|THE PARENTS OF THE DEAD VICTIMS AT THE HOSPITALS|
First I went to Wolfson, and Irina came there, too. About half an hour later, the lists came out, but Simona wasn’t there. We were told to go to Tel ha-Shomer. She wasn’t there, either, so we went to Ikhilov. She wasn’t there, either. There were five unidentified girls without IDs. We tried to tell by the pictures if Simona was one of them. Irina cried at every picture, This is she! But the faces were so disfigured, we couldn’t tell. So we went to the morgue at Abu Kabir. We figured, it’s better not to find her there and then come back here.
At the Dolphinarium, we were turned away, and we went to Wolfson, because Ilya’s wounded girlfriend had been taken there. She called up Kirill, the owner of the Dolphi, and Kirill called us. She said they were alive. We went to Wolfson. He wasn’t on the lists. Neither he nor Roman. I went into a fit. If he was not on the lists, that meant he was dead. No hope.
We went to the Ikhilov Hospital and waited there till five. Then a nurse came up to us and told us to go to Abu Kabir.
When I found out that Jan had been in the explosion, I went straight to the hospital. He was in Tel ha-Shomer, and they had already performed the first surgery on him. The first time I saw him there, I walked by without recognizing him. He looked horrible, his whole face torn by splinters, all swollen . . . He was unconscious. A ball pierced his head and went through his brain. All his organs functioned except for his brain. I stayed at his side all the time. Then I went back home: I had left the baby by herself, she would wake up and get scared — no mother or father in the house. I picked her up, and we returned to the hospital.
His heart stopped on June 3. His mother flew in on that day. He was the only son. And we were all at his side. We buried him on June 5.
We drove to Wolfson right away, but the roads were blocked, and we went back to the Dolphinarium. We didn’t get far there, either: the road was blocked, too. They told us to go back home and call. That’s what we did. My husband felt sick, he kept fainting, and I had to take care of him. Then I started yelling at him. I was angry that he couldn’t control himself.
“If she doesn’t answer her phone,” he said, “it means something serious happened.”
“How dare you think this?” I said. “We must think only good things. We shouldn’t think of bad things!” I slapped him, I yelled at him — I had no idea what to do.
So we went back to Wolfson. They couldn’t find her on the lists. But they found her friend Natasha. I wanted to talk to her and ask what she remembered. But she was being operated on. Then the social workers told us that at Ikhilov there are several pictures of unidentified kids in serious condition. We went there, and we recognized Yulia right away. She was No.127. We recognized her nose. They told us she was in surgery, and we went up there. Five or ten minutes later someone told us that there was another family who also thought it was their daughter. So perhaps we shouldn’t be waiting? It was going to be a long surgery. Perhaps we should go to Abu Kabir and see if she’s on the Dead list, and then come back here? But her friends were here, and they recognized her from the picture, too. I screamed: “I told you — it’s my daughter!” I went into a fit, I just couldn’t stop laughing.
After I settled down a little, they asked me for her personal info. We filled out all the forms and then called our older daughter Sveta to tell her that we found Yulia and that she should come to Ikhilov.
When our friends brought Sveta, she fainted. She was taken to Emergency. I went up to the operating room, and at that moment, someone was being wheeled out, and something told me it was Yulia. I ran after the gurney.
In a while, the senior nurse came out and told us that the wound was a heavy one. I figured how the wounds are graded: medium heavy, heavy, very heavy, critical. When I was told heavy, I sort of breathed more easily. Perhaps subconsciously, I tried to rule out thinking the worst. Perhaps it’s not right that we didn’t know she was in Critical. I think I wouldn’t be leaving her side if I’d known.
Then she was moved to neurosurgery. We lost track of time. We got there about one a.m., and when we went outside, it was already light — perhaps about ten in the morning. And then I saw the girls from work, and our friends from all over the country. I didn’t understand where they all had come from. They told me they had seen us on TV.
All this time Yulia was unconscious. She didn’t feel anything. I stroked her hand, I talked to her. She wasn’t reacting. One had an impression she was quietly asleep. At first, she had high blood pressure, 190 over 70. Then we were told she was being kept warm with heating pads and she had a very low body temperature.
This was the first time we had ever seen her in a hospital. She had been in the hospital twice: when she was born and now, as she was dying. Sveta was the sickly one, but Yulia used to say, I’ve never been in a hospital, I want to try what it’s like. You silly goose, we used to say laughingly, you’re so lucky.
We kept taking turns. Only two visitors were allowed at a time. Children came to visit her — her whole class, all her friends came to see her on Saturday. And everybody, especially her closest friends, wanted to spend some time with her. And we were with her all the time. There were moments when it was especially hard on us — my husband felt sick, he fell down, I started crying, and then I left the room, because she didn’t like to see me crying. And then someone would take our place.
The doctors talked to us, they explained the injuries. Her skull was smashed, and the skull bones damaged her cerebellum and touched the main artery. But I didn’t understand, I couldn’t figure it out, I didn’t want to believe, I guess . . . I couldn’t come to terms with losing my child.
