September 11, 2001 - I remember how absolutely beautiful the sky was in the Washington, DC area - not a cloud in the sky, and the most vividly blue color I have ever seen. It was a beautiful September morning. At work, things were normal and our hospital administrators were gathered together in their weekly meeting. My husband called to tell me to turn on the TV. I raced into the board room at work and turned the TV on to see the horror unfolding right before our eyes. It was only a few minutes later, as we were watching in shocked awe, that the plane hit the second tower. My boss and I gasped and commented on how many people might lose their lives in that inferno - we knew there were upwards of 25,000 potential victims in those two buildings. Fortunately, the death toll was much lower.
Then we heard about the Pentagon. We went into disaster mode, calling a meeting of all senior and middle level staff. We were aware that we might get some victims from the Pentagon, but in the end, that was not to be. These victims were burn victims and were transported to hospitals equipped to handle those kinds of injuries. We gathered the managers together several times throughout the day to update them on what had been happening in the DC area.
For the next several weeks, things were oddly strange in the DC area. Several days after the attack, I decided to cross the bridge to VA to see for myself (a good friend who worked in DC walked from his office to the Pentagon to "bear witness" to the events of the day). There was an Army tank stationed at one of the exit ramps leading toward the Pentagon. That tank was there for months following the attack. For many weeks fighter jets would circle around the DC area several times a day. I could see them from my office window. That was a very strange sight to behold. I bought a radio for work that had TV audio capability so I could listen throughout the days that followed for immediate updates.
As the skies across the nation were empty because of the ban on airline flights, I recall one of our vice presidents who was in Las Vegas on 9/11. Knowing he had to get back, he and his wife rented a car to make the trek back home. The patient representative was also on the West Coast and ended up using trains as her mode of transportation back to Maryland.
We saw the best of human kind and the worst of human kind during the weeks following this tragedy. Our emergency rooms were full of patients who had serious psychological issues to deal with following the events of 9/11. We saw unbelievable compassion from the hospital family during that time. We also saw how selfish and rude people could be under intense stress. But I choose to remember our caring staff who, despite their own personal situations, went out of their way to provide great patient care. One of our vice presidents was in the Army Reserves and had to work a full day at the hospital and then report to Bethesda Naval Hospital for another 8 hours for several months.
I remember at the time thinking that this was an event that would we would never forgot, and we would always remember where we were when it happened, much like when President Kennedy was assasinated, or with the space shuttle Challenger exploded.
On this day of rememberance, I thank God for the service men and women who work to protect us twenty-four hours a day and thank them for their service to our country. I pray that, as the years go by, the families of those who lost loved ones will find more peace in their lives. We certainly live in more dangerous times with many new threats to keep us vigilant (and I grew up during the Cold War with bomb shelters in our neighborhood-that doesn't seem as scary to me now). Time seems more unpredictable in this day and age.
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