Crash - Part II, a short story by Michal Reibenbach at

Crash II


Part II

written by: Michal Reibenbach


Six weeks later.
My condition has stabilized, the time has arrived for me to be transferred to the rehabilitation ward at Arbelle Hospital in Jerusalem.
With a heavy heart, I say ‘farewell and thank you’ to all the staff on my ward who had treated me so humanly, and Andrea has brought them little presents. An ambulance arrives to collect me and I am placed in the back, as we pull away my heart gives a wrench, I wish I didn’t have to leave this friendly little hospital. I am relieved the ambulance-driver drives at a leisurely pace, during the long journey back to Jerusalem. I lay alone in the back and gaze out of the windows. Whenever we pass through built-up areas I catch sight of pregnant women proudly walking along with their beautiful, prominent stomachs. The sight causes my heart to cry out in anguish and I cry bitter, dry tears for the loss of my baby.
We arrive at Arbelle Hospital in the evening. There isn’t room for a bed for me in the rehabilitation ward, so a bed is made up for me in the closed-in veranda. Paraplegics have to be turned over every four hours during the night so that they don’t get pressure sores. That first night a male nurse is on night duty; when he comes to turn me over he leans down over me and begins to fondle my breasts, “Does that feel good?” he whispers into my face. He is ugly, unshaven, his breath smells foul and makes me feel sick. I’ve only just arrived, I’m alone on the veranda, and no one from the ward can see what he’s doing. I feel terrified and completely helpless for I can hardly move. I don’t sleep a wink all night since I am scared as to what he might do to me. I loathe him for taking advantage of my vulnerable condition. Luckily he is kept busy throughout his night shift and, by the next time I have to be turned over again, it is day-light, and a female nurse comes on duty. Later on in the day, I find an opportunity to speak to the ward’s head nurse. I don’t tell her what the male nurse had done to me, for I am new in the ward and in no position to make enemies. All I say is, “Please Leah I’d much rather be turned over by a female nurse at night. I feel very uncomfortable being handled by a male nurse.”
The head nurse takes my request to heart and the male nurse doesn’t attend to me again. Despite this he continues to leer at me and makes harassing remarks such as, “Sweetheart, do you enjoy sex?” I detest him and I ignore him.
The rehabilitation ward here is large; it consists of four rooms, two are allocated to women and two to men. In Arbelle Hospital life is a completely different ‘kettle of fish’ for me. In Safed Hospital’s Orthopedic Ward I’d been the patient in the worst condition, while here quite a few of the patients are in a far worst condition to mine. Here there are some quadriplegic patients; people who have all four of their limbs paralyzed.
On my first day Anita, a South African physiotherapist, is assigned to me. She comes out onto the veranda and begins to half-heartedly work with me, “This veranda is not a suitable place to work with you,” she complains. Anita seems distracted and is somewhat unsympathetic towards me; perhaps she doesn’t like her job? Maybe she is simply preoccupied with problems of her own? But for whatever reason, I don’t feel comfortable with her. After about a week one of the women on the ward is discharged and I am finally moved from the veranda into the ward. There I am placed next to a pleasant young woman who suffers from a disease that affects her joints. The first exercise Anita teaches me is how to sit up properly, the next is how to roll myself over at night and finally, she teaches me how to heave myself over onto a wheelchair. It takes an enormous amount of effort and a substantial amount of pain to accomplish these tasks. The following step is to have my catheter removed and in its stead, I wear diapers.
I’d believed my move to Arbel Hospital would have meant receiving more visitors, however, I am sadly mistaken. With the exception of visits from my stepmother Andrea, who comes daily for the first two weeks. Thereafter she explains (reasonably enough since she has three young children) “Jessie I have a family to look after, so from now on I’ll only be able to come on Saturdays to visit you.”
Also, my husband, who at first comes to visit me daily, but soon pleads with me to let him ‘off the hook.’ I grudgingly agree, after which he comes to visit me twice a week. Nobody else comes to visit me at the hospital during this period. It seems as if I’d been eliminated from everybody’s lives; my father’s, Kaleb’s parents, his sister’s, all of ‘the group’ (close friends of mine, who had spent such a lot of time in our dilapidated apartment). It seems as if people prefer to keep away from bad luck, and they don’t wish to be burdened by me in any way…
We are all given tranquilizers twice a day, to help us deal with the mental-emotional effects of the physical trauma we have undergone.
