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. :-)



Anonymous said...

Wow. I am just astounded at the good spirits you showed so quickly. I really appreciate that you're sharing your story with the makes the whole "situation" so much more real and personal. B'hatzlacha and best wishes.

Jack Steiner said...

Your attitude really is amazing. I don't know if could do that.

Anonymous said...

That was incredibly powerful reading. How did you feel the first time you read all of the emails about you that were flying around?

Gila said...

How did I feel? It has been so long that I don't completely remember. Wierd, I suppose. Surprised--I think that the whole breathing on my own/not breathing on my own was news to me. But also detached to a certain extent. I have gotten so used to seeing myself as "not so seriously injured"; from the beginning, that is how I viewed the matter. As such, it is hard for me to read these descriptions of this clearly quite seriously injured person, in an ICU, unable to breath on my own, and actually feel like "oh--that is me". It is as though someone else, a stranger, is being described.


Anonymous said...

Were you overwhelmed by the outpouring of support? I think that would have freaked me out a bit.

Gila said...

My reactions ranged from profound gratitude to profound freaked-out. Kinda depended on the day, the visitor, what was being offered, how appropriate the offer was and my stage in recovery.

"Appropriate" here relates to whether the offer made sense. Perfect strangers who had been through bombings or who had suffered severe eye injuries contacting me out of the blue and offering to be there if I needed to talk=appropriate (and much appreciated--these folks proved to be very helpful). Perfect strangers with no relevant background contacting me out of the blue and offering the same=what the f*ck? Not so appropriate. I mean--no offense, but why would I call them?

I have been doing a fair amount of blogosphere travelling over the last couple weeks. I have noted that those writing about battles with cancer have experienced the same rather off-base offers and have the same reaction.

Fortunately, by the time I had thyroid cancer (three years after the bombing), I had learned my lesson and told only my closest friends and swore them to silence. Worked like a charm.

Anonymous said...

Very moving. Thank you for sharing. Treating such an event in this way is, I believe, a gift from God.

I really love the way you write and I wish you would write a lot more!!

Soccer Dad said...

The lung injury (and more general internal injuries) is a common effect from the force of the blast.

In the extreme case it causes the "white butterfly" condition, where the victim will not survive even with no outward signs of trauma.

Gila said...

Oh-good link soccer dad!

Now, for some really wild Jewish geography:

Dr. Rivkind is the doctor who first managed my care when I was admitted. He is a really nice guy.

You know how he talks about amputating the leg of the guy who was injured at the open air market (aka-same bombing I was in)? He may actually be referring to Ruchama's brother-in-law, who happened to be next to me in the ICU. It was because of that connection that my friends were finally able to track me down.

The whole Ruchama angle is somewhere in the middle, in case anyone needs a refresher.