Archives for posts with tag: surgery

(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

It was Thursday, February 11th, four days after the attack, and Jeanette was having her first surgery. Her sister Karen had basically begged the hospital administrators to let Jeanette stay, and they had miraculously agreed despite knowing that all the expensive procedures would very likely go unpaid.

Not only would she be allowed to stay at UCLA, but apparently she was about to win the surgical lottery. None of us knew anything about Dr. Keith Blackwell; we simply prayed for a capable surgeon who would help us. At the time, we were oblivious to the fact that Dr. Blackwell was “among the most experienced and busiest surgeons in the southwestern United States… Visiting scholars from universities in Korea, Japan, Italy, Germany and the Philippines [had] traveled to UCLA to learn his surgical techniques.” (In fact, it is only now as I write this that I have discovered his impressive accolades.)

I spent most of the day in the surgical waiting room with Karen and David. It would take Dr. Blackwell and his team more than six hours to repair the damage to Jeanette’s face. The bones in her right cheek and eye socket had been crushed, with pieces seemingly everywhere. Her nose was caved in and blocked. There was a fracture that extended from her right cheek, through her right eye socket, across the bridge of the nose and through the left eye socket. And the two halves of her skull were twisted making her bite out of alignment. Once they’d put all the broken bones back in their proper place, her jaw would have to be wired shut in order to stabilize them.


(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

Being active had initially helped me get through the days. Knowing that I would be speaking with Cagney gave me incentive; I looked forward to the moment I could tell her what I had done, and we could collaborate on what I could do next. Those conversations gave me a sense of purpose, as well as the comforting feeling that I had a real partner who was in this with me. But as the weeks went by and we were seemingly no closer to arresting anyone, that sense of purpose waned.

Fortunately I had Jeanette: I could visibly see her healing. Her face returned to its normal size and shape. Her sense of humor returned, fully intact. And although her jaw was still wired shut, her incredible circle of friends found increasingly creative ways to prepare her meals. Much as she seemed to look to me for answers—I was in regular contact with the detective, I had found a plastic surgeon, even I had been the one to initially come to her aid—I looked to her to help me navigate my way back toward wholeness. She kept saying, then and for years after, that I was the keeper of her memory—I contained the gaps in the story that had so profoundly altered the course of her life. But at the same time, she seemed to be the gauge by which I would measure my own healing process. If Jeanette could be okay through this, then certainly so could I. And the truth is, her courage, her humor and her utter lack of anger or bitterness helped light my way.

I was trying to find comfort in spirituality. I collected sentences and repeated them like mantras. The greatest power we have is the power to change our mind. I found prayers and clung to them like life rafts. Dear God, I don’t know why this is happening but I know You do, so thank you. And I copied passages from books and kept them close at hand to read again and again. When a tragic event happens, we cannot change the course of that event. We will feel sadness, we will feel pain, but it is what we do beyond that moment that defines our Mastery. We must look for a deeper meaning. We must see with different eyes and use our intelligence to find a way to bring love and happiness back into the world.

(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

Jeanette was ahead of her time; she was sporting a fantastic lightning bolt scar on her forehead years before anyone had ever heard of Harry Potter. Unfortunately, right after acquiring hers, it became infected and in order to help it drain, she had a toothpick jutting out from between her eyes. With pus and blood dripping down her face, she met with a bankruptcy attorney who took one look at her, gathered all of her paperwork and told her that he wasn’t going to charge her because he didn’t want this to be her experience of Los Angeles.

Although the image of her—jaw wired, crushed cheek and nose, facial lacerations—may have been daunting, it certainly wouldn’t be her worst look. That was still to come.

On our second visit to Dr. Keller’s office, Jeanette’s car broke down. I hoped it wasn’t a sign that moving forward was going to be challenging; maybe it simply meant she had an old car in need of attention. Regardless, Dr. Keller and Dr. Lacombe outlined a plan for the year ahead: rebuilding her nose, inserting a cheek implant to replace the missing tissue, and performing collagen and laser treatments to minimize the scarring.