During visiting hours when I am alone since in those days there were no television sets in hospitals and no mobile libraries, I feel out of sorts and watch the other patients interact with their visitors. To my right is Daniella’s bed; she is the girl who has infections in her joints. Her mother comes to visit her daily and I can see she is immensely worried about her daughter. I feel a twinge of jealousy and wish I had a mother like hers. To my left is the bed of a high-ranking female officer. The curtains around her bed are always kept drawn and her bodyguard, who also happens to be her boyfriend, and later they will get married, is continuously by her side. She’d been wounded on the same day as I had, when the army jeep she was traveling in had been shot at, and she’d been hit by a bullet which had penetrated the bottom of her spinal cord. She is only slightly paralyzed in her feet and yet she is extremely depressed. Once she reprimanded some soldiers whom she met in a hospital corridor for dressing so slovenly. They just jeered at her, “Who the hell do you think you are telling us how to dress?” She was mortified since she was used to soldiers obeying her. For a moment she’d forgotten she wasn’t dressed in her uniform with the tags of a high ranking officer on her shoulders.
The next bed is occupied by an elderly woman, who suffers from a severe case of arthritis to the extent where she can’t use her hands. In the last bed on my side of the room lays Cherry. She is a new immigrant from America, she’d been studying at the university, and had a hobby of deep-sea diving. One day while she was standing on the roadside trying to hitch a lift to the sea, a car had hit her and sped off. A ‘hit and run’. Sadly, Cherry was left brain-damaged. Cherry spends most of her days sitting in her wheel-chair on the veranda. Initially, her friends from university make an effort to come and visit her, they’d strum on a guitar and even sing to her. However, she seemed not to recognize them and didn’t respond to them; eventually, they stop coming. For some peculiar reason, Cherry takes a shine to me and stares at me constantly. Sometimes I go and sit next to her and hold her hand. “You’re so pretty,” she once said to me in a yearning voice, as if she saw something in me which she had lost. Astounded I answered, “You’re also pretty,” and indeed she was, for she had large beautiful honey brown eyes and lusciously thick hair, which is plated every morning into a long braid by the nurses.
“No, no,” she replied, shaking her head forlornly. After that I lost her for she receded back into her nothingness, hiding from issues that are too awful for her to deal with. I found it distressing.
One day Cherry’s grandmother, who has flown over from the United States, turns up in the ward, she is accompanied by a young muscular man. As the old lady marches into the ward, I watch her curiously. She’s wearing far too much makeup, her hair is dyed a bright-blonde color, and despite her age, she speaks in a loud, commanding voice. I can see she’s a tough woman. Upon arriving at Cherry’s side, she doesn’t break down and cry. She just sits next to her for a while and speaks to her. Next, she strides off to the nurse’s station and has a discussion with the head nurse, after which her companion, the young strong man, physically lifts Cherry up onto his shoulder, and together the three of them leave the ward. Later one of the nurses explains to me that Cherry’s parents had been killed in a car accident when she was still a child and her grandmother had been the person who’d raised her. It is so heart rendering.
To my far left on the opposite side of the room lays a young girl who is psychologically paralyzed; she is upset because her parents are having a messy divorce. Whenever she is injected with the truth drug Amobarbital she is able to stand up and walk. It is truly amazing to watch! In the bed beside her lays another young girl, she has a tumor growing on her spine. Next to her lies a middle-aged woman who, like me had become a paraplegic as the result of a car accident, in which her husband had driven. However, her injury is higher up on her spine than mine and, as a result, she is having a very hard time; most days she doesn’t leave her bed at all. Her neighbor is a young woman in her twenties, a little bit younger than I am. She’d had one of her legs amputated as the result of a car accident. For reasons unbeknown to me, she hates me. I make attempts to befriend her, albeit she stubbornly refuses to talk to me; perhaps she is jealous? But I don’t understand why? Adjacent to her is the bed of another young woman of about the same age, she’d had both her legs amputated, following, her injuries sustained from a failed suicide attempt. She had thrown herself onto a railway track upon discovering she was, pregnant. Those two young women are ‘thick as thieves’ and spend all their time together. I don’t know any of the women in the other ‘women’s room’ other than one lady who’d been an acquaintance of Andrea’s. She had also been involved in a car accident. Her husband had a mistress and her son had taken his parents for a ride in an attempt to repair their marriage, however, they’d had an awful row and as a result, he’d lost his concentration and crashed the car. Tragically his mother had incurred a bad head injury. Her hair had been shaven off in preparation for an operation which she had by now undergone. It has now grown back slightly and stands out in spikes crowning her beautiful face. Mentally there is no way of connecting with her although physically she is fine. For some reason she has developed the habit of tearing off her pajamas and rushing around the ward completely naked; it is so pitiable to witness!
