Ten years ago today, I was a third-year medical student on my gastroenterology rotation.
The GI attending I worked with was a super nice guy. He liked to listen to news radio while doing his morning scopes, so we were in the lab for what seemed to be another day of colons when the news radio program was interrupted.
The first World Trade Center tower had been struck.
Sad and strange, we all thought. But we got back into work for the next hour or so until the next report came. Tower two: hit. The radio commentators were noting the unusualness of this "coincidence."
"It's an attack," said one of the nurses instantly. A horrible feeling sunk in as I realized that she had to be right.
The rest of the day was a blur. We still had to finish all of the scopes in the morning, and then it was a busy afternoon of hospital consults and an ERCP (the first one I had seen). My attending and I heard chatter during the day as more details emerged, but the service was busy and we didn't make time to stop.
It was only as I drove away from the hospital that evening, listening to the news reports, that all of the pieces fit together for me. And, it was only after flicking the t.v. on when I got home that I saw the images for the first time. One plane, then another. One crumbling tower, then another. The Pentagon, a field in rural Pennsylvania, both on fire.
Looking back, I admire my attending tremendously. He had a job to do, patients who needed care, and he delivered it. He didn't let the events of the day impact his care of those patients. Sure, we picked up snippets of what was happening throughout the day. But the rest of that hospital continued doing its job; we all had to save our grief and fear for later so that we could get the tasks of now accomplished.
We all have circumstances where we must store difficult, heart-breaking things deep inside of us for a time. Those who stare routinely at violence and death - medical personnel, cops, fire fighters, soldiers - especially must learn to file away some emotion to do the work that must be done. It's a difficult task, to lock away those feelings, yet the more difficult task is to not neglect to process them later on. I salute the professionals who continue to make the choice to face terrible sights day after day to serve others. May you all find peace in the tremendous good that you do.
May we never forget the power of that good in the face of so much evil ten years ago.