Monday, September 12, 2011

My September 11th


9/11 Memorial
Omaha, Nebraska

photo credit: Stephenwigg

I can't believe it's been 10 years since September 11th, 2001. I've told this story in bits and pieces to my friends, but I've never written it down. I think I'm finally ready to talk about it. It's long, so bear with me. It may be hard to read. It's certainly hard for me to write.

Ten years ago, I lived in Manhattan on the Upper East Side. I was a Chief Resident at NYU/Bellevue Hospital after finishing 3 years of residency in primary care internal medicine.

I was also married and almost 8 months pregnant with my first child. As my bus lumbered down Second Avenue on the way to work, I remember what a beautiful, clear morning it was. I was thankful summer was over. Pregnancy and humid weather had been a hard combination for me.

The first strange thing that happened was that the bus driver started talking to us over the speaker.

NYC bus drivers never talk to the passengers, except to say what stop was coming up or yell at us to make room for more people.

"I've been told one of the twin towers was hit by an airplane," she said, and we all looked out the front window of the bus to see a thick cord of smoke floating eastward across the sky--a blemish in the blue.

I heard the passengers murmuring to each other. One person said it was actually two planes, but another assured us it was just one.

One plane could be an accident. But two? I couldn't quite fathom what that might mean.

So at first, I didn't get too excited. I'd worked in the architecture department archives as an undergrad and had seen photos of a small plane hitting the Empire State building by accident. I tried to convince myself that it was just a random event.

I got off the bus and waddled past Second Avenue to get to Bellevue Hospital, on 27th Street and First Avenue. My husband and I shared one cell phone. It was quite the luxury then. I called him where he was at work as a Chief Resident at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital. All I got was busy signal.

That was when I started to worry. I dialed my sister, who lived less than ten blocks from the Twin Towers. Another busy signal. I waddled faster, my worry turning into panic.

In our offices, I found the other chief resident staring out the window. Now, there were two plumes of smoke, one coming from each building. Several attendings and residents had heard the news. One of the residents had a husband who worked in the towers. She couldn't get in touch with him and was freaking out.

We tried to get in contact with each resident. Nearly every phone call we made ended in a busy signal. We had a TV in the office we only used for playing educational tapes, and it had horrible reception. All we could do was listen to the local news, since the images were so grainy. No one wanted me to do much because I was so pregnant, so I manned the phones, telling the few people who got through to get to Bellevue ASAP, if they could. The rest of the time, I stared out the window.

The smoke changed from cords of grey to large clouds, depending on the winds. Sometimes, I saw orange flames emerging out of the smoke. Once, when the smoke got so voluminous, I told the other chief that there were patches of blue sky within the blackish clouds.

"Look," I said, grabbing her sleeve. "It's almost like you can see through the smoke. I think one of the towers is missing."

"No," she responded. "It's still there. See?" But when she stepped away from the window, the wind changed directions again and I covered my mouth. There was only one building standing.

"Oh my God!" I shrieked. People ran to the window to see what I'd seen. As we stared and stared at the impossible--that one of the towers was down, another impossibility began to happen. The second one crumpled, slowly, then faster, right before our eyes.

I don't remember what I said. I do remember what I felt. Like there were a thousand people screaming in my ears and there was nothing I could do about it.

One final corner of the remaining tower still stood--a tall, jagged shard. Then it too, dissolved in a puff of dust.

Attendings and residents came in and out of the office, all wearing stethoscopes and making plans to clear out the inpatient wards for the coming wounded. People ran to the ER bay to stand by the doors, waiting.

They kept waiting. And no one came.

Some doctors and nurses decided waiting wasn't good enough, and went in teams to Ground Zero to help. One of them, a colleague, was so haunted by what he'd experienced that he could barely speak of what happened. He mentioned seeing...oh God. I can't even write it down.

Finally, someone told me to go home. They didn't want me working, and the phone lines were practically dead. The one resident whose husband worked in the towers finally got in touch with him. When the first plane hit, he took to the stairwells, got to the street, and kept running till he reached his apartment. He couldn't call her because the payphones had lines of people trying to use them since no cellphones were working.

The buses and subways weren't running. I numbly walked the fifty blocks to get to my husband's office, taking frequent stops to rest on benches. I could only go a couple of blocks before I'd get contractions from the exercise. Shopkeepers had their doors open, setting up free snacks and drinks to the people walking in droves down the avenues. The sense of community and desperate need to help others was palpable. I remember thinking, "This is the New York that so many people don't know."

