Wednesday, April 14, 1999

'We're just glad we are alive'

Life's little thrills gain importance for hospitalized couple

The Cincinnati Enquirer

[arshonsky family]
Steven Arshonsky has a fractured hip and his wife, Laurie, at right, has five cracked ribs and a collapsed lung. Visiting them at the hospital are daughter Ashley, 21, and sons Austin, 17, and Bobby, 12.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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        High tea in the afternoon. Lace doilies. Scones. Strange, the kinds of thing that pop into your mind when you believe you are going to die.

        When, on a stormy spring morning, you are ripped from your sleep, and the life you've known is blown apart by a tornado. When the roof peels off. When your home explodes. When a violent, swirling wind lifts you from your bed and tosses you like a rag doll 30 yards away, face down in the street.

        High tea.

        Laurie Arshonsky remembers thinking of it in the terrifying seconds that seemed like an eternity as the tornado struck the two-story house on Valleystream Drive that she and her husband, Steven, had called home for six years.

        “I had just had tea with a friend the day before at the Cincinnatian Hotel,” Mrs. Arshonsky said from her room at Jewish Hospital Kenwood, where she has been hospitalized since early Friday.

        “It was something I had always wanted to do, and I remember, as the house was crashing in and the winds were picking me up off the bed, how glad I was I had done it,” she said. “Because I believed I was about to die.”

"We're not tornado victims," said Laurie Arshonsky. "We're tornado victors."
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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        The Arshonskys did not die. They were among the first rescued from the rubble left behind in their Montgomery Woods subdivision, thanks to Mr. Arshonsky's 12-year-old son, Bobby, who had been asleep in the basement and made it through relatively unscathed.

        Moments after the tornado passed, Bobby wandered from the rubble of his home, first freeing his 15-year-old sister, Susie, who had been pinned under a wall. Then, he found his father and stepmother outside near the curb. Bobby flagged down a passing ambulance and the couple were taken to the hospital.

        Mrs. Arshonsky has five cracked ribs and a collapsed lung. Her husband, who works for a computer firm, has a fractured hip and multiple cuts that required dozens of stitches.

        Just around the corner from the Arshonsky home, at 7575 Cornell Road, their friends and neighbors, Lee and Jacque Cook, were not as lucky. They, too, were thrown from their home by the tornado and were found dead across the street.

        Mrs. Arshonsky remembered them as “wonderful people; two people very much in love.”

        Mrs. Cook brought her soup when she was sick, Mrs. Arshonsky remembered, “and was always there to lend a hand.”

[house before]
The Arshonsky house before ...
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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[house after]
... and after.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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        Tuesday, as a steady stream of friends and family came in and out of her hospital room, Mrs. Arshonsky remembered Friday's moments of terror vividly — in more detail, in fact, “than I really want to remember.”

        She recalled bolting up in bed “wide awake by a terrible loud noise.” She tried to wake her husband, but he was still asleep when “the house started falling coming apart.”

        “There was a sensation like the one you get going down the first big hill on a roller coaster,” Mrs. Arshonsky said.

        She knew instinctively what it was.

        “I thought it was the end; I knew I was going to die,” she said. “All of these thoughts started rushing through my head. All the good times. All the things I haven't done yet that I want to do. My life.”

        In those few seconds, with the thoughts of her 46 years on Earth rolling at breakneck speed through her mind — her children from her first marriage, her recent graduation from nursing school, friends she holds dear — she resigned herself to death.

        “I was at peace,” she said. “I just went with the flow.”

        As their bodies were thrown from the house, Mrs. Arshonsky blacked out, crashing to the ground naked.

        Moments later, she came to.

        “I had mulch in my mouth,” she said. “We'd just put it down a few days before. The pain was excruciating. I got really cold; I was shaking all over. I started crying for help, and I could hear Steve crying for help, too. It was a relief hearing him; I knew he was alive.”

        Then she heard Bobby's voice.

        “I said, "Bobby, I think I'm going into shock, get some blankets,'” The boy found blankets in the rubble and wrapped his stepmother and father; then the ambulance came.

        Since being in the hospital, she and her husband have rarely been alone. His children, who were treated and released Friday for minor injuries, have been there often, as have Mrs. Arshonsky's 17- year-old son and 21-year-old daughter.

        And friends have been close by.

        Lenny Tupler has shuttled between Jewish Hospital Kenwood and his West Chester home, running errands and lending support for his friends. “They are lovely, wonderful people,” Mr. Tupler said of the Arshonskys.

        The day after the tornado, he said, he was at the hospital when a nurse walked into Mr. Arshonsky's room and helped him with bandages and medication. As she walked out of the room, Mr. Tupler said, “she broke down in tears. She really felt for what these people had gone through; it really affected her.”

        Both the Arshonskys wear eyeglasses and both lost theirs in the tornado. Mr. Tupler said he called the LensCrafters office in Kenwood, and an assistant manager came out and fitted them with new pairs, free of charge.

        “People have been wonderful,” Mr. Tupler said.

        Bobby went back to school this week at Green Middle School, relieved that his father and stepmother are getting better. At school, the sixth-grader has found that he is a hero.

        “Everybody keeps congratulating me,” Bobby said.

        The Arshonskys have found a home to live in once they are released from the hospital. In the meantime, the children are staying with other family members.

        For now, Mrs. Arshonsky said, “we laugh a lot, we cry a lot, and we're just glad we are alive.”

        She has watched the news coverage of the tornado's aftermath on TV and seen pictures of their destroyed home. She reads accounts in the newspaper. What rankles her, though, is when she hears people like herself and her husband described as tornado “victims.”

        “We're not tornado victims,” she said in a voice sleepy from pain and medication. “We're tornado victors. We're still here.”


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