It was a late spring evening in the holy city of Jerusalem. The street cats came to nest in my garden for the night, and I, too, retired for the day. I relished in the sweet scent of the air and the gentle touch of the breeze on my face, as I contently reflected on what was nearly 30 years of my life. I was strong, despite my weakened body, and proud, in spite of others’ misplaced pity. I had climbed Mount Zion, and that night, in the city of gold, I fell asleep with no regret.
The following morning, my soul awoke in what felt like a foreign body. During the night, my eyelashes had entangled and sealed my right eye from accepting the sun’s morning rays. The breeze, which so gently brushed upon my cheeks the night before, struck the right side of my face like electric bolts of shocking pain. I reached for my face in horror, but the tortured skin fiercely rejected my hand’s touch with the sensation of hot, buzzing, sharpened crystals. In a matter of hours, my world had become dark and grim.
Enveloped in fear and despair, I retreated into a cocoon of pain and depression. Weeks and months of my life passed by, but the condition only worsened. During the long hours of dreadful pain caused by weekly, sometimes daily, attacks, I tried to scratch my way out of the nightmare that had ruined my life. But, with each failed attempt, I felt my life drifting away, and I feared that trigeminal neuralgia would soon take my life.
Just when I thought the world was over, I met Dr. Nevo Margalit, a neurosurgeon at Ichilov Hospital. His healing hands offered a possibility of escape and a renewed feeling of hope within me. With the knowledge that surgery could leave me deaf in one ear, paralyzed on the right side of my face, or, worse, dead, I eagerly grasped at the opportunity to be free of this hell.
On May 29, 2011, a year after I woke up to the worst pain of my life, I underwent brain surgery, where Dr. Nevo performed microvascular decompression of the right trigeminal nerve. Cutting through the cocoon, one arachnid after the next, and weaving through the nerve center of my brain, Dr. Nevo carefully placed Teflon pads between the trigeminal nerve and the veins, which had tightly wrapped themselves around the nerve like a web. The surgery was without complications, but only time would tell if it would be a success.
After surgery, my body seemed no longer to be its own. I flapped around, falling, lethargically, from side to side. My hands uncontrollably shook, struggling to grasp whatever objects they encountered. I vomited and writhed in pain, as my body protested the physical violation it had just endured. I desperately hoped that this new suffering was not in vain.
This week, eight weeks since the surgery, I celebrate my 31st birthday – a birthday that in the last year, I never thought I’d reach. More importantly, however, I celebrate the blessing of a pain-free existence. No longer do tears fall from my face, but rather, a smile has, once again, surfaced. I am no longer confined to my bed in agony, but rather, I sit by the sea and enjoy the feeling of the wind on my face and the sun’s rays transforming the color of my skin. I am no longer physically weakened and mentally veiled by the effects of medication but strong and proud of what I have become and the life, for which I fought so hard to keep.
There’s a saying my aunt says reminds her of me. It is: “Just as the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” So, too, this week, I celebrate no longer being crippled by the pain of trigeminal neuralgia but having the freedom to gracefully fly to unimaginable heights. This week, I celebrate no longer being a caterpillar but being a butterfly.