It’s been 10 years since I almost died.
Ten years since an alleged al Qaeda fighter tossed a homemade bomb — an IED (improvised explosive device) or grenade — into our vehicle.
(I was covering the war for my then-employer, the Toronto Star, and traveling with an Afghan driver, Star photographer Bernard Weil, and my husband, photographer-translator Hadi Dadashian.)
We know the thing was homemade because no one died.
It whizzed in through the back-seat window, over Hadi, and landed beneath me.
Everyone else had temporary hearing loss and was in shock. Luckily, the explosion missed my internal organs and only blew off some of my hip and right leg. Unluckily, it did enough damage that I almost died from bleeding out.
Lesson one: Even the most crudely built IED can do lasting damage to body and brain.
Not only did I endure dozens of surgeries in military trauma clinics and hospitals across three continents — and cardiac arrest during one of my final operations — I became a walking junkyard.
I have so much embedded shrapnel, you can see it peppered along both legs. I don’t wear dresses anymore, so few get to see this lovely accessory.
I have so much internal shrapnel it alarms X-ray technicians during routine exams. I find the X-rays fascinating — the shrapnel in my torso looks like snowflakes.
Some of this stuff is sharp; some just rolls under the skin, like pellets. It only gets removed, in surgery, if it shifts, and threatens an organ or other delicate spot.
Since I don’t want to ever undergo surgery again, I can live with it without much bother. It only hurts sometimes.
Besides, it fascinates most TSA agents when I strike that “surrender” pose inside the new airport security machines. On a business trip to Washington, D.C., this month, it seemed to alarm the TSA so much, they sent out extra officers while I got the obligatory patdown. Doesn’t bother me at all.
What does bother me is the biological shrapnel.
I didn’t even know about this until I stumbled on a photo online of the March 4, 2002 attack. My family had shielded me from such photos, so I didn’t discover this one until much later.
The photo, above, shows Hadi and the Afghan driver removing me after the explosion.
The biological shrapnel? It’s the flesh-colored stuff on Hadi. My flesh.
Imagine what that’s like.
Read more in The Star about 10 other lessons learned from the March 2002 attack: IED.
TOMORROW: Lesson 2