9-11 What really changed?

I hear people say “everything changed” on 9-11. If so, it’s only because we allowed ourselves to believe it and allowed our leaders to manipulate us into supporting bad choices based upon fear, lies and political opportunism. The only real winners were the military industrial complex and right wing media.

What really changed? We became a country of shallow thinkers, and allowed our government to be overrun by bigots and anti-government right-wing zealots, supported by corporate media and vast amounts of money from the filthy rich operating mostly in the shadows. We allowed arrogant, greedy leaders to manipulate us into a doctrine of aggression and wars of opportunity to line the pockets of corporate masters and war profiteers. We succumbed to blind nationalism, irrational fear, and the ideology that our “god” was the best and we could be secure in the knowledge that our actions were “righteous.”  We ruined a generation of talented and promising young men and women to futile wars that gained us nothing, for which future generations will have to pay.

In the process we lost who we were, or who whe should have aspired to be. We gave up freedoms we took for granted in the name of “security.” We handed over the keys to our government to the corporate oligarchy and allowed them to control our media and the message. The US lost whatever credibility and respect and empathy it may have had in 8 short years of American hubris and interventionism by the Bush administration. And the rich just got richer while the rest stagnated. And the house of cards that was Iraq collapsed under the weight of the smoke & mirrors it was built upon. And the rest of the Middle East followed suit.

And Americans became more and more cynical, cynicism leading to apathy and the kind of fatalism that discourages people to vote. And Russia stepped into the maelstrom with active measures designed to exploit the weaknesses created by right wing ideologies.

And now we have Donald Trump.

What did the guy in the picture above die for? What would he think of what America looks like today?

I wonder if world doesn’t look a lot like what Osama Bin Laden may have imagined when he dreamed of flying jets into buildings. Thanks Mr Bush and Mr Cheney. Thanks Mitch McConnell & Paul Ryan. Thanks to every enabler of Trumpism. We will never forget.

My 9-11 Remembrance

On Thursday morning, Sept 13th, 2001, after two days of watching the devastation at ground zero on TV, feeling helpless and restless, I decided I had to do something, anything to help. I told Adele that I needed to get into the city to see what I could do. The look of concern on her face was evident, but she also knew it would be pointless to try and talk me out of it, so after stopping by work to fill a backpack with IV fluids and other essential medical supplies, I hopped on the LIRR to Penn Station.

The subways were still not running, so I had to hoof it down 8th Ave. The further south I went, the more the streets resembled an occupied war zone.

The subways were still not running, so I had to hoof it down 8th Ave. The further south I went, the more the streets resembled an occupied war zone. On every corner were police and National Guardsmen with automatic weapons and full combat dress. They were checking everyone traveling south. In addition to my drivers license, I was carrying my veterinary license, AVMA membership card, and some PBA cards. I also wore my stethoscope around my neck to help identify myself as a medical professional. There were stories circulating about veterinarians who had organized and set up medical stations to aid the canine rescue workers and my goal was to find one of these outposts and provide whatever help I could. The information was sketchy and contradictory, so I figured it was best to just keep heading south & west. On 11th Ave, somewhere around 14th St, I came upon a group of people who seemed to be somewhat loosely organized around an SPCA RV. I asked what was going on and someone told me they were waiting for the someone “in charge” to arrive. No one seemed to know exactly what to do. Meanwhile, authorities (whoever THEY were) were starting to allow people who lived near ground zero to go retrieve their pets who had been, for whatever reason, been left behind.

