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?


Ahuva said...

This is one of the reasons I've always admired you. You are strong, practical and indomitable. I'd be the one reaching for a Valium if someone even said the word "bombing."

Granted I don't see you much anymore, but you seem to be exactly the same person you were before this happened. I don't know how you do it. If you could bottle some of your spirit and sell it, you'd be a wealthy woman.

Katrinayellow said...

you've addressed a question I was thinking about but thought was too personal to ask. It does seem logical that you wouldn't be too traumatised though, given that as you said, you lost no friends or relatives in the blast, and you didn't see it coming at all (so there were no fearful moments before it happened which you could think about again and again). that and you seem pretty tough and resilient.

coming from south africa, and seeing friends who were traumatised in hijackings and muggings, it seems like the thing which causes trauma is the feeling of helplessness, and the feeling you could have done something different, or fought back. That doesn't seem to apply in your case at all.

DrSavta said...

I m really touched by your writing I remember when you were injured and you are a real survivor. As to being a freak of nature-- actually they found that of those who experiened combat, only 30% were eventually diagnosed with PTSD. People, however, have become sensitized to trauma which is a good thing and can help those who need support, but leads them to believe that everyone who experiences trauma will remain among the walking wounded. I am glad you are not one of them and I wish you only the best!

Ye'he Sh'mey Raba Mevorach said...

Great post! Interesting perspective. Thanks (again, and again and again) for sharing.

Fern Chasida said...

Well, l'havdil, as a bereaved parent I've found that I also seem to react the opposite of other bereaved parents on certain issues and wind up thinking, hm, is it me? Bottom line - everyone deals with things differently. Not right or wrong, better or worse, just different.

orieyenta said...

Like ahuva, I too admire your spirit. If your spirit makes you a "freak of nature", then may we all become a little more freaks of nature :)

aliyah06 said...

I think about the same thing you think: the survivors. The kids without parents; the spouse without his/her partner; the parents who have to bury a child; all the unfulfilled dreams and happy moments shattered in a moment of murder.