The following evening, on Friday March 5th, we all gathered at Mary’s apartment for a farewell party for Jeanette’s friend Jeff who’d been her caretaker for the last week. Those sorts of parties happened on a regular basis. As one friend arrived to be with Jeanette, another left. The comings and goings were always marked by celebration. The next morning, Jeanette’s brother Richard was arriving from Florida. Jeanette had been waiting for Richard to come; he was the prince who could comfort her like no one else. She had wanted to go back to her home, the scene of the crime, and pack all of her things up, and she felt like she would have the strength to return with Richard by her side.

(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

The wires clamping Jeanette’s jaw shut were finally removed but it took weeks for her to get her teeth apart to any distance approximating normal. The art of chewing came slowly, and her upper lip remained numb. I watched her unconsciously touch her face, trace the new grooves and divots, and pinch areas that still had no sensation. If she was distraught about how she looked with half her face caved in, she certainly didn’t let on to me—and I would have thought I’d be one of the few she’d tell.

In May, two months after the assault, she was scheduled for her first big reconstructive surgery in Santa Barbara. Gretchen, the woman who worked in Dr. Keller’s office had arranged for us to stay with a friend of hers. Jeanette and I shared a room in a beautiful sprawling ranch home with Saltillo tiles that stretched out toward vibrant, pink bougainvillea at the base of the surrounding mountains. Fresh flowers were expertly arranged in vases in nearly every room. The place was brimming with light and color. It was a true oasis.

The waiting room in Dr. Keller’s office was more like a spa with comfortable chairs and cucumber water and bowls of fresh fruit. But still, it was hour after endless hour of flipping through mindless magazines and scrapbook-like binders detailing every cosmetic option available: otoplasty, rhinoplasty, blepharoplasty, rhytidectomy and liposuction among them.

Dr. Keller and Dr. Lacombe cut through Jeanette’s gum line, lifted the skin from her face and inserted a silicone implant to build up her right cheek adding cadaver tissue on top of it to replace the flesh. I suddenly appreciated all those people who’d given their bodies to science because one of them was restoring Jeanette’s smile.

When she finally emerged from the long surgery, her entire head was wrapped in gauze and ace bandages that left holes for her to see and breathe. We spent a couple days letting the lazy Santa Barbara breeze mix with the painkillers before she felt well enough to make the drive back. She insisted on stopping for Mexican food on the promenade in Santa Monica. All bandaged up like a human tennis ball, she sat in the outdoor patio watching the people walk by, many of whom stared. We talked and ate and laughed as if we hadn’t just been through the worst trauma of our lives. There we were, coming out the other side.

Welcome. For those of you who are new, read on. For those who are returning for updates, scroll down…

I’m taking a short break from writing about my travels across Spain to continue with the Jeanette story, otherwise known to this website as “An Assault in Venice.” To read the story from my perspective, you can start here.

To donate to the Jeanette Facial Surgery Fund via PayPal, click the button below.

You do not have to have a PayPal account to donate. All donations, large and small are not just happily accepted, they are gratefully received.

I will, through this website, give periodic updates regarding the amount of donations received, as well as details of the surgery, which is scheduled for March 15, 2012.


I got good people! Such good people. That’s not a surprise. The outpouring has been nourishing and lovely. I’m ever so grateful.

Within minutes of me blasting out my email about Jeanette and asking for donations, they began magically appearing.

Amy responded nearly on the heels of me clicking the send button and responded simply with “Done.” And then, “I’m grateful for the opportunity to help Jeanette in some small way.”

Many of you wrote that to me…

From Laura: “Thanks for this opportunity to help Jeanette.”

From Kristie: “God bless you for doing this for all of us.”

From JoDee: “Thank you for the update and for the opportunity to help make Jeanette’s life a little easier.”

From Jill: “You both have my support.”

Robbyne wrote, “This is such an issue for me, our lack of decent health care in this country.”