I eventually found my husband and huddled in his office while he and other coworkers also mobilized for wounded and dying that never came to their hospital either.

I finally got in touch with my sister, who'd taken her own child and went immediately to a friend's apartment further north for safety. I remember crying a lot the next day. I can't even remember if I went to work or not. I think I stayed home and watched too many horrible images on television.

For weeks and month afterwards, the entrance to Bellevue was plastered with photocopied images of the missing. At first, people stood around the entrance, handing out flyers and asking us if we'd seen any of their family members in the hospital. The pictures were haunting images of healthy men and women, smiling in a frozen moment of time. As each day passed, reality told us that nearly all would never be seen alive again. Soon, piles of flowers and candles began to appear under the pictures of the lost. The photos went from being cries for help to memorials.

Early in the morning on September 13th, I awoke in the darkness with excruciating abdominal pain. My belly was misshapen out of its usual 8 months' roundness. We grabbed a cab to NYU's Tisch Hospital, which was connected with the Coroner's offices, only two blocks from Bellevue. The smell of burnt things still permeated the air. A police officer barred our way; when my husband pointed to my belly, we were let through to the ER.

My baby, which was breech, had turned around in the middle of the night. The doctor said all the walking from the day before might have triggered it. My husband and I smiled weakly. It was hard to believe anything positive could possibly come out of that day of tragedy.

Six weeks later, our son was born after seventeen grueling hours of labor. He was seriously and unexpectedly ill. To put it simply, he was born with a broken heart. Suddenly, the grief of an unspeakable tragedy was eclipsed by the fear of losing our first child.

***

Even now, I think of September 11th and it brings me to tears. I think of those family members, those friends, the brave souls who tried to save them and lost their lives. Those terrible losses will never be returned.

Even now, I remember the scent of burning things, the look of bewilderment on the faces of my colleagues that got ready to heal and had no one to save.

Even now, I sometimes wonder what I have done, bringing children into a world so filled with hate that such a thing could happen.

And yet, even now, as I look on the face of a beautiful, healthy, brilliant son who's about to turn ten years old, do I realize that there are far bigger things in the world worth holding on to.

Community.

Hope.

And above all else, love.

82 comments:

Laura Pauling said...

All these 9/11 posts are making me very emotional this morning. Glad your son is healthy and happy!

Miranda Hardy said...

I'm sitting outside work, tears in my eyes as I read this. I'm glad you shared your story with us.

salarsenッ said...

Thank you for sharing your experience with us. The images you describe are the ones I definitely (& unfortunately) remember. You brought tears to my eyes. <3

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

As you said, all of that tragedy, and you still have a joy you can always hang on to in your son.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

That was one of the more heart breaking memories that I've heard from that day. *hugs*

Suzie F. said...

Thank you.
*hug*

scarlet wilson said...

You made me cry, but I'm glad to hear your son is doing well xx

Karen Lange said...

I appreciate you sharing your experience with us. So glad your son is okay, and that there is always hope, and love.

storyqueen said...

You gave me chills and tears. Lydia, this is just such a beautifully written account of the most unusual day in our history.

thank you so much for sharing it with us.

Shelley

B.E. Sanderson said...

:hugs:

Carol Kilgore said...

Lydia, this is a beautiful tribute to all that is good in this world.

Old Kitty said...

I'm so glad your beautiful boy is thriving! He is a true testament to all that is good and innocent and hopeful.

Take care
x

Carol Kilgore said...

I was so taken by your post that I forgot to tell you I have an award for you on my blog.

Bossy Betty said...

Wow, Lydia. This post was so moving. Wow.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Very moving, I am pleased your son is ok, It must have been an horrific experience living in the US at that time, watching it from the UK was something one watched with disbelief.
Thanks for sharing your 9/11.

Yvonne.

Deb Salisbury said...

Hugs! How awful it was for you. Such a moving story. (off to find a hankie now)

I'm so glad your son is well!

Linda Gray said...

Thank you so much for sharing this, Lydia. I will think of your story for a long time. I'm so glad you have your husband and your beautiful boy (and other children) as reminders of what counts in life, and that you shared this powerful and moving insight. We recognize the truth when we see it, and this is truth.

Mary said...