I feel as if my life is suspended, has been placed on hold. Arbelle Hospital is situated on a high hill and looks out over the surrounding countryside. On some evenings I wheel myself over to the large windows and wistfully scan the scenery. I can make out the twinkling lights from all the houses, the street lights, the car headlights of the passing traffic. In the distance, the lights seem to quiver. I’d feel envious of all those people down there living their ordinary lives; I am so scared that nothing will ever be ordinary about my life again.
One evening a couple of paraplegic boys wheel themselves into our ward and approached my bed. We chat and flirt harmlessly; it makes them feel good about themselves for a short while and at the same time makes me feel a little less lonely. By their second visit on the next evening another boy, who is an amputee has joined them. The two amputee girls who occupy the beds opposite glare at me with vengeance in their eyes. Later they report me to the head nurse. As a consequence the next day Leah reprimands me sternly, “Jessica you can’t bring men into the ward and behave in an improper way.”
I am absolutely astonished; what improper behavior could we possibly get up to in the middle of the ward? I sadly realize that, even here in the hospital where we are all in the same miserable boat, patients can still be mean to each other.
After every big disaster in one’s life, one usually experiences three key stages; firstly denial, followed by depression and hopefully finally by a state of acceptance. When I arrived in Arbelle hospital I’d informed ‘all and sundry’ that in another year’s time I’d recover. This belief had originated in Safed hospital when the kind Dr. Moor had tried to quell my terrible anxiety by explaining, “Jessie in some cases a patient with paraplegia does get better.”
I cling on to that phrase as to a lifeline and it has left me in a state of denial. To be forever what I’ve now become is just too dreadful a prospect! The doctors on the ward, devise a plan to jerk me out of my illusion. They leave my chart lying open on the counter of the nurses’ station. I ‘take the bait’ and read the contents; the terrible sentence that ‘blows’ my mind is, ‘The patient is under the delusion that she is going to get better.’ To me, that sentence spells out ‘my doom.’ As is my custom every morning I then go down to the gym to do exercises with my physiotherapist for an hour and then continuing on my own for another couple of hours, except this morning I go down with that awful knowledge in my head. In the middle of my exercises my mind suddenly ‘snaps’ and I feel as if I am falling down an endless dark hole. I can hear someone screaming! My physiotherapist slaps me hard across my face, it is then that I come around and realize it had been me who had been screaming! She covers me in a blanket. I look around at the other people in the gym, who all seem embarrassed by the spectacle I’d made of myself! After a while, an orderly arrives, he bundles me onto a wheeled stretcher, pushes me up to my ward and back to my bed.
The next day I am sent off to see a psychiatrist. The first question he asks me is, “How’s your sex life? Are you having sex?”
Well, I think it is a cheeky question; my whole life is in ruins and he asks me about sex, how typically male! After his tactlessness, I don’t feel like talking to him at all, and just sit silently brooding. “Don’t you want to talk to me?” he finally says.
“You can go then.”
“Can I go back to doing what I did before? I’m not crazy?”
“No, you’re not crazy and you can go back to your ward.”
Well, that was that and everything goes back to normal, except that I am given a different physiotherapist and this time it is someone I really like. Sharon had grown up on a kibbutz; she is friendly and is often self-doubting, which is a characteristic I find endearing. She confides in me about all her romantic troubles, and we will remain in touch even after we both leave the hospital.
One morning while I am doing my exercises in the gym, a man who is also half-heartedly doing exercises next to me, addresses me, “What’s your name?”
“Jessie, what’s yours?”
“You must be joking…surely you know who I am?”
“No, who are you?”
“I’m Shmulik Kraus, I’m a singer. Don’t you ever watch television?”
“No, my husband and I haven’t as yet bought a television set.”
“But in the places where you were before you got married, there must have been television?”
“No there wasn’t; not in the army, and not in nursing school.”
He is now satisfied I am telling the truth and we continue to converse about inconsequential things.
His face betrays signs of someone who’s endured hard times, and there is a distant gaze in his eyes as if he is taking some sort of drug.
Later I tell Kaleb about my encounter with Shmulik and ask him if he knows him.
“He’s a very famous singer, I’m sure some of my friends would love to meet him.”
So it comes about that some of our friends who hadn’t bothered to come and visit me, come to the hospital in order to be introduced by me to Shmulik Kraus. Shmulik however completely ignores them, although towards me he is always kind and friendly.
After spending eight months in the rehabilitation ward, I am finally allowed to go home for a weekend. Unintentionally and much to my surprise, I become pregnant. Two months later, when the doctors discovered my condition, I am discharged from the hospital. By the time I leave Arbelle Hospital, I am almost independent except for the fact that I am confined to a wheelchair.

