Now it’s one of those days — you know where you were when you heard the news- and you will always remember:
President Kennedy killed — I was in chemistry class — news station was broadcasted over the classroom’s loudspeaker
John Lennon murdered — I was just getting up and heard it on the radio
9–11 (and that’s all you need to say):
I was sitting in my car in front of a nursing home in western Pennsylvania. I’d spent Monday driving from Allentown and today, along with a Regional Nurse and Corporate Dietician, I would start a routine quality assurance review before their state inspection.
The local PBS station made the announcement before I got out of the car — very little information about exactly who and why — at first it was mentioned as an accident but that had changed by the time I was inside the facility.
I found the main lounge full of staff and a few residents and the large screen television tuned to the Today Show — it was Katie Couric and Matt Laurer reporting the bad news. With the second plane flying into another tower, the idea of an accident had been changed to a deliberate deed — an attack on American soil. And the thought was overwhelming.
The administrative staff at the nursing home gathered in the main office. The Director of Nursing had talked to a friend in a major federal position who told her that if we were at war, some communication lines and highways may be closed. Therefore, with more than one hundred elderly and disabled people to care for we had to make some plans in case staff for other shifts could not come in.
I’m sure there were health care facilities of many different types all over the country doing the same thing. Our company’s nursing homes were already prepared with days of extra food in case of an emergency. But staffing was always the major problem —
Lloyd, the facility’s administrator said, “We’ll just have to stay over — all of us,” He was looking at me and the Regional Nurse.
We both nodded –we realized the residents would need care, no matter what was happening in the world.
“Well, that’s the end of any presurvey we would be doing,” I said. “Do you think most of the residents have heard the news?”
The facility’s residents ranged in age from younger and disabled to older — much older and some with dementia. “I think I’ll walk around and see how they’re doing with it.”
I couldn’t sit still and figured I could do some survey-type work by just walking around the facility and talking to the residents.
I found those who were aware the most were people who remembered Pearl Harbor. I sat and talked to some, especially those with concerns. Nurses and aides were following through on their normal routines on a day far from normal.
I called my apartment where my daughter was spending the night. But she didn’t answer so I thought she’d gone straight to the daily newspaper where she worked. I later learned she’d helped to put out an early edition and then learned about a plane crashing somewhere in western PA where I’d headed for the day before. All phone lines were constantly busy; she was frantic because she couldn’t get ahold of anyone who could tell her that I was safe until closer to the end of the day.
That horrible day. I had my coworkers that day — that horrible day — -from Lloyd to Robin to Holly — to the rest of the staff and the residents. They kept me from worrying about what ould come next; I focused on the people around me.
The highways were open and staff for the next shift came in. I’d already decided to head back to the Allentown area the next day but I was awake most of the night, watching the news.
I’d thought about going into New York to volunteer to help care for the wounded but unfortunately there were few wounded.
I did go into New York the following Sunday. It was my favorite city and I wanted to make sure it was okay.
Of course, it wasn’t okay but it was still New York. I took the bus in as usual and as we got closer the tower of smoke could still be seen over the New York Harbor.
I walked from Port Authority, looking at hundreds of pictures of people who were missing — families needing to know if they were alive or dead. I got to Washington Square where a group of people were gathered, singing “Imagine.” I couldn’t keep from cfrying.
Then a cab ride to St. Patrick’s where a memorial ws being held. My cab driver was from the middle east. I aked him how he was being treated and he told me that people were being “okay” to him. He and his family had just had breakfast that Sunday at the top of one of the Towers.
I waited in a line that snaked around the cathedral. When I finally got in, I sat on the floor next to a wall and listened intently to the memorial, pfraying tht it was over — that nothing else would happen.
When the memorial was over I walked back down to Port Authority to catch a bus home.
But what stays with me for almost 20 years is the many, many pictures of the missing — all the way down 8th Avenue.