9/11: A Day Not to Forget

Todd J. Cohen, MD, FACC, FHRS Emeritus Editor in Chief, EP Lab Digest
Todd J. Cohen, MD, FACC, FHRS Emeritus Editor in Chief, EP Lab Digest

As we recognize EP Lab Digest’s 10-year anniversary this September, we also take a moment to remember the fateful events that took place on September 11, 2001. Todd J. Cohen, MD, FACC, FHRS, Emeritus Editor in Chief of EP Lab Digest, provides an editorial about life in the post-9/11 era.

In the November 2001 issue of EP Lab Digest,1 I published an editorial entitled “A Day to Remember,” which reported on our EP labs’ real-time experience from September 11, 2001. The day began with an ablation in our EP lab at Winthrop University Hospital, located just outside New York City. We had a view of the disaster not only from our recovery room’s TV, but we could directly see the World Trade Center (WTC) towers burning down from our parking lot. Our initial shock and disbelief shortly thereafter turned into mourning and sadness.

Ten years later, we have lived through two wars, both contributing to countless lives lost as well as the national debt, all as the result of 9/11. Only in the past year were we able to track down and kill the elusive terrorist responsible, Osama Bin Laden.

Since that day, a lot has happened to our lab, to our personal lives, to those who lost loved ones, and to those who helped in the post-9/11 era.  At Winthrop we have nearly outgrown our three dedicated EP labs, and are now performing atrial fibrillation ablations routinely. In my personal life, my kids have grown from elementary school, and one is even starting college. Also since 9/11, countless families have had to come to grips with their new reality and move forward — some setting up memorials, charities, etc.

I have known and treated countless patients who have had close encounters trying to work or help with the 9/11 recovery. Our architect had a meeting in the World Trade Center that morning and left our blueprints on one of the top floors (which vanished in the explosion), but fortunately he escaped the disaster when earlier he went to a lower floor to get coffee. My brother-in-law Glenn was pulling into the WTC for work and heard the explosion as it happened; he ran for cover while debris was flying everywhere. One of my patients worked in food services at the Windows on the World, a top-tiered restaurant atop the WTC; fortunately he was not there that tragic morning. However, one of our most faithful nurses, Margaret, was not so lucky. She lost her brother-in-law, who was working at Cantor Fitzgerald that morning. Now his memory resides with his friends and family along with his colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, where he played both lacrosse and basketball.

Hardly a week goes by without some personal reminder of the torment of those who helped in the rescue efforts. Just recently I treated a man who is now suffering lifelong pulmonary complications as the result of exposure to the WTC debris inhaled during his rescue efforts. The effects of this exposure are still wreaking havoc on his cardiopulmonary system.

In the years following 9/11, I have personally felt more paranoid, scared, and cynical. The United States went from one war (Iraq) to two (Afghanistan). I feel less secure and most definitely feel that the world is a different place. We eventually rallied behind our country’s patriotism with our anger toward those who performed this dastardly deed, but have mellowed over the 10 years into a more universal acceptance of the human condition and our fellow man.

There have also been a number of other man-made and natural disasters in the past few years, though quite different than these regimes. The Japan tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and the Haitian earthquake are just a few of the natural disasters that have occurred in the last few years. Other man-made difficulties included those of Bernie Madoff, the problems of borrowing beyond our means, and the financial meltdowns that were the result.

The photo shown here of one of our local firefighters, taken shortly after 9/11, is a vivid reminder of 9/11 and our resolve. We cannot let man-made and natural disasters make us more pessimistic! We as a country, and as a diverse population, are more united. We are more patriotic, more connected with our neighbors, and more accepting of our differences. This is how we should remember 9/11: a day not to forget!

Reference

1.    Cohen TJ. A day to remember. EP Lab Digest 2001;1:43.