September 2001 finds me living and working in a large-ish city in Georgia. I am a RN and work night shift at a local hospital on the Intermediate Cardiac Care Unit (post-open heart surgery, valve replacements, cardiac caths, and the like). I am separated from Asshole, my first husband, and live alone.
I worked the night of September 10th, and I came home the morning of the 11th absolutely exhausted. Since it was dinnertime (for me, anyway) I drank a beer and ate some leftover steak. I watched the movie “Billy Madison” while I ate because I was too tired to have to think about what I was watching. To watch Adam Sandler requires next to no cerebral output. After eating and relaxing I head to bed around 9:00 am since I have to get up and work that night.
I am one of the lightest sleepers you will ever meet. Unless I am plied with sleeping pills someone turning over in bed will wake me up. I hear the phone ring a few times and the answering machine in the living room receives a few messages; I can hear the “wah wah wah” sounds of people talking, and I have trouble going back to sleep because the phone keeps ringing. I get up at 5:00 pm, shower, do my hair and makeup, and eat a bowl of cereal while watching more “Billy Madison.” I check the answering machine, and there are messages from Mother and Father Snort (who live in Texas) wanting to know if I’m ok, a message from Brother Snort (away at college in Texas) telling me he loved me, a message from my Maw-Maw checking on me, and a message from the hospital making sure I was coming to work tonight. I’m thinking to myself, “These are the weirdest fucking messages EVER left on my machine.” I’m running late so I don’t call anyone back. I get in the car and choose to listen to a CD instead of the radio on the way to work.
I get to work and clock-in at 1853 hrs and have a few minutes until report starts at 1900 (nurses operate on military time). I’m reading the bulletin board next to the time clock. The hospital has posted brand spanking new emergency action and evacuation plans. There is also an updated plan in the event of an external mass casualty and how our hospital will operate under emergency conditions. Weird. I still have no fucking clue what is going on. I hang around the nurses station. It is usually noisy, busy, cluttered, and you can cut the stress with a knife; today it is quiet and strangely somber. Some of the day shift nurses look odd–smeary makeup, swollen eyes, and pale. I have a funny feeling inside, but I can’t put my finger on anything that may be wrong. I’m wondering if a patient died. I take report from Donna, my favorite day shift nurse. Normally Donna looks like she still lives in the 1980s with curled, fluffy bangs, permed hair, and an impressive amount of blue eyeshadow and liner framing her eyes; she also wears so much mascara that sometimes her lashes stick together when she blinks. Donna looks different: her eyeliner and mascara, for the most part, are absent. Her eyes are red. Her face is pale which makes her heavily applied blush look clownish. I’m wondering if her ex-husband was giving her hell today or if a patient died or something. We finish report, and I am just a couple of minutes away from discovering today’s horrors.
I have 5 or 6 patients that night, all recovering from open-heart surgery. I look at their info, prioritize, and decide who I need to see first. I will never forget that woman’s name (which I will not mention here for privacy). She is in room 248, age 68, and her sternal incision is infected. I need to go do her dressing change and hang her evening dose of IV antibiotics. I knock on the door and then enter. She is in bed and is surrounded by 5 or 6 family members. Everyone is glued to the TV; more specifically, everyone is glued to the news. I am fiddling around with her IV line, and I can see pictures of debris and a fire in NYC. I ask, “What happened?” Her husband looked at me like I had crawled out from under a rock and asked, “Honey, you don’t know?” I feel scared all of a sudden. “No sir. I slept all day, and I didn’t watch the news tonight. What happened?” “Terrorists attacked the US today, honey. It’s bad.” I feel light-headed. “What happened?” “They flew airplanes full of people into both of the World Trade Centers, and they caught on fire. Both buildings collapsed.” No, no, no, no, no. I can’t believe it. He continues: “They hijacked another plane and rammed it into the Pentagon and destroyed part of it. Another plane was hijacked and was bound for Washington DC but it crashed in Pennsylvania. Nobody knows how many thousands of people have died yet. They’re looking for survivors under the rubble at the World Trade Centers.” Apparently I’m looking quite pale because this woman’s daughter gets out of her chair and makes me sit down. I don’t believe it. It sounds like an awful movie. I watch TV and they show replays of the towers collapsing. I see a replay of a plane ramming itself into the south tower. I see a gaping, charred hole at the Pentagon. I somehow manage to finish what I’m doing and head to the nurses station in a daze. I feel like I’m the last person in the world to find out about all of this. I call my mom and dad. Even though we’re separated I call Asshole. Every chance I am able to have a few minutes to myself, I take my charting and go sit in front of the TV in the small lobby on our floor. I am hoping to hear survivors have been found.
Somehow I make it though my shift and go home. For the next four days I don’t sleep in my bed; I sleep on my couch with my TV turned on and tuned to CNN. Whenever I wake-up, which I do every couple of hours, I glance at the TV to make sure there hasn’t been another attack. More and more details emerge about who the terrorists are and how many Americans lost their lives. I learn about the bravery of the folks who fought back against the terrorists to prevent another attack only to have their plane crash into a field instead of a Washington DC landmark. I learn about how Cantor Fitzgerald lost all of the employees that were in the office on that morning as they were stuck above the impact zone. I tried to donate blood but was anemic and turned away.
Two weeks prior to 9/11 I had purchased a plane ticked to go to Houston and visit my parents for my 23rd birthday, which was September 29th. I wasn’t sure if air travel would resume by then, but it did. I was fucking terrified to fly. I have never stolen anything, but I borrowed (and later returned) 4 vials of quick acting insulin (2 regular, 2 Novolog) and a box of syringes. I put some them in my carry-on bag. I had even borrowed a malfunctioning glucometer that was not in use. When questioned at security I claimed to be diabetic. I was let through without issue. My plan was simple: if any fucking terrorists were on that plane they were going to be subdued by a shit-ton of insulin. You give a non-diabetic enough insulin (especially the rapid acting stuff) and within 20 minutes you will experience serious hypoglycemia that can lead to coma and death. I was going to get people to hold these bastards down so we would load them up with a few thousand units of insulin until they blacked out. Looking back, it was a naive and ridiculous plan, but, in theory, it would have worked. Luckily, my flights to and from Houston were just fine.
How has life changed post 9/11? Friends from high school and college, who are in the military or military reserves, have risked their lives during multiple tours to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. I worry about them when they are deployed. I worry about all of our troops. I am prouder than ever to be an American, and I am proud that 9/11 pulled our country together instead of tearing it apart. I am thankful to all of our service men and women, and feel sorrow for those (and their families) that lost their lives protecting our country. I am glad that the Taliban is out of power and that Saddam Hussein and his sons are dead. I am thrilled Bin Laden is dead–instead of getting 72 virgins that bastard was surprised with 26 Virginians! I’m just proud to be an American. Period.