Friday, September 11, 2015

September 11, again

I wrote this in 2003, and it's not something I'm comfortable sharing.
I'm sharing it anyway. Every breath we take....
It will only be up a few hours.

I was a coward.

A few bloody excuses. .. my family...I am not a trauma space is better served by this doctor, that's been a decade since I put a chest tube in a child.
You have the mobile medical unit. You know how the generators work. You are good at fixing things. They need pediatricians, there was a daycare in there. At least you have some experience in trauma. 

The Executive Director, dressed in scrubs, a woman with young children of her own, a woman whose judgment I trust, asked me to go, and (even more importantly) gave me the option to say no.

I went.

Some day I will dredge the day back to my memory--it remains a collage of images, real images from a long day spent at Liberty State Park, chest tubes and IV bags and dressing and gauze and ET tubes and cots and cots and cots lined up in the abandoned Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal for the injured and dying who never came, waiting and waiting for a ferry of battered passengers.

Odd discussions. A nearby convention of surgeons had gathered here, prepared to surgerize, some too giddy for comfort, while the two pediatricians groused at them--when the children come, we would stabilize them and move them--do your cutting somewhere else.

But that is not what I want to share now. Maybe later. Probably never.

It was late afternoon, the city was burning. We watched from across the river. We watched billowing plumes, and the occasional immense blush of dust. The Governor came and he was hardly noticed. We got news in dribs and drabs. But you already know about this. That is not why I am writing.

The Jersey view of the sun setting on the west side of Manhattan on an early September evening wraps me with joy-- the golden hues of a promised autumn, the deep blue of the Hudson, the shimmery reflections of glass buildings. September 11, 2001, was one of those delicious days.I sat on a park bench next to the only other pediatrician at Liberty State Park that day. In the warm glow we sat, our legs stretched out on the railing overlooking the edge of the Hudson. In a surreal scene, the conversation became blessingly mundane--we gave each other implicit permission to do just that.
What do you suppose all those tiny flitting pieces at the top of the flume are? Paper?
Lovely day, no? Too bad we had to see it this way.
The view is lovely here. It truly is a lovely day.

We churned with emotion. We were both all too aware that the shared shock of the moment, as dizzying as falling in love, had little to with each other. Still, the moment was as intimate as I dare share here--we had prayed for our families, for the dying, for the day. The wounded had not yet come, and their hopes dimmed as the delay grew ominously longer. (There was no way for us to know then that the rescuers just down the river, in Jersey City, were overwhelmed with the battered.)

We had been told we might be needed for a couple of days, possibly in shifts. We had set up our triage area. Triage. A frightening word on a battlefield.

We had been fed. We had plenty of equipment, though not enough caffeine, not enough Motrin. The adrenaline waned. We were starting to become acclimated to our new condition. Humans adapt.
I remember coming here as a child.
My grandmother came though here, Ellis Island.
So did my Grandad!
Which county?
Mayo. Of all the luverly poetic counties in Eire, my folks come from an ugly-sounding one.
Well, could be Sligo, that almost sounds worse.

A pause. City burning. The smoke, thankfully, drifting southward towards the Verrazano Bridge, we thought.

A hush of guilty silence. We were alive. We had a break. It was a lovely evening. We felt very, very much alive.

This is not a love story. The irony of sharing an intimate, relaxing moment amid carnage and chaos bubbled to the surface. We laughed, more an embarrassed giggle. We were alive when, we thought, tens of thousands had died or were dying. Both of us were too old to mistake the moment for anything but what it was.

But in that moment, in the lovely glow of the setting sun, we were all that mattered.

Photo lifted from September 11--no credit listed.