From Deb: “God bless you, Tess, for documenting, believing, supporting and championing Jeanette.”

From Melissa: “Anything for you.”

Others simply donated without acknowledgment. Marisa, Maureen, Forest, Gale, Kara, Pete, Sarah, John in Wisconsin and John in New York. David, whom I sadly haven’t had contact with in far too long also gave to Jeanette without hesitating. And that is just so beautiful to me, that despite time and distance, the tether remains. Strong.

Kristie, who’d not read the blog when I first posted it last year, sent an email followup, and it’s too priceless not to include here.

I didn’t want to start reading your story at work. I knew it would affect me. But like an alcoholic who thinks s/he can put a bottle of Jamison on the table and stare at it, but resist it, I opened your blog page and then minimized it. What happened? I closed the door to my office, put a note on the door that said “on extended break”, un-minimized the blog, and read the whole thing. And when I was done I had a good cry. At first out of sadness, then out of sheer beauty. The beauty of a cop, a surgeon, an attorney, a politician’s aide, a friend, a stranger, a dog. All who came in to offer their assistance in the ways they knew how or felt would be most beneficial.

I hope a million people send money or if they can’t afford money, a good thought. A blessing. Because maybe, just maybe, if enough strangers can rally, we can collectively undo a bit of damage that a single stranger did.


As of this morning, you all have contributed $1,100!

Thank you doesn’t really begin to express it.

More. Soon.


Well, almost exactly a week ago I sent out an email blast. And we’ve just crossed the 2K mark. I believe the tally today stands at $2100 and that’s including a few checks that have arrived to my mailbox.

And the emails keep coming.

John from Wisconsin wrote of the blog I wrote laying out my view of the tale: “Thanks for putting it into words which turned it into such real, real life.”

From Richard, simply: “Check is in the mail.”

Brad wrote: “Thanks for making a difference for Jeanette.”

From Dena: “Thanks for including us in your email blast. We are happy to help out your friend.”

From Maureen Mary Margaret: “Your heart is forever in the right place.”

Stephanie quickly wrote a check and handed it over. As did my sweet parents. Lauren handed me cash over dinner last night.

Amy in Santa Monica wrote: “Please send my love to Jeannette and thank her for allowing you to share this horrific story.”

Steve, with the fantastically sweet heart filled with heartache wrote: “Thank you for taking up Jeanette’s most worthy cause in a rancid society that simply doesn’t take care of its own.”

From Forest: “My heart goes out to your friend.”

David’s note really got me. He’s the guy from the last update who blew me away with a donation since years had passed and we’d had no contact.

Your request for Jeanette came at a moment when my giving was really an act of healing for me so thank you for reaching out and giving me the opportunity to participate in some small way to a very loving and significant thing.

My heavy heart is centered on the crossroads that the Literature to Life program has reached. While we have built a nationwide and truly worthy arts and education initiative, we have run into that brick wall of funding problem. It is truly remarkable that something so good and so necessary can lose support is mind boggling but if you break it down between the usual suspects, the economy, the schools lack of funds, the arts, etc. You see where I’m going. Dig a bit deeper and you come to a myriad of problems all around.

All in all I feel very responsible for the company and for one of the first times in my life I feel mostly helpless.

So you see reaching out to you and your heartfelt request was a concrete act that very simply makes sense. So thank you. I sincerely hope the surgery goes well and Jeanette continues to recover.


I’m in a very different place as I write this update. Jeanette is now six days into her recovery from surgery. We’ve had a difficult, beautiful, painful, glorious time. Yesterday her bandages came off and she looks better today, even with the swelling, than she did when she arrived.

The donations keep coming. I love that. She struggles with that. It’s hard to receive, that’s all. Word has gotten out, past my circle of friends and into hers, and so now donations are coming from people I don’t know. I’d still like to acknowledge you all and I’ll do the best I can…

Lloyd, Hank, Lorraine, Ellen, Michael, Susan, Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah, Max, Amy, Tim, Elizabeth and Melissa…

In the meantime, I got this email from Jeanette’s niece, Sarah, who writes beautifully. I got permission to include this part of gorgeous email:

Thank you for putting together the fund, and for offering my Aunt a place to stay after her surgery.

