War, trauma and the long road to recovery - Lieutenant Colonel Shai Siman-Tov is familiar with it all but refused to be called a hero in a recent interview with Halochem, the Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization newsletter.
It's been one year since Operation Protective Edge when the commander of Golani Brigade's 12th Battalion was wounded in combat and sent to hospital for recovery.
"My battalion’s mission was to track down attack tunnels,” Siman-Tov said in an interview conducted in his room at Tel Hashomer Hospital, his home these past 12 months. “One of them was the tunnel that led to Nahal Oz, and that’s the tunnel we were uncovering when I was wounded.
“You think less about yourself in these situations, you think about the soldiers," he said. "One of the greatest fears of a commander is that not everyone will return home. But I was fully focused on accomplishing the missions. I didn’t deal with different anxieties.”
Siman-Tov remembers his life-changing moment on that July 24th night almost entirely. “I remember the moment of injury,” he recounted. “I remember the pace of fire and the tanks firing around me. I don’t remember the moment when a concrete beam fell on me.
"The next moment I remember is at Soroka Hospital, recovering from surgery, and my wife Daniela. I was a bit hazy, but Daniela, with help from hospital staff, explained my situation.”
Siman-Tov struggled with his new reality. “The initial feeling of being in intensive care was one of waste," he said. "I thought about my soldiers fighting and me being here. The feelings of frustration, or helplessness, came later. I didn’t understand the full meaning of the injury. I was sure it was a matter of a few weeks or maybe a few months, and I’d be back in the battalion.
“Today, I’m pretty at peace with the injury; I don’t ask why it happened. But it was difficult in the beginning. You feel like the world goes on while your life is ruined. You see people with kids, families holding hands, and it’s hard. How do I deal with these thoughts? Well, A. it doesn’t pass. It never passes. You have to deal with it. B. I was helped by family, especially my wife, who’s very helpful and supporting.”
Siman-Tov isn’t willing to be called a hero. “I don’t like that definition. I really think I don’t have a choice. I just don’t have a choice. From the moment I chose to be a combatant, part of fighting and of being a fighter is in recovery too. And I don’t have a choice. My wife is the real hero. She had a choice. She could get up and leave.”