Thank you for sharing this post with us. I am glad you and your family made it through that fateful day safely, and that your son is doing well. Community, hope and love are what get us all through times like these. Thanks for the reminder.

Suze said...

Lydia, as my eyes traveled over this post, I was drawn more deeply into your words. First of all, I was impressed with

'Ten years ago, I lived in Manhattan on the Upper East Side. I was a Chief Resident at NYU/Bellevue Hospital after finishing 3 years of residency in primary care internal medicine.'

But as the story went on, I felt my heart grow still as I took it all in. By the time, I arrived at the part about your son, I was impressed to silence. Still, I wanted to leave some indication that I had read this and was deeply moved.

-Suze

Jessica Bell said...

Oh my you've got me in tears ... Thank you for sharing your story. And thank you for ending on a positive note. All my love to you and your family xoxo

vbtremper said...

Lydia, I wasn't able to read all of your post, as I have my own difficult memories of that day. I skipped around in it, hoping that it ended with something positive. I'm crying.

We lived in Hoboken, NJ, on that day. I taught in NJ and saw those plumes of smoke. I remember watching on TV in our school's library, and I remember the disbelief.

Thank you for sharing and for giving others the opportunity to share.

-Vicki

Donna said...

Dearest Lydia:
This is a beautiful memorial to a horrible day. It was a day so crystallized in our minds...it is our Pearl Harbor. It is a time to not focus on the horror, but to focus on what unbelievable evil really does to people. It brings out their best.
Thank you for this post...I will share it with as many as possible.

Emily Rose said...

I'm glad you stayed safe, and that your son is healthy. Your story is truly remarkable.:)

Shelly said...

I am so moved by this riveting post. Thank you so much for sharing.

Sue said...

A stirring account of a devastating experience. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

So grateful that your son has thrived. I hope our country and its citizens can do the same.

"/

Tanna at The Brick Street Bungalow said...

Yours is one of the most beautiful and eloquent stories of this fateful day I have ever read. Thank you for sharing your experience. And, for the wonder of hope and love. blessings ~ tanna

Samantha Vérant said...

Lydia- This was a beautiful and moving and heartfelt post. I'm glad you were able to share your story with us. I'm glad you're child was okay. I'm glad I belong to a community like ours. We all need to believe in hope...and love. Thank you!

Matthew MacNish said...

There are no words.

So I'll just say: thank you for sharing this with us, Lydia. It's an honor to be your friend.

Julie Musil said...

Lydia, I'm SO glad you shared your story. Wow. It brought me to tears. The image you mentioned-with hospital staff ready and waiting for victims who would never arrive-is one I've remembered since that day. That and the people who had no choice but to jump. I still can't believe it happened, nor that it's been 10 years.

My husband is a firefighter, so of course we think often about the 343 souls lost climbing UP the stairs. So sad.

LD Masterson said...

Bless you, your son, and all of us.

Ann said...

A very powerful telling of your experience Lydia. I was moved to tears. My son's birthday is 9/12. I remember him being very sad and not in form for any celebration. I was at home watching the morning show recovering from breast surgery. It shook me to the very core. I watched in horror.

I am so glad your son is healthy and well and enjoying life. It is the good things we need to hold onto in the face of ugliness.

julie fedderson said...

The injured that never came. I can't stop that sentence from repeating in my head. And then I think about your son, about hope, and about the entire cycle of life and death and I'm just at a loss for words to explain how the world can be so horrifying and so beautiful all at once.

Talli Roland said...

Oh, Lydia. What a moving post, filled with grief and ultimately hope. I had to take several breaks reading it, as tears threatened to spill over. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

Munk said...

You, Lydia, are a stud. Hug your son for me today (and wish him a happy birthday)... I'll hug mine.

Pk Hrezo said...

Beautifully put, Lydia. We can't get consumed with the tragedy in life or it will swallow us. We can only keep looking to the sun... that another day rises and life goes on. Your son is a perfect example of that.
I only watched it unfold on TV and dealt with madness working for the airliines. I can't imagine what it must've been like there in person. Thanks for sharing this. It made me tremble.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Hate leaves such a terrible, lingering legacy. Your experiences were more than a story. They were the tears of a wounded soul as so many souls were wounded that terrible day, Roland

Sarah Pearson said...

Thank you so much for this. I' so glad your son grew into a healthy boy.