As I looked south, I could see people straggling back up 11th Ave

As I looked south, I could see people straggling back up 11th ave with dogs and cats in carriers. I’ll never forget the looks on the faces, the bewilderment, the concern for their pets. I decided this was as good a place as any to set up shop. I asked if there was a table I could set up on, and one appeared (there was a lot of this kind of thing around that time. Stuff would just appear, seemingly out of nowhere whenever something was needed). I emptied my knapsack on the table, hung some bags of fluid on a nail in the wall on the building and started motioning people with pets to come to me. At first, they looked confused, but then I would tell them “I’m a veterinarian, let me take a look at your pet.” People started lining up and I proceeded to examine animals, administering subcutaneous fluids. I remember feeling how little I could really do medically, but I also recognized how important it was to project calm and reassurance that their pets would be OK. I have rarely felt such raw gratitude for doing so little, for just being there. After attending to their pet, I directed people to an armory in the area which I heard was being used as a shelter. I operated my little “clinic” for maybe an hour before some middle management-types from SPCA and the Humane Society arrived, along with a media camera crew. My supplies were running low, so I though this would be a good time to move along. I packed up my stuff and walked a block or two east. After a few minutes observing a couple of National Guardsmen at a checkpoint, I was able to slip by them and continue my trek south.

As I made my way down West Street, it seemed as if I had entered into some alternative universe, a bizzarro New York where the streets were filled with people, some acting with purpose, some seemingly aimless. There were tables with all kinds of goods on display. Bottled water, food stations, clean socks & underwear, batteries, breathing masks, and so much more were on display, like some surreal open air flea market, except no cash exchanged hands. All goods were there only for the asking. There was a spirit of fierce brotherhood and oneness like I had never felt before, and can only hope to feel again someday.
Where did all these supplies come from?

I finally came upon an encampment about 2 blocks north of “the pile” on West St.  There was a Suffolk County SPCA mobile veterinary RV surrounded by tents and awnings. Under the awnings and all around the encampment were tables and pallets of medical supplies and dog food. I was amazed at how much had been delivered in so short a time.

The MASH unit was staffed with veterinarians and technicians who had set up a triage station to assist the search & rescue dogs coming off the pile. There were dogs and handlers from all over the country, some who had been put up in hotels, but many who slept in their cars. There were many different breeds of dog, from mutts to Rottis to German Shepherds. They were susceptible to paw injuries (abrasions, burns, lacerations), respiratory irritation from breathing the toxic fumes, as well as sniffing through the contaminated dust that was everywhere. They also suffered significant eye irritation. The veterinary staff was split up into teams that worked with the dogs and their handlers as they came out of “the pile,” often after 12 hour shifts. Each dog was examined, had it’s eyes flushed and paws bandaged or given booties. They were also administered subcutaneous fluids, or even IV fluids if deemed necessary. All dogs were treated prophylactically with antibiotics.

In talking with the handlers, a common theme was how frustrated the dogs were becoming. They were trained in search & rescue, but they weren’t finding anyone alive. Many of the handlers had a haunted look on their face. There were stories of body parts. It was all so surreal. I got to work immediately. There was no authority on site, (FEMA had yet to arrive) just a loose organization, but everyone seemed to know what to do.

Some of patients were less than cooperative
Many of the dogs were challenging to work with. These were working dogs and many did not wish to be examined or otherwise handled. They had a job to do and they wanted to get to it!
Nala. She came with her handlers from Alabama
One notable exception was Nala, a beautiful Rotti who was accompanied by her handlers, a very nice young couple from Alabama. Nala was a very sweet, good-natured dog, and her presence seemed to lift everyone’s spirits.

I spent the rest of the day working the unit, finally heading home around 11pm. I returned the following Sunday with Christina, one of the veterinary assistants from my hospital. By this time the federal authorities had arrived and taken over the operation. There were more veterinarians than support staff! It was a completely different vibe. At one point, I noticed a colleague of mine from veterinary school standing across the street. She was a board-certified opthalmologist.

I went over and asked her why she hadn’t joined us (after all, one of the primary concerns for these dogs was their eyes!). She said that one of the guys in charge had told her to keep back! Can you imagine, a board-certified specialist sidelined because some pencil-pusher didn’t have the common sense to recognize the value! (I’m from the government, and I’m here to help!)

I remember one moment that will stay with me forever. There was a squad of Connecticut State Troopers, a K-9 unit that was coming up from the pile. As they approached our MASH unit, their squad leader had them fall into formation. They marched in formation to the MASH encampment and, in full military manner presented themselves and their dogs to us. The squad “presented arms” and saluted us. “On behalf of the Connecticut State Troopers, we would like to express our gratitude.” The squad then performed a crisp right angle pivot and proceeded to continue their march northward.