My week with Ana
Ana is a 19-year-old young woman who was injured in the Dolphinarium attack. She was waiting in line with friends to get into the disco which was hosting a special party for Russian teenagers. A homicide bomber walked right into the line where dozens of teenagers stood and detonated his bomb.
Day 1. Ana and her mother Yelena arrived today. Waiting for them in JFK, I was nervous as my ability to converse in Hebrew is limited and I had no idea if Ana and her mom spoke anything but Russian, their native language, and a smattering of Hebrew. Thankfully, Ana''s is fluent in English. Both Ana and her mom seemed apprehensive about the week to come, which was filled with doctor‘s appointments and a scheduled surgery.
The host family welcomed our new friends with open arms and made them feel immediately at home.
Day 2. Our day started with an early appointment with the wonderful plastic surgeon who wanted to examine Ana''s scars prior to her scheduled surgery two days later. The horror I felt while I helped Ana fill out the extensive medical history forms was unreal. Ana had been through 11 surgeries. She had shrapnel imbedded in her body which caused her pain and nerve damage. She had an eye prosthesis necessitated by the damage to her eye from the burning shrapnel of the bomb. She had to give me the date of the pigua and told me how "lucky" she was that she had been turned to the side away from the bomb and only had damage on one side of her body. Ana also has hearing loss from the explosion.
I couldn‘t look at her. I was crying.
This is Ana‘s story: "I was standing in line with two of my friends. I saw a girl I know and started to go over to say hello. For some reason, I couldn‘t remember her name so I stopped. I didn‘t want to go to her without knowing her name and for some reason I just couldn‘t remember it. I was just standing there thinking and since I couldn‘t remember the girl‘s name I turned to go back to my friends. At that moment, the bomb went off. Thank G-d, I was turned to the side. That way, the shrapnel hit me from the side instead of the front. Where the girl was standing, everyone was killed. If I had remember her name, I would be dead too. I woke up in the hospital the next day and the first thing word that came to my head was her name. I guess I was not supposed to die."
As Ana had been told in Israel that there was nothing that could be done to remove the extensive scarring on her body, she was very worried. Her joy at hearing that her scars would be vastly minimized was something to behold. There are no words to describe the dignity with which the surgeon and his staff treated Ana and Yelena. A Russian-speaking nurse and anesthesiologist helped to explain the surgery and the after care and were extremely reassuring.
The plastic surgeon excused himself while the Russian staff spoke with Ana and Yelena. In less than 5 minutes he returned, telling me he had made appointments with a hearing specialist and a neurosurgeon, both tops in their respective fields. We left immediately for the otolaryngologist‘s office. Thankfully, after a thorough examination and x-rays, the doctor (who spoke fluent Hebrew) said Ana had no damage to her ear drum. He promised to write a therapy program for Ana to be followed in Israel.
Day 3. I picked Ana and Yelena up at 8 a.m. for our appointment with a well-known eye surgeon. Unfortunately, we hadn‘t realized the sensitivity that Ana has to being seen without her eye prosthesis. The surgeon and his staff immediately put her at ease and made sure only those who absolutely had to participate in Ana‘s treatment and evaluation were present.
Unfortunately, Ana had developed a small irritation, which has to be treated by a minor procedure, which has a long recovery period. The doctors felt this will best be done in Israel so Ana is not forced to stay in New York for the recovery. The surgeon also found that Ana had not been told of the necessity of wearing glasses to protect her prosthesis and her undamaged eye. He sent her to his retail store where the optician treated her like royalty. She was told to choose any frames she liked. This beautiful 19 year old girl was not thrilled at the prospect of wearing glasses and we spend a while trying on everything in the store. Finally, she chose a "cool" pair and was thrilled when the optician told her he would put special lenses that adjust from light to dark.
Day 4. We had a few hours before Ana''s appointment with the neurologist so we did a little sight seeing in Manhattan. Unfortunately, the worry over the next day‘s plastic surgery was hanging over us. The neurologist (another fluent Hebrew speaker) warmly welcomed Ana and Yelena. After a thorough examination, he recommended a course of therapy (which he will direct), be followed in Israel.
Day 5. I picked Ana and her mother up at 7 a.m. so we would not be late for Ana‘s scheduled plastic surgery. They were waiting at the door, ready to go. We were silent in the car. Ana hates her scars and is afraid to hope that they can truly be removed.
Ana‘s plastic surgery lasted for nearly 3 hours. Yelena sat unmoving the entire time. When the surgeon finally came to tell her that everything went well, this incredibly strong Russian woman who has been through so much with her only child hugged me with tears in her eyes. A short while later, she was able to join Ana in recovery.
Day 6. It is Friday and Ana is in pain. Her mother is thoroughly exhausted and is crying. Everyone is worried and upset. As the host family prepares to light candles, Yelena comes into the room. She watches the family‘s little girl say the blessing and the family notices a strange look has come into Yelena‘s face. She is remembering her grandmother lighting candles in Russia. Yelena lights Shabbat candles for the first time in her life.
Day 7. Ana is still tired but is feeling better. She is eating and getting around. Yelena finally gets some rest herself.
Day 8. As Ana is now experiencing only minor discomfort, she is anxious to explore New York. Many people have volunteered to take Ana and Yelena sightseeing and a wonderful Israeli family in Westchester has invited them to spend a few days.
Ana‘s second week in the United States was filled with days in Manhattan touring and shopping. Two weeks from the day she arrived, Ana and Yelena went home. Everyone who had the privilege to meet them is better for the experience. We all hope they know that we consider them family and look forward to the day they return.