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My ex-aunt's WTC experience...

The Mysterious H.C.
September 15, 2001 02:31PM
<a href="[] src="/emote/ramt.gif" align=left hspace=8 vspace=4 border=0></a>.The following was written by my uncle's ex-wife Ellen (she decided to get a medical degree in middle age) to her step-daughter (my cousin) after a day spent as a medical volunteer.
======================================================================</P><br clear=all><tt>From: Ellen Wittman<br>Date: Fri, 14 Sep 2001 10:55:32 +0100<br>To: katie & richie <br>Subject: Re: wednesday in NY</tt>
Dear Katie,</P>
There are people in my apartment building (whom i know only in passing, but of course have they have other close relationships with other tenants here) who work at the World Trade Center. One woman, Rebecca, worked on the 103rd floor of Tower 2. There seems little hope that she survived this hideous tragedy. There are folks here trying to get information and out about her to the appropriate rescue person.</P>
And today (Thurs.) i heard of another beautiful woman, Angela, who lives on My floor and whom i do not know well. What i do know about her is through my interactions with her because she's active and involved with co-op board issues; always interested in and sensitive to others. She really cared about and loved us all. No one has heard word of her yet.<br>Early Thursday:</P>
i just came back from "ground zero." Worked volunteer as part of the medical team. A neighbor organized a food drive and got several supermarkets, a truck and for transportation on a ferry from New Jersey to Wall street. This is 2 or 3 blocks from the site of the WTC. So i went with the food on the ferry to Manhattan and was able to work as a volunteer - mostly flushing grit out of the eyes of firefighters and rescue workers, giving TLC. There were about 10 doctors, 15 nurses, many EMT folks working in these 2 on-site triage areas set up under the entrance way to Number Two World Trade Center (a sign that hung, eerie, dust covered overhead) one for eye injury, one for surgery. There were gurneys, oxygen stations, the lobby filled with supplies, clean underwear, shirts, towels, medication and medical supplies.</P>
The scene on arrival was surreal. smoke from debris and fires continues to rise from the vast, twisted rubble. Visible are bare frames of walls, twisted metal, glassless windows arching over huge pile of metal beams - dust and ash covers everything. The poetically beautiful blue sky shows through the blown out windows; the effect of the smoke, orange, beige, gray, black makes it look like a futuristic film set. You know, those disaster films or stage sets of what cities would look like after WWIII. There were rescue dogs, cadaver dogs, police, volunteers, food and water supply stations and volunteer carrying around boxes of food and water to the workers coming in and out of the carnage.</P>
Lots of police, rescue support staff present. An infrequent procession of bodies (some probably only parts)carried out of rubble from on orange plastic stretchers all day and night. I quickly found out where the "morgue" was. in the building next to where we located. I later found out this was the American Express building. This scene was counterpointed by two giant backhoes lifting and moving piles of debris - plaster, metal, dust, ash covered unidentifiable machinery, equipment onto containers on block- long flatbed trucks.</P>
A rescue worker, who's an engineer said that he could smell the beginnings of human decay. But there is serious belief that there are still some survivors in pockets. At about 8:30 p.m. there was rumor that a dog had signals of life from a Mound of metal. Everyone surged forward to watch the rescue effort. People held their breath and the tension was palpable. Men with picks were digging; Earthmovers assisting. there was no one alive was found at that time.</P>
One of the docs asked me to find a pad, pen so they could keep track of people treated and what was done for them. Ironic that in 257 collapsed floors of office building: no writing pads. (later, a volunteer with a Scientology "tee shirt" found one for us.)</P>
During one of the periodic cleanings up of empty medical containers, debris and litter around the medical staging center, i found a pair of reading glasses. I think that my process of thought demonstrated here validated the shock we're all under. My first thought was, oh, someone lost her glasses. But of course my instinctive reaction was to look around for this "someone" because s/he was likely to have been in the vicinity and the glasses could be returned. I showed them to a fellow health worker, and she looked forlorn and sad. and then.. oh, yes, I thought. indeed these glasses will have belonged to someone. perhaps a survivor, perhaps not. In that moment i felt nauseous. the horror of the tragic event became prescient; chillingly and personally gruesome. There was no place to put them. i guess i stuck them in my backpack so they would not get lost or damaged. when i got home i found that they were still with me. Naturally they will be returned to whatever forensic center they need to go to.</P>
Face masks and filters were in constant and great demand. But the heavy rubber masks that were delivered for eyes and nose had screw in filters that didn't fit - were for different models, i guess. so we were taping them into place for the fire people/ rescue team with medical, paper adhesive tape. it was an assembly line operation done quickly so the workers could get quickly back into the "mine."</P>
The ophthalmologist, Alexander Moloskevich (?) with whom i was working was talking about how amazed he was at becoming inured to the smell, the circumstances, and the immense scope and experience of the day. You just keep going and doing and seeing who needs help what they need and giving what care, solace, energy, help you can to those in the crucible.</P>
