Sunday, September 11, 2011

What I will always remember...

Let me start by saying it was a perfect morning, the sky blue, no clouds, no humidity and a taste of beautiful Fall weather. Just spectacular!

I was working at Synthes then, in the ortho trauma division of this medical device company. I had been there almost a year and on Sept 11, 2001 I was in my 2nd day of sawbones lab training in the corporate office in Paoli. Everyone trained in how to use the medical devices we manufactured in West Chester at our plant. On this day, we were to perform surgeries on sawbones(fake bones with true to life density) in a downstairs lab.

 I was excited to be going thru this training, and looking forward to a full day with new friends I had met the day before who were in the class with me.

We took our first 10 minute break at around 9:45. On that break there was a guy outside with us telling us how 2 planes had flown into the world trade center buildings. A truck of explosives was detonated in front of the capitol building and a bomb had detonated at the pentagon. Yeah yeah ok  we thought. He was one of “those” guys. You know the type – always saying some smart ass comment, always talking out his ass. We went back down to the sawbones lab and talked to the instructors about what we heard. We tried to get a radio signal to see if it was true, we listened as they described the carnage… as they described the attacks. I remember huddling around this ridiculous battery operated radio. I remember the instructors crying, I remember the goosebumps I had and the hair on my neck standing up on end.

We went back to the classroom and discussed what we were going to do.Should we go home? Should we stay? We were a medical device company – we were orthopedic trauma. We were the ones who fixed the  people who were hurt in emergency situations just like this. Our nails and screws were in Stephen King after he was hit by a van while walking. We were in football players and skiers and policemen who were shot and had shattered bones. We needed to regroup and figure out how we were going to help – how we were going to get our trauma packages to New York and Washington. Of course little did we know at this point that 98% of what we were to eventually send would never be used because there weren’t enough survivors on which to use our devices. I honestly don’t think at this point that any of us could conceive of the idea that so many would die.

We were in shock and couldn’t figure out what to do so they sent us to lunch – a 2 hour break – to do what we needed to do – come back at 1pm and we’ll decide then. There were 4 or 5 of us in the car heading down rt 30 in Paoli, heading to Casey's in Malvern. The scene was surreal. Everyone was standing on the sidewalks, outside of their buildings. Everyone we passed looking to the the sky, trying to see if planes were coming for them, It was surreal. We all called our families and friends… tho it was difficult to get through – to make sure everyone we loved was safe. I called my daughters school to see if I could pick her up and found out they had locked down the building. The kids were to stay there, in safety, until it was decided they could travel home without being in danger.

I needed to be with my kid, I needed to gather her up in my arms and not let go. I needed to protect her from …from… from what? I didn’t know, I just knew I needed to and they were telling me I couldn’t because it was too dangerous. Even now as I type this it seems so over the top so dramatic but it wasn’t, it was where we were at, 10 years ago today. Never seeing or experiencing anything like this before in our lifetimes. Hearing the radio say it was our generations Pearl Harbor… only worse. I remember looking out the window of the car, looking up at the sky, afraid that we were going to see the next plane.

We arrived at Casey’s and walked in the door to a crowded bar and restaurant. 11am and not a person in there wasn’t drinking. All eyes on the 3 tv’s they had playing over and over again the attack on the towers, our eyes seeing it for the first time as we had been in our class while it happened. I remember sitting with my mouth open, shaking my head back and forth…no,no,no. This is surreal, this is a dream, this is …war.
We ordered beers and burgers saying we needed to force ourselves to eat because who knew when we would be able to have a meal again. It sounds so ridiculous now but it wasn’t then. We had no idea what was to come and no idea what we were going to go through. I remember barely being able to swallow, my mouth dry as dust. I remember ordering my second beer and one of the guys we were with telling me to eat damn it – we needed to put food in our stomachs. . We were in shock, I know now.  A subconscious, body numbing, brain searing shock. “Why won’t they let me get my daughter?” I remember asking. How could she be safer in a building away from me? A few of the people in the bar had friends in New York. In the towers or police or firefighters. I remember saying a silent prayer for them…still not fathoming the idea that 3000+ would be dead or missing. It would be 8 years before I walked back into Casey's again.

We discovered that a plane had gone into the Pentagon. We learned there was no car bomb in front of the Capitol and that a plane had gone down in Pennsylvania…shot down? We wondered.  It would be days before we found out about the brave passengers on flight 93. Those selfless men and women who fought against their hijackers, saving the White House or the Capitol by crashing the plane in Shanksville. We learned, in a move that none of us had ever seen or heard of before, that all flights were grounded. Every single plane in the United States was forced to land where they were closest to. When we left we saw fighter jets heading towards Philly and thought – they are flying aerial protection. They are patrolling the airspace above us, ready to shoot down anything that wouldn’t respond. We knew this in our minds but in our hearts we couldn’t grasp it fully yet. I think at this time was when we heard that Philly was being evacuated. A mere 20 min drive away but a whole other world as far as we were concerned. Our minds had us so self contained. Only thinking of the next 5 minutes – where we were going, how we could get home.

Our companies emergency work forces had been deployed and we were sent home around 1:45pm. The buildings had fallen and the drive to my house in West Chester was a long one. We had recently moved into the house on Grove and didn’t yet have cable – so were unable to see what was happening. I remember my daughter coming home on the bus. My roommate coming home from work. I remember calling my parents and my brother and my friends. None of us driving to visit each other and I am still not sure why. I can only assume we thought we would be safer off of the roads.

I remember sitting in my backyard, listening to the silence. We lived in an active flight path to Philly Airport and had already become used to all the air traffic but that night, September 11th 2001, there was none. I sat inside then, listening to the radio, trying to envision what was happening. It wouldn't be until that following Sunday, September 16th that we would have cable. I spent that entire day in front of the tv, watching all the coverage of the disaster that I had missed. I don’t remember if we worked that week but we must have. I know we finished our training. I had sales reps in New York that I was in touch with, and Docs that weren't able to operate on anyone since there were so few survivors and the damage done to those who got away was minimal.

I remember thinking this has changed me, this has changed America. Seeing American flags everywhere we looked, feeling a sense of unity with everyone around me. 

Talking to strangers in the store and wanting to make those connections that before I would have ignored. I had survived divorce and cancer and thought that I had a strong appreciation for life and the little things. I learned that day in September that I still was not as appreciative of the life I had as I should have been. I hugged harder, held on longer, said I love you more. I let the little irritations slide off my back. I didn’t  know that a mere 5 months later, when my roommate would attack and try to kill me, then stalk me for a year,that this day in September was the beginning of a post traumatic stress disorder that would rear its ugly head in my mind until I moved to the beach in July of 2011. And even still I have my moments of anxiety.

Two things I did know that day is that I would never again forget to thank and appreciate the first responders for running into the danger as I ran away from it and that I would never, ever forget what happened. 

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