by Donna L.H. Smith
Bethlehem, Israel A Monday in 1978
Shimone Sharone cocked his M16 and ran up the steep hill towards a back street off the main retail area, about three blocks from the Church of the Nativity. The army had received a report that Muslim terrorists were meeting secretly nearby. Shimone was sent to check out the location.
Most of the time, this area of the West Bank was peaceful. Even though Palestinians were in the majority here, the Israeli army was still in charge of keeping the peace, especially with so holy a site as the Church of the Nativity nearby. It brought in thousands of visitors each year. The tourists shopped and ate nearby, helping the local economy.
At twenty, Shimone was nearing the end of his three-year stint in military service. As he neared the building in question, several young men came bursting from the building, running in the opposite direction that Shimone came from.
He ran towards the building, then was struck with such force, he flew backwards and was slammed against the street. No other thoughts were able to cross his mind.
Shimone woke up in Shaare Zedek Medical Center in terrible pain. His right hand and forearm hurt terribly. His fingers sent shoots of pain up and down his whole arm. Shaking his head to clear it, he glanced over at his right arm, the source of his pain.
He shook his head again. Then, he screamed in horror. His lower right arm – was missing! Where was it? All he saw was a bandaged stump.
He screamed again. Two nurses and a doctor came running.
“Where is my arm? How long was I unconscious? What happened to my arm?”
The doctor held a syringe in his hand, and began to lower it. “Now, Shimone, just calm down. Let me give you something to quiet you.”
Shimone reached up with his left hand and pushed the needle away. “No! I want to know what happened!”
“Please relax. First of all, I’m Doctor Goldberg. I’ll be in charge of your treatment.”
Shimone turned his head away a moment, then gritted his teeth. “Tell me what happened, and how long was I out?”
Doctor Goldberg pulled up a chair and sat next to Shimone’s left side. “What do you last remember?”
Shimone thought a moment. “I was assigned to check out a suspected terrorist site in Bethlehem, in the West Bank. I saw several men running from the building I was to check out, then nothing until now.”
Goldberg nodded. “Evidently, a bomb went off in that building. You were rushed here – about three hours ago.”
“What about my arm? It must be re-attached! Surely, you have done such surgery?”
Goldberg looked at the floor. “Don’t think about that. Your injury is too traumatic. I called in two specialists to help me evaluate your situation. But this surgery is still experimental. I don’t want you to get your hopes up. I’m not sure it will even work in your case, even if we tried.”
Shimone put his left hand over his face a moment, then removed it. “Please don’t tell me that. You must re-attach it. You must! I cannot live my life without my arm. I am right-handed. I am an athlete. I must have my arm!”
“I’m sorry. I know this is a very difficult thing to accept. If there was certainty, we would do the procedure. As I said, I called specialists from Europe. They will be here tomorrow, two days at the latest. They will examine you and your arm, and see if they believe it is feasible to attempt such a procedure. In the meantime, you must get your rest.”
“Yes. All right. Thank you, Doctor for calling the specialists. But I’m telling you this is what I want. I want my arm re-attached. No matter how hard it will be. No matter how long the surgery takes or how long rehabilitation will take. No matter how dangerous the surgery is. I want it done.”
Goldberg nodded. “Yes. I understand. We’ll see what the next few days bring.”
After the doctor left, Shimone was alone. The nurses came to check his vital signs and asked if he was comfortable. Mostly, he slept – a result of the powerful painkillers he’d been injected with.
All he could think about was his right arm. They had re-attach it. They just had to.
Time seemed to stand still for Shimone. He slept, ate, and slept again. He felt was a good Jewish boy, but G-d seemed distant to him. But then, G-d seemed distant to everyone Shimone knew except for Rabbi Jeremiah ben Joseph. He wondered where Rabbi Jeremiah was now. The last he’d heard, the rabbi had traveled north to the ancient city of Megiddo, to help an excavation team catalog any artifacts they might find. Rabbi Jeremiah would pray for Shimone. He knew that. He would also have kind words of encouragement. But he wasn’t here. And communications with that area of Israel were difficult at times.
Shimone tried to be brave about his arm. But he could not accept that he would be required to live the rest of his life without it. He’d have to learn how to write again – with his left hand. He’d have to learn how to dress himself. He’d be labeled a cripple, and that was unacceptable. Shimone was a great athlete. He’d been the youngest boy to be named captain of his soccer team in school for three years running.
He aspired to play professional soccer after his military service was over. He’d already made arrangements. Everything would have to change.
He couldn’t give up his dream. He just couldn’t.
Then he thought about the months, perhaps years it would take for his arm to rehabilitate even if it was successfully re-attached. How much use could he get back? How long would it take?
He’d probably have to wear long sleeves for the rest of his life. Difficult in an Isreali summer, but not impossible if he stayed in the hills or went north to Galilee.
No matter how long, he was willing to do whatever it took to get as much use and strength back of his arm – providing they re-attached it. He wasn’t afraid of hard work.
In the mid-afternoon, Doctor Goldberg, and two other men stepped into Shimone’s room. He submitted to their poking and prodding, gritting his teeth so tight he thought they’d break off. His stump bandages were taken off. He heard a lot of “hmmms” and “ohs.” They used a lot of medical terms in their conversation he didn’t understand.
But he heard the word “possible.” And that gave him hope.
Shimone awoke again, blinking. As he tried to clear his mind, he heard the voice of Doctor Goldberg.
“The surgery was successful. It is re-attached. But your arm will not be pretty. Your circulation is flowing well, and the bones should knit together with the rod and pins in your elbow. It will be a long road to get use and strength back. But you’re young. I believe you’ll do well.”
Shimone blinked back tears. He would not cry in front of the doctor. He would cry later. He could not ever remember crying for joy before. Maybe G-d was looking out for him, as his father and Rabbi Jeremiah had tried to teach him.
Note/Disclaimer: The story of a young man named Shimone (Simon in English) who lost his arm while serving in the Israeli military and had it re-attached after an explosion is true. All other details are figments of my imagination, but I hope this story of what could have happened, is inspirational. Shaare Zedek Medical Center exists in Jerusalem, and has been given a 4-star review out of a possible five stars. I’d give it that. I was there myself. I fell in March 2014 and broke my wrist. That’s another story.
© Donna L.H. Smith 2014