LTM said...

oh, Lydia, it's so true. There are things worth holding onto. And what a hard story to tell, but a good one. Thank you.

I had a friend and coworker who'd moved to NYC w/her husband to work about 9 mos before it happened. She told me of walking home from her office with the crowds of people all silent. I can't even imagine.

A terrible day. ((hugs))

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Lydia, what an experience! Thank you so much for sharing your story. It's so powerful. And I'm so glad your son is healthy now. Beauty from ashes.

Amy

lbdiamond said...

This really made me tear up. And I don't do that often.

WONDERFUL story, Lydia. Thank you for sharing it.

*hugs*

Bathwater said...

Wow that is a powerful story, I can imagine waiting for the injured, having been trained for such a tragedy and no one coming.

Lindsay said...

This made me cry. Thank you for sharing, Lydia.

Hugs!

Angela Ackerman said...

I can only imagine what it was like for you and all the other NYers who lived this tragedy. It was so horrifying to watch it from afar...I really just remember the shock of it, that what I was on TV was actually happening. It was awful, so awful.

Thanks for sharing your story, and hugs.

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Donna said...

I recommended your post to everyone who reads my blog. Thank you for sharing.

Carrie Butler said...

Oh my goodness, Lydia. Thank you for sharing this with us. *hugs*

Theresa Milstein said...

Lydia, I got chills reading this. I'm glad you, your child and sister were all okay.

It was a horrific day. I've never written my own story. I wasn't in Manhattan that day, but my sister and husband were. And yes, cellphones weren't commonplace then.

J.C. Martin said...

I'm so glad you decided to share this. I know it's easier said than done, but rather than thinking about your difficult labour and about bringing a child into a world so full of hate, think about your son's birth as hope in the face of adversity, try to think that it is only a small minority that are such sick and twisted murderers. Although Sep 11th was a dark day for America and the world, it also brought out the best in people: rallying together in rescue efforts, helping and supporting each other cope with loss, etc.

Thank you for sharing your wonderful tale.

M Pax said...

It still brings tears to my eyes, too. I was no longer living in NYC, nor DC. I watched drop jawed from Oregon and had the same panic, trying to get in touch with people I knew in NY & DC. What has stuck with me all these years was a conversation with my former roommate [when I finally got a hold of her]. She worked in the Pentagon, and she was in the section hit. She was still in shock when I spoke to her, but I've never forgotten the things she said, and I won't ever repeat them.

Ciara said...

I made it through a dozen 9/11 posts without a tear, now I'm crying. It reminds me of how much we have to be thankful for. I'm thankful my husband was on a different plane, even though I didn't know that at the time. It took hours to reach him. I'm thankful for my son who was also born with issues thriving and laughing each day. Thanks for the reminder of how blessed we are.

Alleged Author said...

This was truly moving and beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Oh, Lydia. My heart breaks with your story, but also heals itself with your final words. Hugs to your family.

Lisa Gail Green said...

Well I'm crying. That's all I can muster the strength to say right now, but I wanted you to know how much this post touched me. Give your son an extra hug. He is the hope for the future.

catherinemjohnson.wordpress.com said...

You've got me in tears too. What a scary time having to walk all that way pregnant. Thank you for sharing your story with us. We will never forget. x

LadyJai said...

Oh my what words have touched my heart. Ot puts my account to shame. But we all have our stories. We all have our tears. That horrendous day brought America together and the world will never br the same. If only we could hold on to that bond without the fear and terror, we'd all be better off.

If you want to read another account of that day, one distant but still memorable, please read mine.
http://snippettsfrommymind.blogspot.com/2011/09/where-were-you-when-towers-fell.html?m=1

Jennifer Hillier said...

I'm so moved right now I can barely type.

Wow, Lydia. I don't even know what to say other than thank you, thank you for sharing this.

Jemi Fraser said...

Wow. Thank you SO much for sharing your incredible story. Powerful stuff. I'm thrilled your son is healthy - what a gift.

Love and hope are what it really is all about. I'm glad we have both.

Meredith said...

Your story took my breath away. Thank you so much for sharing it.

Peggy Eddleman said...

That is an incredible story. Beautiful. So full of emotion. I'm so glad your son is okay! Thanks for sharing your story!

Len Lambert said...

My eyes welled up reading your story, Lydia. Thank you for sharing this with us. I'm so glad to know your son is alright. And you are alright....and you're here to share this story with us.

