As long as I’ve worked in a hospital setting, there has only been one time that this code was called. That day, of course, was September 11, 2001.
It was a beautiful late summer day on the east coast that was so crisp, so bright, that you felt a bit optimistic about the arrival of fall. Walking onto my unit in the hospital, I noted how beautifully the sunlight illuminated the hallway from the windows of the east facing patient rooms.
But the day unfolded with the events as we all recall in our own significant ways. I had heard about the first airplane hitting the north tower, and we were watching the Today Show’s coverage as we also tried to concentrate on the care and needs of our patients. But when we saw the second tower hit, we knew this was not a random act. And so it went.
The code D was called after the Pentagon was struck. The disaster code meant that our administrators were preparing us to shift roles and care for casualties that could possibly require transport to Richmond for treatment, expecting that hospitals closer to impact would receive the most severely injured and would fill to capacity. They never arrived.
Personally, I was dealing with my own life events. I was pregnant with my first child, not yet knowing if I was carrying a boy or a girl. We would find out later that week. My father, who was a civil servant for the army at the time, suddenly seemed in danger; I called my mother, who had not been watching the news, and begged her to make him come home. His base would be put on lockdown, and he would not be allowed to come home until after midnight. It was also the week of my birthday, which was celebrated with very limited fanfare that year.
How odd that 20 years later, I find myself working in the same hospital, on the same unit, with 19 years of separation between. How ironic that as we all reflect on the collective trauma that our country endured on that day in 2001 that we are all facing yet another long trauma together in the pandemic. But this time, we are not united. We are more polarized as a nation than ever.
It’s as if in an attempt to heal from that day, some of us took uniting against a common enemy a bit too far. The rise in nationalism, especially under the guise of Christianity, is alarming. It’s in parallel to Muslim extremists who were the cause of this whole tragedy to begin with, facilitated by our own foreign policies of the past. If recent events and new laws passed haven’t alerted your internal alarms yet, they should be.
I would like to think that this is not the legacy of this tragedy that should endure. I miss the America of 9/12/2001. We need love. We need equality. We need separation of church and state. We need a functional government that is not bought by corporations and special interests. We need science. We need the truth. We need healing.
Instead, we find ourselves in the midst of an epidemic of misinformation and cognitive dissonance. One only has to look at open commentary time at your local school board meetings to witness this. To quote Carl Sagan, it’s a “celebration of ignorance,” which he predicted in 1995:
“The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.”– Carl Sagan, from The Demon- Haunted World, 1995
So 20 years later, I find myself feeling sullen. As far as the Middle East is concerned, we are right back to the beginning, and I wonder what the loss of lives in Afghanistan was for, both civilians and military. I’m holding on to a sliver of hope that we can get our acts together and save our democracy. Because if we don’t, terrorists, both foreign and domestic, have won.
I know. Another political post. I’m sorry. Even now, 20 years later, I still feel slightly unsettled stepping out into a bright, crisp morning. Where were you on 9/11/2001? Can you identify with any of these feelings? I waited to post this purposefully, as 9/11 itself is a sacred day of reflection. As a nation, I think we are still suffering from the enduring trauma of that day. If you are worried about the direction of our country, use your voice, and vote.
The picture featured is of the NYC skyline in 1997 as I saw it as I flew into the Newark airport. I may have been mocked by fellow passengers as the “tourist” taking photos from the plane, but it was the closest I’d ever been to NYC. I also got to visit in 2003 and saw Ground Zero myself. I’m still glad I took the photo.
As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.