Reflections on 9/11Posted: September 29, 2011
Where Were You on 9/12? Reflections on Ten Years and a Day
By N. Park, PA-C
Images of planes crashing into the Twin Towers flash behind my eyes, as I listen to the veteran before me haltingly describe his flashbacks from the IED explosion that changed his world forever. Ten years and a day have passed for all of us, and nothing remains the same. It is the question of our generation: Where were you on 9/11? I was a physician assistant student. As anyone who has survived PA school will tell you, there is no lower person on a medical team than the PA student. Scut work and long hours are the norm, and I had not yet even earned the privilege of standing in scrubs as the lowliest member of the team. I was still in that first long didactic year, where Socrates’ words held sway: I was learning all that I did not know. Navigating the streets of downtown Detroit, inhaling the acrid perfume that cadavers wear, and desperately memorizing the biochemical pathways that make us human, I despaired of ever knowing all that I needed to know to care for others. Back in class that next day, a Wednesday, my helplessness multiplied. There were so many hurting, and in need, and I was a lowly student without the tools to help anyone. Like everyone else, I had spent the day before numbly watching the unlikely images of planes gliding into skyscrapers, gaping holes in the Pentagon, and ash-covered firefighters kneeling in prayer. I stared at my hands, pen in hand, aching to grasp the skills that could bandage or suture or make a difference, somehow. Laying my hand on my daughter’s head that night, I wondered what the world would bring for her, and for all of us. The question we should ask of ourselves, and others is: Where were you on 9/12? If 9/11 was the day the world changed for us, 9/12 was the day each of us took stock of where we stood, and took the steps into a new future.
And now, ten years and a day later, I wonder at the journey that we as a nation have made, and look back at the person I was, and marvel. Since that day, my husband left his lucrative, but unsatisfying job to become a firefighter/paramedic, and I, like all firefighter’s spouses, lie in bed waiting for the call that he is safe. I know there is more innocence and laughter in the world, because I have brought two more children into it. And today, I sit before this veteran who has served our country in the fight against terror, and the tools I use every day, are the tools I had then, but did not know it. I did learn how to suture, and bandage, and administer medications that will heal and soothe, but what I have learned since 9/12 is this: The single greatest thing I, and anyone else privileged enough to be present in the healing process can do, is listen. Though these hands have finally acquired the skills I so longed for as a student, today, they grasp the hands of the soldier in front of me, in gratitude, and somehow, it is enough.