Remembering 9/11: Those Who Helped

 

Dr. Galt at Grand Central StationOn the morning of September 11, 2001, I was a third-year medical clerk rounding at a community hospital in Northeastern Ohio. One of our patients was fixated on the television when we entered his room. He almost shouted: “A plane crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City.” Our team watched the smoke billowing from the North Tower. Then the second plane hit the South Tower. My knees buckled and I felt nauseated. But we kept rounding.

The second plane was a splash of ice-cold water onto our faces. When the South Tower was gone, so was the hope that this was all a tragic accident. Also gone was our naivety about the world. Martin Amis wrote that September 11, 2001, “will perhaps never be wholly assimilable.” More than a decade later, I am still trying to figure it out.

That night I received a phone message from a medical school friend who walked from a hospital in Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan to help. I could tell by his voice that mixed with his palpable exhaustion was a sense of triumph. Like many in New York that day, he had seen evil, met it, and made a small but significant contribution to showing the resilience of our nation’s greatest city. Just think about it: As people walked out of the city, my friend and others — from Mayor Giuliani to medical students, EMTs, off-duty firefighters, policemen and physicians — rushed in. How utterly magnificent.The Faces of the Missing at Grand Central Station

Like most Americans who lived outside of New York, D.C. or Pennsylvania, I felt that I needed to do something, anything, to make a contribution. The next weekend, I was in New York City for the first time in my life, hoping to help in the rescue and recovery efforts. But apart from the lucky few who were pulled from the wreckage days after the attacks, there would be no survivors to rescue, only body fragments to recover.

My friend and I ended up touring a very solemn city. At Grand Central Station, the oppressive heat was only broken by the slightly eerie sounds of a Mennonite Choir singing hymns to the dead.

I was struck by three experiences. The first was seeing the posters of the missing, which were by that time memorials to the lost. They were ubiquitous.

The second was eating in Little Italy, with the glow of the lights at Ground Zero from many blocks away producing a man-made dusk through the buildings. A far-off sound seemed to intensify as it moved closer to us coming up Mulberry Street. Not until it peaked, almost next to us, did we realize that people were loudly applauding and cheering the NYFD engines heading to the site. Restaurateurs were slowing their progress by bringing food out to the men who would soon be sifting through the rubble, looking for colleagues but finding only memories … a badge … a shoe … a helmet … a piece of bone.

The third, on the train heading back to my buddy’s apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, seeing the view back to Lower Manhattan with a single plume of smoke rising over the area.

I still can’t get that acrid smell out of my memory. Even if I could forget it, I would never want to.

My thoughts of New York City now are now mixed, as the memories of that first visit fade, replaced by happier ones made in subsequent trips. On Valentine’s Day, 2009, I proposed there to the woman who is now my wife.

Recently, I’ve wondered what I’ll tell my kids about September 11 when they’re able to understand.

I hope they will learn that even in the face of great tragedy, there is deep resilience in the human heart.

There are 6 comments.

  1. Addiction Is A Choice Member

    Beautiful post, Doctor!

    • #1
    • September 11, 2015, at 6:37 AM PDT
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  2. Matthew Singer Member

    “But also gone was our naivety about the world we lived in”

    Seems to mostly be back now.

    • #2
    • September 11, 2015, at 6:47 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. PHCheese Member

    I was on a treadmill in a Washington PA gym when the first plane hit. The guy next to me blamed it in Ron Reagan for firing the union Air Control. When the second plane hit he abruptly got of and left.

    • #3
    • September 11, 2015, at 7:01 AM PDT
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  4. Man With the Axe Member

    I can’t help thinking about the people whose reflective reaction was to say “We must have done something to deserve this.”

    • #4
    • September 11, 2015, at 7:11 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. Max Ledoux Admin

    Thank you for sharing your experience, DrGalt.

    • #5
    • September 11, 2015, at 7:14 AM PDT
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  6. Mate De Inactive

    Amazing story. One of the shining lights after 9/11 was the outpouring of help and support from the country to help those who needed it. Also the amazing sense of patriotism that everyone felt. NYC can be a salad bowl of ethnicities that self segregate as hyphenated Americans, but after 9/11 was really the only time that I got a sense that in NY that were all Americans first.

    • #6
    • September 11, 2015, at 11:12 AM PDT
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