• OAK Street Initiative

As we remember 9/11, many victims still struggle with the lasting health effects.

I watched the horror of 9/11 unfold on an old black and white TV. As a physician, I know the horror continues to play out in vivid color for survivors. On September 11, 2001, my husband and I were flying home to New York City. But shortly after take off from Schiphol Airport in Holland, our flight was diverted to London. Heathrow was packed with confused and concerned passengers like us, all looking for their luggage, but more so looking for answers and information about the horrific rumor that was circulating.

We left the airport and six hours later were able to find a place to stay in London- a room with a twin bed and an old TV. On that little television we watched the events of 9/11 unfold in black and white. But the images didn’t need to be in color to make the tragedy any more vivid. I watched that tiny TV not only as a horrified and grief stricken American, but also as a NYC emergency room physician who understood the devastating impact those planes would have on the people inside the iconic Twin Towers that once dominated the New York skyline.

A few days after 9/11, we gathered with Londoners and people from around the world at another iconic, skyline dominating structure, Saint Paul’s Cathedral. As we stood together to honor the victims of the attack on the World Trade Center, I felt an overwhelming sense of grief and loss, but I also experienced the deep compassion the world had for Americans.

When flights resumed and I was able to return to work at Mount Sinai Hospital, I treated survivors as part of the hospital’s post 9/11 program. I saw patients with PTSD who directly experienced and now relive the horrors of September 11th. I treated those who were exposed to dangerous carcinogens when the towers collapsed and later developed a multitude of different cancers and illnesses.

On the 19th anniversary of 9/11, that initial sense of loss I felt in London remains, but I also feel a sense of loss for the good will and respect the world once had for America. Standing by the dome of Saint PauI’s, I experienced the compassion of a global community, but that good will has since been squandered. We are now a polarized nation at odds with the world. And that too is heartbreaking.

This week, nearly two decades after September 11, 2001, my husband and I visited the 9/11 Memorial. We still grieve for the victims of 9/11. We grieve for the victim’s families. We grieve for the survivors whose sense of security was shattered and who must now face the lasting health effects of September 11th, including cancers, COPD, respiratory diseases, PTSD, anxiety and depression. And we grieve for the global good will that has dissipated in recent years and for America’s loss of standing on a world stage.

-In 2001, Dr. Kevin Baumlin worked for Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He is currently Chair of Emergency Medicine at Pennsylvania Hospital, and Vice Chair of Emergency Medicine for the Perelman School of Medicine.

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