In the Aftermath of Tragedy Members Try to Cope, Find Ways to Help Features
Features  |   October 01, 2001
In the Aftermath of Tragedy
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School-Based Settings / Healthcare Settings / Professional Issues & Training / Features
Features   |   October 01, 2001
In the Aftermath of Tragedy
The ASHA Leader, October 2001, Vol. 6, 1-8. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.06182001.1
The ASHA Leader, October 2001, Vol. 6, 1-8. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.06182001.1
Like thousands of others in the New York City area, Jane Coyle, speech supervisor for the city’s Board of Education, is on edge. On Sept. 11, the attack by hijacked planes engulfed the World Trade Center in flames, smoke, and a thick cloud of ash that turned day into night. Within minutes, thousands had died and part of lower Manhattan lay in ruins.
Coyle was lucky. Her family was safe, but barely. One brother, an attorney whose office had recently been moved from the WTC to across the street, survived but lost five close friends. After his car was flattened by debris, he fled to the Staten Island Ferry and handed out lifejackets to people frightened that the ash cloud contained biological agents. Meanwhile, his wife’s brother arrived at his Pentagon office in the direct path of another hijacked plane. But he stepped out to another part of the building before the plane struck.
Another sister-in-law was due to move into a new office on the 84th floor of the WTC three days before the attack. But the move was postponed a week. More than 60 of her coworkers who had already moved are missing and presumed dead.
Although thankful her family survived, Coyle thinks of the thousands of other families whose loved ones died. “It’s just too sad to bear,” she says.
New York was just the epicenter of a tragedy that was national in scope. The loss of lives at the Pentagon and in the crash in a less populated area of Pennsylvania sent shock waves through the country and the world.
But New York City was “Ground Zero”--where several thousand speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and speech, language, and hearing scientists live and work.
In the days after the attack, The ASHA Leader contacted Coyle and others through the New York State Speech-Language-Hearing Association to ask about the impact of the disaster on members and about what needs existed. Members and ASHA staff lost loved ones in the World Trade Center collapse and the Pentagon crash. Audiologists and SLPs in hospitals, private practices, schools, and universities in the New York City area swung into action to help in whatever way they could. And as we go to press two weeks after the attack, clinicians in the New York City schools are trying to help children recover a sense of routine and safety.
More than 1 million children are enrolled in New York City public schools. Schools closed after the Sept. 11 attack and, in lower Manhattan, did not reopen until Thursday, Sept. 20, following the two-day Rosh Hashanah holiday. Thousands have been relocated from damaged schools, and the psychic damage goes deeper.
“We must try to provide a sense of security and safety for the children,” Coyle says. “I believe that every educator has a responsibility from Sept. 11 on to protect our children and to insulate them as much as possible from the horror of this event.”
The day after the attack, she recalls, the school board organized core teams of principals, assistant principals, school psychologists, guidance counselors, and teachers to discuss how to help students when school re-opened.
“As communication specialists, SLPs may be able to help children discuss this, when they’ re ready,” Coyle says. “Although, as adults, we realize that the world as we know it has changed drastically, we have to try to protect children so their world is not so drastically changed that they can no longer be children.”
Coyle also is concerned about the lesson of tolerance.
“New York is a city of diversity. We should teach children that although some members of a group may have done a bad thing, not all people in that group are bad. Tolerance is a virtue we must try to instill.”
The following personal accounts and messages were sent from other members of the ASHA community who were in New York on Sept. 11.
Luis Riquelme
“We’re all on edge.”
Riquelme, an SLP, is co-director of Riquelme & Santo in Brooklyn and an assistant professor at Long Island University/Brooklyn campus.
The shock shared with the rest of the world continues to be a daily event in New York City. I can no longer see the twin towers from my apartment. We can no longer look down Seventh Avenue from Greenwich Village and see the magnificence that was the World Trade Center. For many, a sign of proximity to New York was the ability to see the WTC from afar.
