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written by: Michal Reibenbach
Yanna and I are sitting on my bed, leaning back on pillows. It is, after all, the most comfortable place in our dingy little flat. My husband Kaleb comes striding into the room, followed by Yanna’s smiling husband Ariel.
“Now that we’ve bought a new car I think we should plan a trip up to the Golan Heights to do some skiing,” he says in his usual confident manner.
“Not for me, I can’t ski in my condition!” I say quickly, rubbing my very pregnant belly.
“Of course you can!” says Kaleb.
“Don’t spoil it for all of us!” says Ariel.
“I don’t want to go to the Golan Heights, I really don’t feel up to it!”
“We can just sit and watch the men, and keep each other company,” says Yanna endeavoring to persuade me, “I’m pregnant too you know, it’ll be fun!”
Together the three of them compel me to agree.
“Alright,” I say, rather grudgingly.
Kaleb rubs his hands in satisfaction and says, “Right, let’s make plans….”
A Week Later…
I’m taking Bubble my little hairy Terrier mix dog for a walk. The autumn leaves scattered on the pavement rustle beneath my feet. I meander towards my parents’ house, which is a short distance away. Arriving I knock on their door, my stepmother Andrea opens it, with a preoccupied expression on her face.
“Oh darling you can’t come in; the maid’s cleaning the house,” she says in agitation, “I’ll come and sit outside with you for a bit if you’d like?”
“Sure,” I say, I retreat back down the six front stairs with Bubble in tow and sit down on the bottom step, Andrea comes and sits next to me.
“Kaleb bought a new car and tomorrow we’re driving up to the Golan Heights with some friends,”
“I’m so thrilled that I’m pregnant, and I’m happy that at long last everything is working out alright in my life.”
Andrea’s maid, who has come outside to shake some rugs in the garden, happens to overhear our conversation.
“You’d better be careful of the ‘evil eye’; someone might be jealous of you and wish to harm you,” she warns me.
I just smile at her, for I don’t believe in the ‘evil eye’.
The Next Day
Since I set the alarm clock for four o’clock the next morning, I arise while it’s still pitch black as well as freezing cold, creep out of bed and dress silently so as not to awakening Kaleb. I am groggy from lack of sleep. In the kitchen, I prepare myself a cup of Nescafe, and then staunchly set about preparing piles of sandwiches for everyone for the coming day. At six o’clock Ariel and Yanna arrive right on time; Kaleb finally appears from our bedroom, yawning and blurry-eyed.
Before long we are all squeezed into the car, and set off. I’m sitting in the front seat next to Kaleb with Bubble squatting on my lap. We speed along, soon leaving Jerusalem and its hills far behind us; the landscape transforms into monotonous flat stretches of land which whisk past us. I’m beginning to feel extremely drowsy from lack of sleep. After about an hour and a half, since we pregnant ladies urgently need to ‘pee’, we stop at a gas station. As we are returning to the car I plead, “Ariel please swop places with me, let me come and sit in the back; I’m so tired I really need to curl up and sleep.”
“No way, if you come you’ll bring Bubble with you, and I’ll get all my clothes covered with her hairs!” exclaims Yanna.
Privately I think she is making a fuss over nothing and could be more considerate. As we pull away from the gas station Kaleb begins to drive really fast; I glance at the speedometer anxiously, and notice the car is doing 150 kilometers an hour!
Both Yanna and I cry out simultaneously, “Kaleb don’t drive so fast, don’t drive so fast!”
He just laughs at us.
Ariel says, “Leave him alone, he’s enjoying himself!”
The engine hums, the boring scenery of dry expanses flash by. It unrolls before my eyes, soon my eyelids became heavy, and I doze off…
Two Weeks Later
I wake up with a start and swivel my eyes around me in alarm! I don’t have the faintest idea as to where I am? I’m in bed in a strange room. The first thought which enters my mind is, “Maybe I’ve been kidnapped? Have I been brought to this place after being abducted, and then tied down to this bed?”
