is going to happen.

My thoughts are with those in Dimona and to our security forces who are (no doubt) working around the clock to try to keep us safe right now.

Serious Condition

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.

My Moment of Fame, part IV

Bomb Doesn't Shake Woman's Resolve
American-Turned-Israeli Recovering After Suicide Attack

By Bill Broadway
Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, April 18, 2002; Page A14

Each time there was a suicide bombing in Israel, Gila Weiss would e-mail her friends in Washington to tell them she was all right. "I'm okay. Don't you worry," she would say, assuring them that she stayed away from malls, pizza parlors, coffee shops and other recent bombing targets.

That e-mail didn't come after Friday's open-air attack at Mahane Yehuda market in central Jerusalem, said Lisa Bleier, 30, a lawyer in the District. Instead, Bleier and more than 60 others on Weiss's Yahoo list learned from a friend Sunday that Weiss, 31, had been wounded in the blast and was in the intensive care unit at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem. Six people died in the explosion, touched off by a young Palestinian woman who stepped off a bus onto the crowded street. Dozens were wounded. Weiss, who moved to Israel from Rockville last year, suffered shrapnel wounds to the chest and face and was in danger of losing her sight, said hospital spokeswoman Barbara Sofer.

For more than two days, her identity was unknown. It was only after worried friends began traveling from hospital to hospital that they found her, Sofer said. Because Weiss was unconscious and her face was swollen and bandaged, her roommate was able to recognize her only from the distinctive brown-pink nail polish on her toes.

Last night, Weiss's condition had improved, her father, Fred Weiss, said in a telephone interview from the hospital. Fred Weiss, a pediatric cardiologist who worked at Bethesda Naval Medical Center in the 1980s before moving his family to Pennsylvania, said his daughter was fully conscious, in "pretty good spirits," and --after two operations -- regaining some sight in both eyes.She recalls almost everything about the incident, which started with her going to the market bakery to buy cake for a Shabbat dinner with friends, he said.

"She did not see the bomber or the flash, but she does remember hearing something and going down," said Fred Weiss, who flew to Israel on Tuesday. "She remembers not being able to see.. . and feeling her body to make sure she had all her body parts. "Since then, he said, she's "only been thinking in terms of getting out of the hospital" so she can resume studying to take the Israeli equivalent of the CPA exam.

His daughter, whose legal name is Jennifer but who prefers her Hebrew name Gila, grew up in Gaithersburg and worked several years as an accountant, most recently at the Bethesda firm McGladrey & Pullen. She joined Adas Israel Congregation in Northwest Washington andimmediately became involved in the activities of the congregation, said Rabbi Avis Miller. "Gila was radiant and vibrant and had what my father called lichtige punim, a 'light-filled face,' " Miller said. She also was a leader in the 6,000-member local chapter of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, which raises funds for two hospitals in Israel -- including the one where Weiss was taken last week.

Last year, Weiss decided to make aliyah -- a Hebrew phrase meaning immigration to Israel -- and took a job at an accounting firm in Jerusalem. Fred Weiss said it is unclear how long his daughter will remain in the hospital. Additional surgery is likely. What is certain, he said with a father's concern, is that she has no intention of returning to the United States. She gave him the sameresponse offered to friends who had asked before the bombing when she was coming home."Israel is my home," she said.

Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Interesting link

For those of you who are interested in a more visual definition of shrapnel....

I (thank G-d) do not have watches, nails, screws or anything like that in my body. I do, however, have random chunks of metal or whatever in my chest and my jaw. This had led to many a comical reaction on the part of X-ray technicians and dentists. There I am, post-X-Ray, waiting for the results and generally minding my own business. All of a sudden, the dentist or technician will pop his head out of the lab with a startled look on his face.

"Emmmmm...hayit bi-pigua?" (Were you in a bombing?)

"Cain" (Yes)

Really should warn them in advance, shouldn't I.....

Bad, BAD Gila!

Oh, and in “My Moment of Fame, Part III”, the damage to the nerves in my jaw was once used as an exhibit for a presentation in the US. Woohoo! My own little contribution to the war on terror.

Hat tip to Jack for the link.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

An unrelated, non-depressing post

Since the last post and the next several posts are forecasted to be stormy and sad, with occasional drops into melodrama (will try to avoid it though), I thought a fun post was in order.

One of the things that convinced me to move to Israel is the music (am being 100% serious here). There is a story behind this, which can be saved for another time.

In any event, the video linked to below is a new-ish song which I love and which makes me go gooey inside and is the type of song I would love to have dedicated to me someday and is the type of song that, in a perfect world, a guy would be listening to and thinking of me. (sniff)

מה שהלב בחר What the heart chose
Kobi Afflalo

Women--you probably know exactly what I mean.
Men--you probably do not. Do not worry about it. Do not even try. Just enjoy the song.

Would love to actually embed the song, but that is, alas, above and beyond my limited technological skills. (As is, at times, operating a remote control).