Two colleagues I know of in speech-language pathology have lost their husbands. These men cannot be replaced. Many friends were “close calls,” and some have temporarily lost their living quarters. But others have lost mothers, fathers, siblings, spouses, significant others, friends, and colleagues.
Living in New York City, on a daily basis we are not sure how we’ ll react, when we’ ll react, or to what we’ ll react. You can walk down the street and simply see someone in tears or hear someone sharing yet another news story. We’ re all on edge.
We now also worry about impending war. How many of us have loved ones in the Reserve or armed forces?
As far as the professional impact of this tragedy, the details on the types of injuries are incomplete. Many hospital admissions were eye abrasions and smoke inhalation, as well as many burn victims.
One possible future professional role for us may be in the rehabilitation of people with dysphonias, tracheostomies, head injuries, and noise-induced hearing loss, as well as people on mechanical ventilation.
In the immediate aftermath, many of us in hospitals were “on call” to help with a variety of tasks: helping in the counseling process, feeding patients, assisting in charting changes, or registering new patients. Many in the schools have been involved in explaining this tragedy at a language-specific level.
But most importantly, we have all felt the pain, anxiety, and fear of an attack--an attack on our city, an attack on our nation, an attack on our people.
Paige Wesley
“I heard a cry go up from the city.”
Wesley is a National Office staff member who was in Manhattan Sept. 11 on ASHA business.
I was in a taxi just north of lower Manhattan when the World Trade Center exploded. As I got out of the cab, I heard a roar that was unmistakably human, tens of thousands of pedestrians yelling a collective “ oh.” They began to run toward the towers and gather in the streets, staring as the smoke billowed overhead. I heard people saying that a plane had crashed into the WTC, and people from buildings began pouring into the streets. Traffic stopped and people covered their mouths and hearts with their hands, a gesture of disbelief. Then it was silent for a moment before the sirens started.
I began to walk toward my hotel, which was closer to the center of the assault. I stopped in a restaurant to catch the news and saw the second attack from the same perspective as the rest of the country. Again, I heard a cry go up from the city, and then it was quiet once again.
When I went back into the street, traffic had disappeared. The brash noise of New York had stopped. No pounding trucks, no honking horns, no rumble of trains under it all. Later, people appeared covered in ash, wearing masks, walking in a daze.
Throughout the day, I walked Soho and Greenwich Village. I walked behind two firemen making their way uptown, covered in dust and soot, carrying heavy jackets. If there was anyone that I wanted to talk to, it was them, but I wouldn’ t have presumed to interrupt their journey.
At one point I sat on the bed of a truck with others and listened to eyewitness radio reports: a lady trapped on the 38th floor after the first explosion, who was told it was safe to go back to work; rescue efforts by police and firemen. Those of us listening looked at each other and lowered our heads.
I felt very alone. A stranger in a strange land. Along with everyone else, I thought of the possibility of further attacks, but I couldn’ t dwell on the thought. It was already too big to think about.
On Wednesday, when the George Washington Bridge opened to departing traffic, I left the silence of lower Manhattan, driving past a funereal procession of dump trucks, earthmovers, and backhoes moving slowly into the city.
On the New Jersey Turnpike, people had begun to place flags along the highway median and on bridges. Across the river, the cloud of smoke languished, huge and silent, against a perfectly bright blue sky.
Harriet Klein
“The university responded quickly.”
Klein, an SLP, is a professor in the department of speech-language pathology and audiology at New York University.
I was walking on the rooftop track of the New York University gym, with a clear view of the World Trade Center, when the first plane hit. Those of us viewing the fire- and smoke-filled gash in the tower thought it was the result of an accident until the next explosion came. The surrounding blocks filled with people staring at the towers in horror and disbelief. The university responded quickly and efficiently to the tragedy. Every effort was made to palliate the anxiety and pain felt by the NYU community. Students were rapidly resettled from uninhabitable dorms. Faculty and students were invited to various counseling sessions and discussion groups to help them deal with the shock and aftermath of such a horrific event. As the week progressed, and the surrounding area cleared of smoke and acrid fumes, classes resumed and life regained a semblance of normalcy. I know it will take much longer to mend the hearts of those who sustained a personal loss or to erase the expectation of viewing those majestic towers as we gaze south from the university.