We kept watching the monitors. Her pressure started dropping right in front of us. Her lung was failing. They inserted a tube to pump out her lung. She swelled badly. But to the last minute, they were telling me there was still hope; that I had to keep hoping.
She died on June 3, at 5:33 a.m. Early Sunday morning.
I saw the moment of death. We were all at her side, beginning from half past one at night, all through the end. I kept watching the monitors. I saw that the pressure was 25 over 25, and I saw the flat line. That had to be the heart failure.
When I saw Sveta, I burst into tears. Did she die? Sveta asked. Yes, I said. No! she said, look, she’s still breathing. She was still hooked up to the machinery. When I looked at her from the side, she seemed to be still breathing.
They asked us to step outside. They said they had to prepare her, and then we could come back.
They turned off all the machines. Afterwards, there was no horror in her face or anything. It was as if she’d gone to sleep. Really calm expression. While she was in the middle of all these needles, tubes, and wires, I was even afraid to hug her lest I mess something up. I just kept stroking her little hand. Her fingers were so small. A tiny plump little finger.
Once the machines were unhooked, I could finally hold her and kiss her all over. She had blood coming out of her eyes.
Later the social workers said she would be taken right away to Abu Kabir, because she had died in a terrorist act, and the investigation required that they perform an autopsy.
Okay, we said.
We went to Ikhilov, then to Abu Kabir, then back to Ikhilov, back to Abu Kabir . . . The odds were dropping with every minute. I’m a logical person by nature, so I realized that since no one answered either phone, and so much time had passed, and they had not come home, and she was not on the Wounded list — I was almost a hundred percent sure that she was no longer alive. Neither she nor Anya. But I was still hoping for a miracle. Hope dies last.
And then there was no hope. At nine-thirty, they called me in to identify the body.
We looked for her on the lists at Ikhilov. We didn’t find her name, but we were still hoping she was at another hospital. We waited for her for a long time. But at three at night, my husband and son and their friends went to Abu Kabir. I stayed at Ikhilov, because the new lists of the wounded kept coming in. After six, there were no more lists, and I went to Abu Kabir.
We went to the hospital to look for them, along with Ilya’s parents. I was still calm then; I didn’t expect such horror. Larisa panicked right away, but I was still holding on. When he was not found on the lists, and his phone was not answering, I said: If he were still alive, he would find a chance to call, either home or on the cell phone. He was a very responsible boy. He would be afraid that I would be anxious or nervous.
By three at night, there was still no call, and my energy started waning. Then we went to Ikhilov, and my older son called there. Roman is at Wolfson, he said. I was so happy!
Five minutes later he called back to tell me it had been a mistake. Someone gave him wrong information.
At Ikhilov they tried to persuade us to go to Abu Kabir. I didn’t want to go. I already knew this was the end. But I still had to go there . . .
They were neither at Ikhilov nor at Wolfson. Then I came back to Ikhilov, and they showed me four pictures of the heavily wounded — three girls and a boy, they were completely unrecognizable. It’s not them, I said. Then you should go to Abu Kabir, they said. That’s the only place where they can tell you where your children are. And so we went to Abu Kabir.
Natalia Panchenko, Sergei’s mother, called us shortly after midnight to tell us about the disco bombing. We turned on the TV, but Alesha was not to be seen. On his cell phone, the voice mail picked up. That calmed us — this meant he was alive, he must be helping someone else.
My daughter Larisa and her friend went to the Dolphinarium right away, but the police did not let them through. They went around all the hospitals, but Alesha was not anywhere. We called every phone number they showed on TV, but he was not on any of the lists.
We came to Ikhilov. I still could not realize the horror of what had happened — everyone was taking care of me, giving me water and heart medication . . . Then they said, No more unidentified children left. Then my last hope collapsed, and I understood we had to go to the morgue.
At Ikhilov someone came up to us right away: Who are you looking for? There were a lot of people there. Social workers, I guess, or doctors or nurses — they walked around with lists in their hands. I asked if there was anyone still unidentified? A girl? All the girls have been identified, they told me, there were just two boys left. They checked again all the lists at all the hospitals, but she was not on them.
We should rule out Abu Kabir then, I said; we should go to the police and tell them that our daughter is lost and they should start looking for her. I thought maybe they were in such a state of shock that they got lost; maybe someone picked them up. But Natasha’s brother didn’t know the way to Abu Kabir, and they assigned us a driver with a police car to show us the way. And so we went there, following a police car.
Liana’s father Leonid (we are divorced) and I went to Wolfson, then to Tel ha-Shomer, then to Beilenson. She was nowhere. I asked at Beilenson: What do I do, where do I go, if she isn’t anywhere? You should go to Abu Kabir., they said. I kept calling Petya, he was at Ikhilov all that time, but she wasn’t there. After we have been to all the hospitals and didn’t find her anywhere, we went to Abu Kabir.
