Wounds are healing, but the fear remains

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Whenever I walk past a window I feel a stab of fear. Traffic scares me because I think that any one of the cars could blow up. Sudden sounds terrify me.

It’s been several weeks since the suicide bombing last month of the Hamra hotel, where I was working as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times’ Baghdad Bureau. Yet I still keep reliving the moment the bomb exploded outside our window and a 2-inch shard of glass penetrated my chest, leaving a bloody gash.

It was only a split second of terror, a fragmentary flash of sound, fury and pain, but it replays over and over in my mind, haunting me with reminders of how close I was to death.

Now I forget simple things -- my e-mail password, the names of my friends -- as though the force of the explosion blasted them out of my memory.

Time has been telescoped. Events that happened before the bomb I can only dimly remember as if they were a year ago. I hear the crack of the explosion as vividly as if it were yesterday. My mind is a mess.

I was telephoning my wife at the time of the midafternoon bombing, to tell her I would be late. There had been two explosions only moments before, and I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me.

Then came the sickening crack -- from a distance, bombs boom, but up close they make a cracking noise that ricochets through your whole body. At the same time, I felt an intense, burning pain in my chest. It was almost unbearable. I couldn’t breathe.

As the blood spread, I thought I would die. My first thought was for my wife and my stepdaughter: How would they survive if I were no longer here to support them?

My friends and colleagues in the bureau comforted me, and assured me it was only a superficial wound. Then they took me to the hospital.

That was another ordeal. Security forces had sealed off the roads, and we had to walk. It took us about half an hour. Every step aggravated the pain in my chest. I fought hard not to pass out.

At the hospital, a private one, a doctor cleaned the small wound and stitched me up. He gave me a local anesthetic, but still it hurt.

I thought about the many injured people in so many explosions who can’t afford a private hospital. They must go to one of the public hospitals, which don’t have anesthetics. I can only imagine the pain they must endure.

After I got home I discovered that I had been cut by glass in nine other places over my body, including my face, abdomen, arms and legs. I hadn’t felt any of the injuries. I was lucky to be alive. If I had been a few paces closer to the window, the shards might have penetrated more deeply.

The day I was injured, 37 people died when suicide bombers struck three landmark Baghdad hotels, including the Hamra.

The doctors tell me my wound is healing. But I’m not sure my mind will heal so quickly.

There have been thousands of bombings in Baghdad in the seven years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, and tens of thousands of people have died. I realize that there are also probably hundreds of thousands of people across the city who are like me, still living with the terror-filled memory of the moment a bomb exploded.

As I walk in the streets and look at the faces of the people passing by, I wonder: Are they also feeling the fear I endure? Are they also waiting for cars to explode, for windows to come crashing down? Does it ever go away?

There are almost no therapists or psychologists available to treat the stresses we feel. We are among the forgotten victims of this unending war, the wounded survivors of the daily trauma that life in Baghdad has become.

But I feel luckier than most because as a journalist I get to write about my experiences. Already, it has made me feel a little better.

Redha is a Times staff writer. Times staff writer Liz Sly in Baghdad contributed to this report.