Saturday, September 10, 2011

My memories and reflections of 9/11/01

Ten years ago, on 9/11/01, I remember walking into work at Jackson Memorial Hospital (JMH) in Miami, Florida. I was a graduate student at Nova Southeastern University at the time and was collecting data from brain-injured patients for my dissertation. As I was waiting for the elevator, I turned around and looked at the small television hanging in the corner wall. The news was on and I saw images of smoke coming out of a hole in large building. There was no audio, but it was obvious that the building was one of The Twin Towers. The hole was small, so I figured that a very small plane crashed into the building. In fact, this was one of the early rumors of what had happened. When I walked into the nursing station, more rumors were flying, including that this was a terrorist attack. When the second plane hit the other Twin Tower, there was no longer any doubt. In a prelude to the debate that later ensnared our country, doctors and other health care providers were openly debating whether to attack whoever was responsible, and whether nuclear weapons should be used. In the midst of the debate, nurses were calling their relatives in New York to check and see if they were ok.

Stunned by what was taking place and after watching the Twin Towers continuously smoking on TV, I decided to take a break from the TV coverage and to test a patient to get some more dissertation data. I shut the patient’s TV off, spent about an hour or so with him, and turned the TV on again. When I turned it on, all I saw was a massive plume of smoke and that the Twin Towers had collapsed. I thought back to just a few years ago when I had driven by the World Trade Center, looked up at the Twin Towers (not even able to see the top from the car window) and thought about how incredible of a disaster it would be if just one of those Towers ever fell over. When I had wondered about that several year prior, I was thinking of what would happen if the Towers fell over to the side. With the Towers collapsing downwards and not to the side, thousands of additional deaths through were likely avoided and the disaster cleanup was at least be more contained, although still daunting. It also didn’t avoid the release of large amounts of asbestos in the air from the Towers, exposing emergency workers and thousands of other to an insulation fiber known to cause mesothelioma.

At this point in the day, all non-essential personal were asked to leave the hospital. There were still reports of planes in the air and no one knew where they were going to next. The Pentagon had been hit by a plane and rumors were that another plane was coming for the White House of the Capitol building. People in large metropolitan cities were worried, and for good reason. Driving home down I-95 was bizarre because people were looking in the air for planes as weapons. I called my brother on the phone, who was living in Atlanta at the time, and he voiced a similar concern. We both were struck by how strange it was that we seriously needed to be worried if we saw a plane in the air at this point since all planes had been grounded by the FAA. My brother and father used to walk by the Twin Towers every day that past summer and if the attack had happened when they were there, we both realized that they could have been victims. Fortunately, my father was not working in NYC that day.

I remember getting back to my apartment and being glued to the TV like all of America that day and the days ahead. I barely got any sleep due to how much coverage I was watching. Soon, pictures of the victims came out and memorial videos were shown on TV. I particularly remember the song “Only Time” by Enya being played constantly during these memorials. During this song, which is very emotionally-laden, a picture was shown of one of the victims – a dad standing next to his two children at Disney World, as happy as can be, posing next to Tigger or some other character. That picture really hit me hard, because it symbolized how much innocence and kindness had been taken from us that day. It was impossible to watch it without a tear coming through. Thinking of all of the people who had to make a decision as to whether to jump to their deaths or be burned alive was frightening because you try to imagine yourself in that situation. Hearing phone messages of victims calling their loved ones for the last time was terribly sad. I did not have children at the time, but even then, it was not hard to imagine how devastating it must have been to think that you would never see your children or family again. Today, it just reminds me even more never to take your loved ones for granted.

When driving, I remember that everyone, and I mean everyone, had an American flag sticking out of their car window or attached to their car antennae. Everyone was proud to be an American. As the decade has passed by, many people have gone of with their lives, but hopefully, people will never forget what happened on that day. In writing this, I found a powerful reminder of that day , played to the Enya song noted above. If you would like to share your memories of 9/11 or pay tribute to a 9/11 victim, please feel free to do so below.

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