Healing wounds: Supported by many, woman deals with aftermath of attack | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Healing wounds: Supported by many, woman deals with aftermath of attack

William Ferchland

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Susan Rizk, right, discusses the surgery on her hands and wrists.

RENO – Susan Rizk is afraid to get her casts removed.

She is fearful of a few things.


Not being able to work.

Steve Wasserman.

But fear was only one emotion felt Thursday, which doubled as Thanksgiving and a birthday for the 38-year-old who is recovering from an attack from a 2-foot sword allegedly wielded by Wasserman, her ex-boyfriend.

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It also was the second day she could speak.

Out of the intensive care unit, Rizk’s new room at Reno’s Washoe Medical Center is a testament to the vast support network behind the single mother of two.

One count had 38 get-well cards on the wall. The count didn’t include the poster boards signed by friends, colleagues and acquaintances.

A nearby table to the right of Rizk’s hospital bed held stuffed animals and framed pictures and a lighted angel in prayer.

Five vases full of flowers sat close to the lone window. The most recent addition, a dozen peach-colored roses, was brought Thursday afternoon by her father, Paul Watson.

“Thanks for telling me the right room,” a good-natured Watson joked to family members after roaming the hospital’s hallways.

Watson looked at the television above a rollaway bed used by family members staying with Rizk.

He wondered why the football game wasn’t on.

“Because we’re not in charge of the channels. Susie is,” said Diane Watson, one of Rizk’s three sisters in the room.

“Are the ‘Niners playing?” Rizk asked.

Bedridden since the attack 30 days ago, Rizk laughed, cried and appeared weary at times. When she became tearful she refused tissues, saying it interrupts the emotion.

Besides flowers and cards, three chairs and two beds, the room was crowded with people.

Donna Logalbo sat to the left of Rizk, sometimes grabbing a suction tube and holding it to her sister’s mouth when Rizk coughed.

Lisa Watson, Rizk’s younger twin sister by seven minutes, also helped. One joke told in the hospital room involved Watson needing to be on the hospital’s payroll.

“I think it’s my calling,” Lisa Watson said. “God wants me to be a nurse.”

“(Then) I have to get well,” quipped her father, who has a bad back.

A religious theme threaded the room and sewed into Thursday’s conversation. Paul Watson picked up a large, worn, hard-covered Bible owned by the family. On Rizk’s pink cast on her left wrist was the phrase “God loves U.” The cast on her right wrist was also signed.

“Who do you want to thank sister?” asked Logalbo.

“Jesus,” replied Rizk.

“There’s a lot to be thankful for,” said Watson.

Still, Rizk’s world is filled with torment and pain. A vacuum sat on the floor at the foot of the bed helping close a stomach wound. Doses of fentanyl – “The Cadillac of pain relievers,” as Lisa Watson put it – are dispensed when Rizk knocks a button with her cast.

On Wednesday, with a brace wrapped around her right leg, Rizk took steps with help from a walker for more than 100 feet. It was an achievement, but it took its toll.

“I was in pain all night,” she said.

Logalbo slept on the extra bed to help care for her sister but also had a restless night. Cards kept falling onto her from the wall.

The family hopes Rizk will be released in the next few weeks. Rizk is using a ventilator less and less to help her breath. She has a tracheotomy to make her more comfortable with tubes down her throat. Swallowing therapy will come before the tubes are removed.

Watson said doctors hope to take the casts off in a week. But Rizk doesn’t want anymore pain and is afraid it might hurt. The cuts on her hands might open, Rizk feared, but family members insisted they wouldn’t.

The casts triggered memories of the attack. Rizk’s eyes focused, then misted, when her thoughts went back to the morning of Oct. 25.

She was in her apartment on San Francisco Avenue with her 4-year-old daughter that morning. Wasserman, who may have been upset about a previous day’s restraining order barring him from the daughter he had with Rizk, allegedly attacked Rizk while the child was in the room.

She remembered crouching with her hands on her head to protect herself. She remembered her wrist hanging by a small piece of tissue. She thought she was going to die.

Although Wasserman is being held at El Dorado County in lieu of $10 million bail on attempted murder and other charges – he pleaded not guilty to the crime and not guilty by reason of insanity – Rizk feels unsafe and believes he’s smart enough to escape.

“Every day I pray for my safety. I pray for my family’s safety,” said Rizk, her thoughts spilling out so much that squeaks from the tracheotomy tube accompanied her words. “I’m afraid for my life.”

She said she couldn’t watch gruesome images on television after the attack.

Family, though, was the main focus Thursday. Paul Watson spoke about the twins’ birth. Cellphones rang from people calling to wish a happy birthday.

Rizk’s daughter has visited her three times but she kicked herself for not getting her son a present for his birthday. A reference to her daughter now liking broccoli made Rizk smile.

“I miss going to church,” she said. “I miss working. I miss my life.”

– E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com