I was able to work there for about 12 hours. What seemed to be most gratefully received was going around to the weary, resting men in groups, sitting in chairs or on rubble and asking them if they wanted their eyes flushed with a saline wash, food, water. It was all accessible and just needed to be directed to where it was needed.</P>
These men (mostly) of all ages, races, ragged with fatigue and anguish (for many of their colleagues were missing or dead). In a group of 5 or 6 the reaction to my query at first was: "no, thank you. i'm fine." A kind of stoicism or a denial of how bad their eyes really did feel. i'd make eye contact with each person and assess, if i could, the level of care that each might need. Ultimately, as a rule, one of the group would nod or say, "OK," and i would first ask if he/she felt that there was something in the eye besides grit. (If there was, I took him to the staging area where the docs were doing a procedure to remove the object or give a special flush aimed at healing the abrasion. This was a procedure that i'd learned in the ER in Oakland during my rotation there in 1998. So i was able to re-learn it here under very different, "battle ground" conditions.)</P>
So out in the "field" after treating the first brave soul in the group and he acknowledged how great it felt, the rest quickly changed their minds and I had a slew of converts. (I started to carry pocketful of Tootsie rolls" and give one to each firefighter after the procedure) Their reaction was really cute. Some said they only agreed to the eye flush just to get the Tootsie roll! I think that their initial fear was of having something in their eyes -- some acknowledged that. But eventually the rewards outweighed the anxiety.</P>
Everyone was so appreciative and effusive in their thanks and appreciation. It was humbling. It was THEY who were the heroes, the supremely strong willing combatants. and they were thanking ME?</P>
All night drug store: After midnight, a nurse who said that she was going to get some supplies returned from a shopping expedition to a store a few blocks away. She was excited to have found a 24-hour pharmacy and was able to get what was needed: a box of kleenex, tampons, flashlight batteries, a few supplies. Where did you find a store open at this hour? I naively asked. "Well, the door was blown off. I hope they don't mind making this donation." Then a FEMA engineer appeared about 3 AM and said that they were evacuating the triage area to a few blocks away; the area was unsafe.</P>
The creepiest feeling was confronted after i decided to go home. Thought i'd search out the bathroom. (all day long i'd been directing folks when they asked where it was, but i hadn't actually ventured deep inside the WTC. The beautiful atrium over the (i guess Merrill Lynch company) the damaged turnstiles, up the tile stairs with paper, wood, metal scraps, dust and ash strewn stairs to the mezzanine floor. Down a corridor, air circulating with particulate matter, men standing in at window frames figuring out how to move enormous pieces of building structural elements; how to shore up base structures to assist in rescue/removal.</P>
I had a flashlight, but there were some lights rigged along the walls for the guys working. I was directed to the third floor. Up a long, wide flight of stairs to a completely deserted, destroyed health club. The massage rooms with tables, gym equipment, all surfaces that were still in place covered with this beige dust, grit, ash combination. i found the bathroom. Large, high ceilings with huge walls of white towels that were seemingly protected from dirt by their shelf arrangement. The plumbing wasn't working, of course. But by this time my breathing apparatus (even though i was consistent about wearing a face mask - and even changed it once or twice during the shift) was acclimated to the particulate crap in the air and camouflaged the odors that were probably there.</P>
The Wall Street ferry ran all night. i'd just missed one at about 3 AM. A little later 3 fire fighters and an engineer showed up to catch the next ferry too. I asked them if they wanted their "eyes flushed," a neck rub. All 3 were very anxious to have their eyes attended to; one wanted a neck rub. I still had my 60-ml syringe with saline so i could oblige. That was lucky.</P>
On the Jersey side, the "support" that i was told was there was by way of a coordinating office on the 11th floor. They said that if they couldn't get me a ride home, there was bedding there. I think some workers, DPs were bedding down there - anywhere. I saw a "police tee-shirted" man changing his shoes at his car across the street and asked him if he were going up toward West New York. (Guttenberg, where i live is about 3 blocks long, so not many have heard of it.) In fact he was going "right past it, if 'use' want a ride." Turns out that he did indeed know of Guttenberg: his grandparents used to live right across the street from this building.</P>
What an experience. Dr. Alex had told some first year medical students who had come to help out, that for them this experience "was like a fellowship." If he meant "a baptism of fire," i'd heartily agree.</P>
As a complete afterthought unfortunately. I took my medical board exam on Tuesday. On my first break at about 10 AM, a woman in the bathroom was in tears. She told me that someone had flown an airplane into the trade center tower. Back in the exam office they told me about the other tower. Unbelievable. Just try to put that out of your mind.</P>
love, Ellie</P>
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» My ex-aunt's WTC experience...

The Mysterious H.C. September 15, 2001 02:31PM

Tootsie rolls and &quot;donations&quot;

Leonore September 15, 2001 10:27PM

Thanks for sharing, Henry...

Linda Fern September 15, 2001 07:51PM

Thanks, thanks, thanks

Laraine September 15, 2001 05:52PM

Thanks Henry. I agree.

Ann2 September 16, 2001 09:35AM

Amazing eyewitness account, HC

Deborah Jane September 15, 2001 04:34PM

Sorry, you do not have permission to post/reply in this forum.