I notice the room around me is in a bad state of disrepair; the paint is peeling off the walls, there are cracks in the ceiling and the window on the opposite wall is filthy, outside it is covered by a creeper so that only a slither of light penetrates through the leaves. After a short while of me feeling absolutely petrified, Ariel comes stepping into the room quietly, walks over to me and peeks at me. I feel so tremendously relieved to see him, to behold a familiar face…
“Where am I?”
“You’re in hospital of course!” he says, his face expressing uncertainty.
I looked at him in astonishment and enquire, “Why?”
“The car crashed!” he says ruefully.
At last, I understand.
“What’s wrong with me, is everyone else alright?”
“Yes we’re alright, you were the only one who was injured, don’t try to move your legs!” he says in apprehension and hastily flees from the room.
It is only then that I think to look down at my stomach, for too many things had been cluttering up my mind. It is flat, and I think to myself in anguish, “Oh my baby, I’ve lost my dearly wanted baby!” I begin to weep hot, bitter tears and wonder in a panic, “What other injuries have I sustained and how severe are they?”
Shortly a doctor appears at the door; he enters hesitantly into the room, for a moment observing me solemnly. Finally, he begins to speak rapidly, “I’m Doctor Moor, I’m glad to see that you’re feeling slightly better. Umm…I understand that you’ve been asking about your condition. Umm…well, during the accident some of the vertebra in your back were broken, which caused some damage to your spinal cord. In addition, your arm was broken and you suffered from an injury to your head, which has almost healed. Umm… because of the damage done to your spinal cord, the lower part of your body is paralyzed. After the initial swelling subsides the paralysis may become somewhat better. I’m afraid we’ll just have to wait and see. When you arrived you were unconscious for a few days and we kept you alive with the aid of a respirator. You’ve been awake and talking for about two weeks but obviously, you’ve been in some sort of dissociative state. Umm……” At this point, my brain becomes foggy and I can’t hear what he’s saying for it’s too much for me to take in. Only now do I notice that my right arm is in plaster of Paris, while my left one is rigged up to a transfusion. I just lie in a state of shock. I try to move my legs but I can’t feel anything! I feel as if I’m tied down. Doctor Moor comes to the end of his lecture and, by his expression I can see he is questioning me; I just stare blankly back at him. He withdraws from the room and I am left alone with my thoughts.
“Why did they bother to save me? Why didn’t they simply let me die? Why has this terrible thing happened to me? Why was I the only person in the car to be hurt? My whole life has already been such a grueling ordeal, growing up mother-less and with an abusive father. Haven’t I suffered enough already? Is my life some sort of terrible punishment? Am I never allowed to be happy? Just when I’d at long last managed to get my life together, fate has cruelly knocked me down again!”
“The irony is I didn’t even want to come along on this trip and at one point I’d wanted to change places with Ariel in the back of the car, but Yanna had refused. Why am I so dreadfully unlucky? Andrea’s maid had said, “Be careful of the ‘evil eye’ someone may be jealous of you,” but who is jealous of me? Who could wish such a terrible thing on me?”
I wallow in self-pity, and feel as if I’d been transformed into a ‘useless lump of meat.’ When I’d hear about car accidents I’d always think, ‘That’s never going to happen to me,’ but now it has, in one split second, I’ve lost so much; I’d been a nurse, I was pregnant and healthy. Now all those assets have been taken from me and nobody will ever be envious of me again. When I think back the last thing I remember is of Yanna and me yelling at Kaleb, “Don’t drive so fast!” Why did he have to drive so fast?
Kaleb comes rushing into my room for a few seconds. He doesn’t stay in order to speak to me but rather shoots out again. He is obviously avoiding having any contact with me. I am also battling with mixed-up feelings. I am angry at him for having caused me such severe life-changing injuries, through his irresponsible behavior. In addition, I’ve become painfully aware that from now on I’ll be almost completely dependent upon him and that thought gives me a helpless, sinking sensation. I wrestle to make sense of conflicting feelings; I resent the man I love!
A short time later Ariel returns to my room, I confront him, “Ariel, please tell me exactly what happened during the accident and what’s been happening to me during these last two weeks; for I don’t remember a thing?”
“Oh I don’t know; maybe you’re better off not knowing.”