When I think about the attack, I remember waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of father taking down the suitcase from the attic so my mother could pack. She came and sat on my bed and told me that Aunt Net was hurt, and that she was flying to California immediately. I was 11. I walked to school in blue jeans and a blue denim vest that day and felt like I should be sad. I was worried, but I couldn’t sum up the emotion that the event deserved. I think I wasn’t ready to be that sad.

Now I’m sitting on the couch in my first grown-up apartment, and I think about being with her and growing up with her in my life since then. There were slices of hot cheesy pizza on the porch, drives in her little Volkswagon, discussions about feminist politics, long-distance telephone calls about the people we’re in love with, countless trips to movies and plays and museums, steaming mugs of chai in a cafe in Dupont Circle. I’m so glad she made it through that attack, because I love her so much and I can’t imagine who I would be with out her. I’m deeply sad that she’s still hurt. So thanks very much for setting up the fund, I’m honored to contribute.

Today I sent out a follow-up email to the friends of mine who have contributed. Here’s an edited version of it:

Jeanette arrived last Tuesday night for what was to be, literally, a reopening of old wounds. On Wednesday, we drove to Santa Barbara. Dr. Keller’s entire office staff has changed since last we were there but they all proved to be just as sweet and accommodating as the last group. A plastic surgeon runs a boutique business, and so bedside manner is a lot of the experience. They can afford to coddle you and take as much time as you want to feel comfortable. It was a little like being at a spa, oddly, but then I wasn’t the one having anything done. Photos, consultations, conversations. Basically, Dr. Keller was just going to get in there, and then decide what was to be done.

I’d rented a guesthouse near the beach that I found on If you don’t know about that site, check it out. I wanted a freestanding structure with a yard that was close to the beach, all things I thought Jeanette would like. The place I found was perfect.

On Thursday morning, we took a stroll on the beach. The morning light was magical. As we spoke about this horrid event that had happened to her 13 years ago, I’d mentioned that it seemed like a lifetime ago. In the magical morning light, she expressed that she didn’t have that luxury—that the daily-ness of the injury was an ongoing presence in her life. And always would be.

When we got to the office for the surgery on Thursday, Dr. Keller said that the anesthesiologist was still there, and he could easily stay for Jeanette’s surgery if we wanted him to. It would be an additional $400, though, he said. And this is really the point. If the additional expense were coming out of her pocket, she might have evaluated it more carefully. In no way did she want to have to endure the surgery awake, but the debate of being practical vs. emotional would have played out differently. Because of all the support, she didn’t have to have the debate. She only had to experience the relief of letting go of her fear.

It’s hard receiving. It’s harder for some people to receive than to give. It’s been hard for her to receive all this generosity but it has made all the difference in her experience of this, her 10th? 15th? surgery. We tried to count them.

And the thing is, both Dr. Keller and the angelic anesthesiologist, Dr. LaGrange, said after the surgery, “It’s a good thing she wasn’t awake for that.” When they got in there, there was so much scar tissue on the right side of her face that they had trouble getting the old implant out. What was supposed to be an hour surgery was two and a half hours. They got it all out, a new implant went in, and they took fatty tissue from her belly and put it in her cheek to fill it all in.

It’s now six days later and she’s still swollen, but she looks better today than she did when she arrived last week.

I just wanted you to know that it’s been a tough, beautiful, life-affirming week over here. And I simply can’t thank you enough for helping me through it. I know that most of you gave money to Jeanette because I asked you to. It’s been a lesson in receiving for me, too. And it has been no small thing, believe me. The attack she endured will never be “a lifetime ago” for her. But making every step slightly less painful is really quite stunning. Thank you, from the top to the bottom of my heart, thank you, for being present in my life and loving me through these moments when I/we most need your love and support.