Lynda R Young said...

I'm so glad you decided to post this. Your story truly moved me. Thank you.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Your story moved me to tears, Lydia. It got me emotional.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Oh, Lydia, I still tear up at the mention of that day, but your story -- thanks for sharing this. <3

Ghenet Myrthil said...

Wow. I'm on the verge of tears reading this! I know it must have been really hard to write this, but I'm glad you shared your story. I'm glad you and your family (especially your son!) are okay.

BECKY said...

I thought I commented here yesterday, but I guess it didn't take. I won't contribute anymore sad feelings, Lydia, but just want to say, I'm so glad you are in this world and have a blog...otherwise I would've never met you! :)

Erin Cole said...

Thanks for sharing that, Lydia. I really enjoyed reading it, and seeing that event from different eyes. So many people have a story to tell...would make a great anthology with profits donated.
Peace, love, and always hope.

Susan Fields said...

I literally have goose bumps after reading this. Thank you for sharing your story.

Jackee said...

The love of family. So poignant. Thank you so much for sharing, Lydia. I know it was hard for you to share but it was the perfect tribute. Thanks again and again.

Hugs!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Lydia .. thank you for having the courage to write down your feelings and experiences of that terrible day .. and I'm so pleased to hear your son (as of today) is 10 - happy birthday to you all .. Hilary

Christine Danek said...

Amazing Lydia. That's all I can say. I'm glad to hear your son is well.

Christine Danek said...

Amazing Lydia. That's all I can say. I'm glad to hear your son is well.

Clarissa Draper said...

How very sad! I hope your son is all right now.

I often wonder why people continue to bring children into the world right now, so filled with danger and hate. But, I understand that it's natural.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Thank you for sharing this. I was in NYC on that day, too--about ten blocks away from the towers. Even after ten years, the emotions are tough to handle. So much horror and heartache and fear and disbelief. Not to mention all the mourning of loved ones lost. But this post is so beautiful in that it highlights the hope. Your son was, as you so magnificently wrote, born with a broken heart, but overcame this to become a healthy and brilliant ten-year-old. Ah, hope.

Emily said...

Thank you for sharing. I was almost fourteen when this happened and being so far away from the tragedy, it is difficult, ten years later, to truly empathize with the thousands of people personally affected. Your story has brought tears to my eyes for the first time and a sense of real horror and compassion for all those who lost loved ones, a sense that had been vague before, but is now sharpened by the closeness of your testimony. I am thankful that your story ended happily, and that, as you say, love will continue, above all else.

Kelly Polark said...

Thank you for sharing your moving story of this horrific day.
I'm so glad your son is a positive outcome of that month.

Kelly Polark said...

Thank you for sharing your moving story of this horrific day.
I'm so glad your son is a positive outcome of that month.

Karlene Petitt said...

You brought tears to my eyes. The message of loss, fear, death and life. Sometimes we have no control. But I do know that our unborn children feel and carry our pain. I do believe that day your heart was broken too. But with the birth of your son, and his life today shows there is hope. Life does go on. And it can be good again. Thank you for sharing your story.

Em said...

Thank you for sharing this. I'm sure it wasn't easy.

I lived in NYC for many years and almost took a job in the WTC two months before this happened. I ended up moving to Arizona instead.

One of those weird circumstances.

Krispy said...

Thank you for sharing this story. I think I appreciate it more now since I just came back from New York City and the memory of this city on the other coast is still fresh in my mind. I was over there last year over the Sep 11 weekend, and it was strange then too. With so much life going on and in a city that is so rich, alive, and big, it's hard to think of that day and to imagine what it must have been like. I can't believe it's been 10 years because it honestly still feels recent. I was so surprised to hear the memorial was open, though I didn't have a chance to go.

I think we saw the worst and best of people that day. I like to remember the best. Happy almost birthday to your son! :)

Trisha said...

This was an amazing (heartbreaking, moving) post. Thank you for sharing!

Jayne said...

Oh Lydia, I'm going to echo what Trisha said--this just an amazingly, beautiful piece of writing. Made me cray. Made me sob. Especially knowing your son is all right. Children have a way of almost fully altering our perspective of this horrible world. Hope. Love. :)

Cookies said...

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Amy Ludwig VanDerwater said...

Blessings to you and your family today...I am grateful that we met through Twitter and The Lucky 13s this evening. Thank you...a.

 
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