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Journalists Injured on Assignment

Raffaele Reports on His Recovery

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Update from Paul Raffaele, May 20, Sydney, Australia

Three weeks after the incident I thought I'd give a rundown on my situation.

I am walking, talking, hearing, and you might not notice any difference except for a slight unsteadiness now and then, a lingering effect of the blast on my ear. My doctor says that will go away with time.

My right forearm has a solid piece of shrapnel in it. An orthopedic surgeon at Bagram Air Base operated on it, but as it was near the joint, decided to leave the shrapnel inside. The arm is still painful. I can't even lift a coffee cup without pain, but my doctor says it will eventually settle.

I have some scattered shrapnel wounds—entry points—on the right chest, but my doctor took out the stitches the other day and they're O.K.

The surgeon at Bagram said that one piece of shrapnel hit an upper right rib, broke it and then shot across my chest under the skin and across the front of the heart, scratching the heart but not drawing blood or injuring it. A fraction of an inch to the left and it would have banged into my heart, with clear consequences. [Photographer Steve] Dupont told me there were two dead policemen by my car window just inches away and so they took shrapnel that would have hit me. Also, I had my head turned to the left. Had I had it turned to the right, the shrapnel that hit the back of my head would have got me in the throat, again with obvious consequences.

The blast has messed up my right ear with me hearing ambient noises such as doors closing, taps dripping, many times their normal strength, while human voices sound as if they were produced by a synthesizer. Music is a cacophony and sounds off-key. My doctor says this is a well-known effect of such a blast and should right itself over the next few months. I've already noticed an improvement. Though there is a long way to go.

The most significant effect comes from the three pieces of shrapnel in my brain. My neurosurgeon says they took a relatively benign path and so he's going to leave them there. The most serious effect is a considerable diminution in my peripheral vision on the left. At first I could not read, but that is getting better, though I do so with difficulty because the words get jumbled, and after a few lines my head is tired. Typing is interesting because my sense of where letters are has shifted to the right so that when I go to type 'a,' I end up typing 's,' when I go to type 'c,' I end up typing 'v' and so on. I'm aware of this and try to compensate.

In the street I can see the landscape O.K., but if anyone approaches from the left, I don't see them until they have reached midpoint in my vision. Street signs unfold in a quirky way from the right to the left. I can't yet read sub-titles, they're on the screen for too short a time, and on our widescreen TV if there are two news presenters I can only see the one on the right until I move my vision to the left. I can't watch cricket or football or tennis on TV because the ball and the players move too fast.

I've not noticed the peripheral effect getting better and so I think my brain is asking more from my right eye. The neurosurgeon says it will take months to see whether this gets better.

There has been quite an improvement since Bagram and Dubai. There, I could only see the outline of faces indistinctly, and my biggest worry was that I would never see again the faces of my wife and daughter. But as the swelling of the brain went down, I began to see faces distinctly again, though only by using my right eye, or so I think.

So I have to be patient. I'm worried about whether it will significantly improve over the next months, but I just have to be patient.

Send an e-mail to Paul, or use the comments space below to wish him well.  

 

Update, May 7—On April 29, Steve Dupont, a photographer on assignment for Smithsonian magazine, and Paul Raffaele, a writer also on assignment for Smithsonian, were injured when a bomb detonated near the jeep in which they were sitting in the village of Khogyani, some 50 kilometers from Jalalabad, Afghanistan. At least fifteen people were killed in the blast, which may have been detonated by a seven-year-old boy acting as a suicide bomber. Dupont suffered minor abrasions and was treated at the scene. Raffaele, who was closer to the blast, received shrapnel in his arm and neck and underwent treatment at the U.S. hospital at Bagram Air Force Base. Now home in Sydney, Australia, Raffaele's recovery progresses daily and doctors believe any damage caused by shrapnel, some of which remains in his body, will eventually repair itself. The two men were in Afghanistan to report on the harvesting of the poppy crop, from which opium is made. Raffaele's most recent article for Smithsonian was about his visit to Beijing's Forbidden City in China. It ran in the March issue. For Steve Dupont's account of the attack, including a slideshow of his photos, go to nytimes.com.

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