We got there pretty fast. It was two a.m. They assigned us a Russian-speaking policeman — more than one, I think. They started asking questions: the height, the eye color, the clothing, any fractures, scars, birthmarks, teeth, fillings . . . I was so agitated I couldn’t remember anything. Finally, I did.
There were still unidentified children at the hospitals, and Abu Kabir was faxing around the descriptions. A social worker called us from Ikhilov and said we should be with our son at this time, and, besides, they had pictures of unidentified children at the hospital. While we were in the cab on our way to Ikhilov, Petya called me up and said Liana was there, and she was being operated on.
We went downstairs to join the parents of the other children who were in surgery. We spent about three hours there. Then they started wheeling out the children. The doctors came out and said, This is the condition of such-and-such. Every time there was a sound of a wheelchair, everyone would leap to their feet to see if it was their child. There was one girl who looked so much like Liana that Leonid ran after her along the hall; but it was not her.
Then there was a calm. Tanya, Liana’s friend, spent a long time in surgery, until seven in the morning — they were sewing up her neck. Then I went to find out — where’s Liana? What is her condition? Why is everyone being wheeled out — but not she?
Suddenly it turned out that there was no Liana in the operating rooms. I raised my voice: Find the social worker who told me she was in surgery. Then I saw uniformed men coming and I realized they were coming to restrain me. Then I was called upstairs where the lists were. And she wasn’t on any of them.
I asked to show me the pictures of the unidentified children; maybe there was an error. But I was told there were no more unidentified children. Petya started screaming, It’s a shame, we asked you twenty times, and you kept telling us she was here . . . By then there were about ten of us, including Liana’s boyfriend, and they all helped us translate. The sun had not come up, it was a gray dawn outside, and we were told we had to go back to Abu Kabir.
We went to the Wolfson Hospital. Zhenya was not on any of the lists. I began to feel that something horrible was about to happen. While I was watching TV, it was still far away from me, but now . . .
Katya, a friend of Zhenya’s, stood next to me, holding my hand. Then a man came up, not tall, educated-looking, and said in Hebrew, Come with me, I’ll show you some pictures.
“Is she alive?” I burst out.
“Come with me,” he repeated.
They gave me a picture, and I saw her lying there with all the tubes. She was tagged with a number.
I vaguely remember filling out forms, being taken somewhere . . . There were a lot of people. There was a nurse standing next to her. Do you have family? they asked me. And I realized they wouldn’t be asking about my family unless they wanted to tell me something terrible.
At that moment, I saw Yevgenia move her hand. My heart felt weak. The doctors led me out of the room. Then everything got confused, and I was taken to the cardiology ward. I’ll never forgive myself that I spent three days there, instead of being with my child.
All this time Yevgenia was in a coma. A bolt pierced her head and destroyed her brain. They gave it to me later. And I overheard the doctor say that she would be dead within twenty-four hours.
Then they unhooked her from all the systems except for the artificial breathing machine, because she had her own blood pressure and she had a pulse. The doctors were amazed. She is the one leading us, they said, we’re just helping her. They really have a very skillful staff at the hospital. They treated us wonderfully.
Zhenya’s condition stabilized, and she was to be moved to Neurosurgery. Suddenly a doctor called and told me that things are going badly, that she has low blood pressure, and her heart is not working evenly. So they decided not to move her. Three days before she died the doctor told me that if she survived she would be like a vegetable. I don’t care, I said, as long as she’s alive. Just do all you can.
They turned off the feeding tube. When I came in the morning, I was told she was dying. But I saw that she had a pulse of 72. A Russian doctor came up. Do something, I told him, why aren’t you doing anything?
We made the decision two days ago, he said.
What decision? Everything had been going fine. They had started examining her; then they called me in and congratulated: Zhenya’s blood circulation has restarted. And now . . . There was an unexpected infection, they told me.
She was exactly as if she were alive. I remember — I didn’t even kiss her. I couldn’t kiss her. All I saw was the display: Pulse — 0.
I arrived at Ikhilov at five in the morning. A social worker came up right away to ask whom I was looking for. My son, I told them; he was at the disco. We went through all the lists of the wounded and the dead, but my Sergei wasn’t anywhere on them.
They asked what he was wearing. I gave them all the details about the clothes, and his little silver choker with a black strap, and his golden ring. He smoked Parliament — they asked me that, too.
Then they took me to see him, in Critical. I didn’t see his face, but I recognized him right away. He was unconscious, his head bandaged, the bandage all bloody, and he was tangled up in tubes. The doctors told me he had a pulse of 32, which is considered minimal. The only reason he’s alive, they said, is that his heart refuses to give up.
I stayed there for another half an hour or an hour, and then went home. Three hours later, I came back with my husband. I felt so sick when they told us there was no hope. We should just wait until the heart turns off, they said, and we went back home. Around eight they called us from Ikhilov and told us to come in. That was all they said, but I understood.
When we arrived at the hospital, they were waiting for us before taking him to the morgue. We said good-bye to him and left. A day later, they asked us to come to Abu Kabir for identification.