“I have to know, it’s terribly important to me.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what I remember… Kaleb was driving fast around a curve in the road when the two side wheels accidentally slipped off the road causing the car to tilt onto one side. Shortly after, the car crashed into a drainage gutter that projected off from the road. From that jolt, you were thrown out of the window, and simply disappeared! We were all in shock and for a while, just sat where we were. Then Kaleb and I went off to search for you and found you lying unconscious on some rocks, your body utterly convoluted. We returned to the road, hailed down a passing car and carried you to it. The driver kindly drove us here to Safed Hospital. I sent Yanna home because she’d hurt her shoulder in the car crash, and we called your parents to inform them what had happened. You were kept alive by a respiratory machine. We stayed awake by your side all night. The doctors didn’t know if you’d make it. After three days you managed to breathe on your own.”
“Is Bubble alright?”
“She’s fine, Kaleb’s parents are looking after her.”
“Ariel, was Andrea upset?”
“Yes of course she was, we all were, she cried all night!”
I am touched and surprised, for I’d always felt that I was nothing more than a burden to her. Now I realize she does care for me after all.
“Have I been acting odd or saying strange things?”
“Not really, except that you kept on saying that you had to go back to work, that you were on night duty!”
“That’s so sad!” I say, and then continue, “Did Kaleb’s parents come to visit me?”
“Yes, they came right at the beginning, and so did Kaleb’s boss and his wife.”
“How strange, I can’t remember them being here at all!”
“Jessie, I’ve been here in the hospital for quite some time and Yanna wants me to come home; so I’ve decided that tomorrow I’ll be leaving.”
“Yes, of course, Ariel, you have to go back home. Thank you so much for staying with me, and also for giving me an honest account of the accident. By the way, where do you all sleep while you’re in the hospital?”
“The hospital lets us use one of their rooms,” says Ariel, “I’ll leave now and let you rest.”
The next morning Kaleb and Ariel depart and I am left on my own. For the coming six weeks I have to lie flat on my back while I wait for the broken vertebrae in my back to mend. I feel as if I am in a prison cell. At night I hear the gentle tapping of the leaves on my window, and from the distance, I hear the wind whining through the trees. It is an external expression of my feelings. I yearn for the world outside. I quickly learn just how debilitating my injury is. I am now unable to feel nor move the lower half of my body. I feel as if I am attached to a half-dead body! My legs are extremely swollen, I have no control over my bladder or bowels; thus I am attached to a catheter. Germs keep on entering my body by way of the catheter, and as a result, I constantly suffer from high temperatures.
At six o'clock every morning, a nurse comes and gives me a sponge bath. She’s extremely kind; she gets hold of an old radio which she puts on the window sill and before leaving my room she always switches it on. The announcer on the radio is so cheerful, “A very good morning to you all, I hope you’ll have a wonderful day. Today the weather is mild and it’s a fantastic day for going on a trip….” And so he continues to chat gaily away, then he broadcasts some jolly songs which he sings along with. It makes me feel enormously sorry for myself; I have the impression that the whole world is going on as usual and having a great time, while my own life has been utterly ruined! I answer the radio angrily, “It’s not a good morning, it’s a beastly morning!”
At seven-thirty another nurse comes and helps me eat my breakfast, which I hardly touch since I have no appetite whatsoever. The doctors’ round is at about ten, at which time they prod various parts of my legs with a needle, in order to see if my condition is improving. Initially, I’d been paralyzed up to the level of my chest. However, as the swelling and bruising on my spinal cord decreases, my paralysis recedes until eventually only my legs and buttocks remain paralyzed. I’d been so optimistic and happy when at first my condition had improved; however, when the progress comes to an abrupt halt I become depressed.
I confront Dr. Moor on one of his morning visits, “Is there any chance that I might make a full recovery?”
“Sometimes paraplegics do recover completely, even up to a whole year after the initial injury.”