It is very difficult putting down your thoughts about so horrific an event that has so many far-reaching effects. Most of us in this area are walking around in a daze.
Jane Madell
“Every day is precious.”
Madell is an audiologist and the director of the Hearing and Learning Center at Beth Israel Medical Center. She sent this email to us two days after the attack.
I live and work just a short distance from Ground Zero. I spent day one waiting for word that my family was safe--they were. The first two days were very eerie. There was no traffic and few people walking in the downtown area. Today things are moving again. Car traffic, people, even subways--except for the times they get stopped because of bomb scares. The air quality in the city is not good. It depends on which way the wind is blowing.
Yesterday, crowds of people gathered at Union Square across from my office (and the dividing line below which car traffic is not permitted) to talk and support each other. Israelis and Arabs tried to talk calmly to each other. People left messages on enormous pieces of paper taped to the ground. One was a quote from Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
We must not allow our fear and anger to drive us to do the same kind of evil that has been done to us. If we retaliate against a country or an ethnic group, we are not any better than the horrible people who did this to us. Hatred is dangerous. And anything that encourages hatred has the potential to be dangerous, whether it is prejudice based upon race, religion, national origin, or political views. Please let us remember Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
And tell the people you love that you love them. Every day is precious.
Joe Montano
“We tried to do our share.”
Montano is an audiologist and associate professor at Long Island University.
Standing on the Queensboro Plaza elevated subway station, I watched in horror as thick black smoke emanated from the World Trade Center Tower 1. Hundreds of subway passengers huddled together, some on cell phones trying to find out what happened. Some were crying. Suddenly, without warning, Tower 2 burst into flames. We screamed in disbelief. The towers were off in the distance and, though we did not know at the time that the explosion was the result of two hijacked airplanes, we knew it was terrorism.
I proceeded to Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital, where I am a consultant for the Children’s Hearing Institute. I quickly met with the members of the department of communication disorders. It was then that I was hit by the true horror of the situation. One audiologist, nine months pregnant, awaited word from her husband. Another tried to reach her fiancé. The secretary had a daughter at the high school across the street from the towers, and her attempts to contact the school were hopeless. Everyone in the department seemed to know someone who worked in or near the WTC.
We watched the morning events unfold on a small television in the Assistive Listening Device Center. As we learned about the Pentagon, the plane crash in Pennsylvania, and the collapse of the towers, the room grew quieter, the fears increased, and pain was evident on all our faces.
Telephone calls were being made at a frantic pace. Slowly we heard word from our families. They were safe; they had made it out of the towers before the collapse. The WTC was rubble on the street. The school was gone, and we knew there were many victims. A mass exodus of people traveled north from downtown Manhattan. The sound of F-16 fighter jets pierced the skies.
Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital entered disaster mode. We set up a triage area in the eye clinic and brought down all available wheelchairs and stretchers. The SLPs and audiologists were located in the hospital lobby, ready to help. We greeted everyone who entered the building. Only a few victims of the attack were sent to our hospital, primarily for debris in the eyes. We began to admit patients from a nearby hospital to help free up beds in their facility.
We tried to do our share but essentially felt frustrated that we were unable to do more. People from all over the city were working together to help in this crisis situation. I recall a young couple who walked uptown from 23rd St., stopping at every hospital to volunteer. There were too many volunteers! They couldn’ t even donate blood. I could feel their frustration.
Sadness, anger, and frustration were but a few of the emotions I felt that day. However, what got me through it was the admiration I felt for my fellow Americans--their spirit, their kindness, and their love.
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October 2001
Volume 6, Issue 18