This post is dedicated to my childhood friend Batya Geft, who has weathered many a storm with me and is now about to embark on a new chapter in her own life. Batya, I would like to think that it was all of my injuries that inspired you to become the successful physiotherapist that you are today.
I remember the day well.
My mother dropped me off at the top of Ben-Yehuda Street in Jerusalem. I was 16 years old and on my way downtown to the restaurant where I worked the evening shifts. I stepped out of the car and waved goodbye to her, watching as she rounded the corner out of sight. I turned around and in the first step or two I twisted my ankle and fell flat on my face. My ankle, still throbbing from the pain, along with my intensely injured pride, made me sit up quickly and limp over to the seating area, where I could sit less conspicuously, until the pain subsided.
I knew that my mother, on her way to the swearing-in ceremony of one of the many lone soldiers who has lived with us over the years, would not be home for hours. There were no cell phones and I definitely didn’t have money for a taxi. I hobbled down to the bottom of Ben-Yehuda, no easy task especially during the times before they repaved and restructured the steep downward slant filled with potholes, uneven ground and slippery, frictionless cobblestones. I cried the whole way to the bus, the whole bus ride home, and until I climbed into my bed with an ice pack on my leg. I cried until my mother came home and was able to somehow make me feel better just with her presence.
It was not the first or the last time I would injure myself. My mother used to joke about locking me in my room until I was 18 and then setting me free. The injuries I had were not run-of-the-mill scrapes and cuts or what we refer to as growing pains. They were freak accidents.
We all have war wounds from life; some are visible, while others we carry with us, hidden from those around us. To quote Dr. House, “Everybody lies…”
Even as I write this post, I keep my most private memories to myself. Maybe what has prompted me to write about my war wounds is my own need to discard any of that leftover religious superstition I still have when it comes to talking about injuries and misfortune. Years ago I would have been bli ayin hara-ing all over the place (a term people use to ward off the evil eye). Maybe I am writing this because I recently met someone who has gone through many freak accidents similar to my own but always kept them to himself for fear of being berated and humiliated by his mother for his misfortune. Maybe it’s because thinking about all of these memories makes me feel even luckier than ever before, knowing that I have weathered the storm.
When I think back upon these memories, and considering my level of activity, or hyper-activity, it’s a miracle that I made it as far as I have. Since I was very young, my mother never knew when to expect the next dreaded phone call telling her that I had injured myself…again! And in an era without cell phones, so many times the information was passed on to her once the initial trauma had already passed.
It all started at the age of two when I ran into the corner of a door and needed stitches. This, coupled with the fact that we had eaten spaghetti and meatballs for supper and it was all over my hair, meant that my mother couldn’t wash my hair for a week. Little did she know that this was only the beginning.
Broken tail bone
One time, I remember playing the game “belts” in school after it had rained. I jumped over the belts and proceeded to slide, rear ended, down the muddy hill on the other side. As a gymnast I looked forward to recitals, and this was the day of my big year-end recital. I had broken my tailbone and the pain was excruciating. I didn’t want my mother to know or she would never in a million years let me go to the recital, so I tried everything I could to keep her from seeing my pain. There was no way I was doing much more that day other than sitting on the floor mats, since I couldn’t even lift my arms up, let alone swing from the parallel bars.
Complete downhill bicycle wipe-out
I totaled my bike when barreling down a hill at break-neck speed and hitting a sandy patch at the bottom (without a helmet, of course). This was one of the many events that I experienced with my friend Batya, who walked with me the entire way home, helping me and supporting me as we carried my broken bike over the course of a few miles. We arrived home around the same time as my mother. She pulled up in the driveway just in time to see me all bloody and carrying my broken bike on my back.
As a mother I can only imagine what she went through each time I injured myself, and I give her credit for how calm she was. She never blamed me and she didn’t send me to boot camp. How did she know, that day when she dropped me off for my swimming lessons and went to park the car, that she would find me in the changing room 10 minutes later covered in blood simply because I had so brilliantly decided to climb into a locker and jump out, while leaving my finger behind. After some successful plastic surgery and physiotherapy I was back on the mend. The upside was that even though it was my left hand, I told the teacher I was a lefty and was exempt from all writing compositions for the rest of the year.
Front teeth knocked in
While still in the cast from the surgery, I banged into a kid playing tag in the hallway and got my front teeth knocked in. My teeth were repositioned and they healed properly without any further dental intervention, but I can only imagine my mother’s anxiety level when sending me with a bloody mouth and an already existing cast to the dentist for emergency treatment.
Car accidents, gopher holes and all the rest
I have been in two car accidents, one where I cracked my sternum, smashed my head badly, hurt my back and cut my knee open.
I once poured a boiling hot pot of soup on my naked body when going to move it off the stove while in the middle of nursing one of my babies.
I have dislocated my pinky finger.
I have been stung by a bee, bitten by a dog, fallen in a gopher hole, and been thrown from a horse.
I have had elective and non-elective surgery from having my gall bladder out and my wisdom teeth too, to having my knee repaired and my finger restructured.
I have suffered from mono, dermographism (where I couldn’t sleep because of the itching for over a year), and many other ailments that are too numerous for me to even remember, let alone mention here.
Without sounding like I was raised in a medieval torture chamber, and before you all feel like I have given you my entire medical history, let me just say that if I wanted to put together a list of does and don’ts, I would include insights such as “watch out for the gopher holes” and “don’t climb into lockers when wearing a ring,” but, really, my accidents were too freaky to apply to your everyday life. Instead I am writing about them here to be free. To free myself of the burden of the evil eye that is always lingering if I dare to mention my unfortunate fate.
Part of comparing war wounds is also knowing who was in the battle with you. My childhood friend Batya, who is now embarking on a new stage in her own life, has seen our friendship through thick and thin. It really is something the two of us won’t ever be able to explain entirely to anyone else. She was with me when my grandfather died, when my unlce was stabbed, when I had my babies, and when my cousin was born in my home as a planned home birth. We were together in camp and many times in Israel and so much more. We lived in each other’s homes, her grandmother was Oma to me and mine was Bubby to her, and to this day we laugh about our familial quirks with love. More recently, working as a physiotherapist in Mount Sinai hospital, New York, she was able to offer me advice when I dislocated my pinky.
I commend my mother for her ongoing tolerance for all my craziness and her ability to remain calm and caring through very trying situations. My mother never, ever blamed me, and I realize now how special that is. Even today, as a mom with a child who terms himself Mr. Bump, the only thing I can do is pray every day that he should be safe and not do anything foolish, like his mamma used to do.
Oh. By the way, did I mention, bli ayin hara, ptooie, hamsah hamsah and all the rest? (Phew, that was close!)