More Sept. 11 E-mails
From Julie (Burridge) Haviland to family and friends:
(Editor’s Note: Haviland is a second-year emergency medicine resident at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Toledo, Ohio, and was sent to Ground Zero on Oct. 28, 2001, by the National Disaster Medical Service as part of the ongoing effort to treat the firefighters, police, construction workers and others still working at the site.)
I arrived in NYC on the day of the memorial in which friends and family of the victims were given urns with ash from the WTC. In the hotel lobby, I met a young woman’s father who was handing out pins with her picture and birth date. She was my age. He saw my uniform and started hugging and crying and thanking me. I explained that I had not yet done anything, but he said, “You will.”
The next morning my team arrived at the WTC site. After we passed through the security checkpoints, we saw what the pictures and news can’t portray--10 acres of devastation. Much of the rubble had already been cleared away, but there were still buildings split in half, buildings allowed to burn because 347 of New York’s firefighters has already sacrificed their lives. There were buildings down the block with pieces gouged out of them from the falling towers. After our eyes had their fill, we got down to business. When I arrived, there were only two clinics; initially there were six.
Much of my work down at the “pile”--the term the veterans of the WTC disaster call the rubble where the twin towers stood--was psychological. We saw our share of respiratory complaints (the sub-basements of the towers are still burning), eye problems (the pile is right next to the Hudson River and the wind really whips up all the debris and ash), and burns, but everyone had a story to tell and they needed to tell it. It was easier to tell a stranger than to tell their spouse or friend, who already has much grief to bear. One of the paramedics told us about his partner, whose wife worked on the 82nd floor of the second tower. After the first plane hit, she called him and told him to stay put and she would make it out. However, he went in after her. She got out; he did not. The stories like that go on and on. Each one as heartbreaking as the last.
The volunteers at the site from the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church were wonderful. They have been working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to try to keep people comfortable. They fed us hot meals, gave new boots, socks and rain jackets to whoever needed them. There were massage therapists, chiropractors and podiatrist volunteers doing their trade for free to the workers. There was a group of massage therapists from Toledo, Ohio, who were staying in a homeless shelter so they could afford to be in NYC. St. Paul’s Church was the epitome of what religion should be. They opened their doors to all the rescue workers, let them rest in the pews, relax and fed them hot food. Twenty-four hours a day, there was someone singing or playing the harp, piano or guitar. In addition, they continued to have services at noon every day. I have truly never felt closer to God or my community than I did while eating homemade lentil soup while listening to a classical guitarist play “Amazing Grace.”
It was an honor to serve those workers who are still trying to find their brothers in the pile. The people of New York have really come together after this tragedy and have been able to do some wonderful works of philanthropy and humanitarianism. I am truly grateful for this experience.