As I neared the hospital, elderly patients sat dazed in wheelchairs in the streets, still hooked to their IV bags. A woman lay on the ground in front of the exploded emergency room, her whole body dripping red, not moving much. It was clear that they weren’t taking new patients, certainly not any as comparatively lucky as I was.
Someone named Youssef saw me, sat me down and started cleaning and bandaging my face. Once he was satisfied I could walk, he left and I started wandering, trying to think of another hospital I could try.
I ran into a friend of a friend, someone I had met only a few times before, and he bandaged the rest of my wounds, disinfecting the lacerations with splashes of Lebanon’s national liquor, an anise-flavored drink called arak.
His roommate swept up their terrace as I bloodied their towels. “I can’t think unless it’s clean,” he explained.
Until then, I hadn’t had more than the vaguest guesses about what might have happened. Someone was reporting that fireworks had exploded at the port. Much later, Lebanese officials acknowledged that a large cache of explosive material seized by the government years ago was stored where the explosions occurred.
Survivors walked by, moving faster than the jammed-up traffic. To anyone who appeared unhurt, people called out, “alhamdulillah al-salama,” or, roughly translated, thank God for your safety.
Before the end of the night, after my co-workers had found me, after a passing driver named Ralph had offered to take us to one of the few hospitals still accepting patients, after a doctor had put 11 staples in my forehead and another sprinkling on my leg and arms, people would be saying the same thing to me: Thank God for your safety.
“Thank you,” I said in reply, “truly thank you,” and I didn’t mean just for the good wishes.