Back Home
Upon arriving back home Kaleb lifts me out of our car and carries me in his arms down the steps and into our little flat. A neighbor shouts out gaily, “Congratulations, Mazel Tov.” She thinks we are newly-weds and I am being carried over the threshold. It makes me feel so awfully upset! Ironically at home, I feel much more of an invalid then I had in the hospital. The hospital had been adapted to the needs of disabled people. Even though we live on the ground floor, our apartment is below ground level, an annoying fact which forces me to remain at home all day. I envy every person who can walk and feel insulted when I am no longer invited to parties by our friends. I hardly see Kaleb at all, he comes home in the early hours of the morning. If I complain or cry he beats me, the fact that I am now in a wheelchair doesn’t deter him. I constantly ‘leak’ and smell of urine. Every evening I pray a hundred times over, “God please make me better during the night, please!”
Every morning I check my legs to see if there is an improvement when of course there never is. The only thing which keeps me happy is the fact that I am pregnant. Three months later I have a spontaneous abortion.

Three years later…
I am sitting in the entrance hall with my neighbors, of an apartment I’ve rented which is more suitable for my needs. Outside a siren is wailing since war is raging in the country and being in the hall is supposedly safer than in our flats. I feel like an ugly, crinkled, shriveled bulb that has somehow managed to sprout forth two glorious, golden flowers or rather my two little boys, whom I am now holding tightly to me. Danny is six months old, Ron is two and a half. As soon as Danny was born Kaleb finally left me for good; he’d had a mistress for a long time, she is much younger and healthier than me. His excuse had been, “Living with you makes me feel as if I’m also a cripple!”
I don’t feel the least bit scared by the siren, perhaps because my precious boys were close to me. Every time Ron says the magic word “Mummy” to me, I can feel my heart sing, for at long last I have an important role, I am a mother. For the rest of my life ‘mummy’ will be my favorite word. Every time I watch Ron running around on his strong, little legs; I feel as if I am also running for he is an extension of my DNA.
The next day the radio announces that the war is over. It was a nineteen day war, the ‘Yom Kippur War’. I hear pitiful crying in the area, from the homes of a loved one who has been killed in the fighting. It is so heart wrenching to hear.

Kaleb’s Destiny
My ex-husband Kaleb married yet once again, this time it was to a woman ten years younger than his previous wife. Shortly after his third marriage, he was infected by a disease (some sort of hepatitis) that had slowly destroyed his liver. Over the coming years, he underwent two liver transplants, to no avail. When eventually he died at the age of fifty-eight, he’d shrunken, to a tiny, yellow, hairless, toothless old man.

On Reflection forty years later…
My two boys are a constant source of amazement to me and are everything I could have wished for. I also have six adorable grandchildren.
My life is slow and cumbersome and I often have all sorts of medical issues because of my condition. Despite these problems, I have found my inner peace. My days run through my fingers like sparkling water and I am happy and fulfilled!



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