He is such a kind man he doesn’t have the heart to tell me the truth. I seize tightly onto what he says and convince myself that I will indeed get better at some point in the future. I need to believe this in order to avoid a state of utter hopelessness! Occasionally in the evenings, some of the other patients in my ward come to sit on my bed and include me in a game of cards, which is gracious of them. On Saturdays Kaleb, Andrea and my father come to visit; although Kaleb and my father swiftly disappear upon arrival so that I only ever catch a glimpse of them. I ask Andrea, “Is my father angry at me?”
“No, he’s just overwhelmed and incapable of dealing with the situation.”
My father is a strange, silent, man. As far as I can remember, he’s always let me down; the only way he’d ever tried to educate me had been through physical violence!
One Saturday when my father and Andrea turn up, I beseech Andrea, “If only I could go outside… I’m getting so depressed from being cooped up in this room!”
“Oh I’ll arrange that,” she assures me, “I’ll ask the nurses to push your bed outside.”
The nurses readily agree and, within no time at all, they have pushed me outside into the yard. The nurses are so empathetic and I am grateful to them. Outside I feel so elated, rather like a small child who is exposed to snow for the first time. For me it is bliss, at long last I am able to breathe fresh air, to feel a gentle breeze on my face; to see the endless blue sky in which clouds float and swallows fly.
At the outset, a kindly housewife volunteer came and sat by my bedside. However, she was obviously so sorry for me that she was lost for words, and would just stare at me sorrowfully; after a while, she stopped coming. A simple-minded girl from the village, who occasionally comes into the hospital, sometimes comes into my room to massage my swollen legs, “Don’t worry,” she says, “if I go on massaging your legs they’ll get better.”
In the ward there is a young American boy, he’d been working as a volunteer on a kibbutz. He had got his foot trapped in a combine harvester and consequently had had to have it amputated. One day he threads some tiny blue and white beads into a necklace, which he then ties closely around my neck. I think they look cool. In this shabby little hospital, compassion takes on many forms!
Six long weeks finally came to an end, and I am finally allowed to sit upright, and the plaster of Paris is removed from my arm. A physiotherapist is now assigned to treat me; she is a middle-aged spinster from Finland with a brusque manly manner. Notwithstanding she is a kind and diligent woman. Daily she instructs me as to what exercises I should do. I resembled an infant, I have to re-learn how to function again from scratch.
One day while I am exercising in the wooden hut which has been transformed into a gym, Kaleb turns up unexpectedly with a friend in tow, Nathan. Nathan had always been ‘head over heels’ in love with me and it had been his habit to visit me every day. In fact, I’d seen much more of him than I’d seen of my own husband! I’d been flattered by his attention but I’d never considered him to be anything more than ‘just a friend’.
The two of them enter the gym, “I’ve brought someone to visit you,” says Kaleb. Nathan takes one look at me and faints. It’s too distressing for him to see me, his ‘beautiful fantasy’ all smashed up! When he recovers the two of them make a hasty retreat without even saying goodbye to me. This will be the last time I am to ever see Nathan. I understand his reaction and don’t blame him.
When my condition has improved a little, Kaleb borrows a wheelchair from the hospital and takes me out for a sight-seeing tour of the surrounding village Safed. It is an ancient, picturesque, rustic village in which the houses are built from large white, greyish blocks of stone. I feel so happy and invigorated by the outing and, in my heart, I bless Kaleb for being considerate towards me at long last. Deep down inside, I also feel angry and mortified by the fact of having to be pushed around and am no longer capable of walking independently. I suspect Kaleb may have an ulterior motive, for whenever he is feeling guilty towards me, he tends to pamper me in some small way. Back in my hospital-bed Kaleb says to me, “Jessie, some of my friends have asked me if I’m going to leave you now that you’re paralyzed?”
I quickly answer in fear, “Oh you wouldn’t do anything like that, it would be much too cruel! Who asked you such an awful thing?” “Just some friends, it doesn’t matter who they are?”
I am in such an extreme state of agony already and have lost so much, I am incapable of comprehending the meaning behind what he’s saying. He is, in fact, testing me to see if I’ll let him go. Unbeknownst to me, Andrea had already suspected that Kaleb might indeed leave me; so when his parents had driven up to visit me in hospital, she had made them promise that their son wouldn’t desert me.
READ PART II HERE