“You’re going home”, the cardiac nurse at National Park Medical Center in Hot Springs Arkansas told me after a week or more there. It was my first heart attack (massive) and subsequent surgery. “When?”, I asked. “In about three hours”, she replied, “We just have to run a few more tests and finish your paperwork and your own your way home. Do you have a way to get home?” “Yes”, I replied. “Several friends from Arkadelphia will pick me up. I’ll call them”. She left the room.
It was September 10, 2011. The cardiologist came in the room smiling and said, “It was a close call. Now when you go home, make *sure* to spend the next three weeks to a month as stress-free as possible. If you have to watch television, don’t watch stressful programs like the news or heavy drama. Best to listen to music or watch reruns of sitcoms”.
“You don’t have to worry about me, I know the drill. Read all the books and researched the Internet about ‘post cardiac care’. I’m good to go.” He called in a prescription in to my pharmacy that delivers for some heart drugs and heavy narcotic medication in case of pain, and there was yet more pain to come. My friends picked me up, made sure I would be okay which I assured them I would, and went home. My reliable pharmacy delivered my medication a few hours later and I drifted in and out of sleep.
The next day I woke up about 10 a.m. CST. It was on a beautiful Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I remember still experiencing a good bit of unusually intense soreness, but I had strong pain medicine and used it as necessary.
I was semi-conscious and the television was on a table right by my bed. I looked up and it appeared there had been an airplane accident at one of the WTC towers. The news commentator’s voice was somewhat of a blur. I remember hearing him say he felt a Cessna or small plane had hit the building. I felt terrible thinking the pilot must have perished, and only hoped there were no more casualties. I fell back to sleep. When I
awakened a few hours later, the news was replaying the video a plane crashing into the other WTC building. Both were buildings I knew well. I had done an internship in the early 1980s in the North Trade Center building on about the 95th floor.
I went back to sleep. My phone was ringing but I didn’t answer it. I probably could have but I was too weak to hold on in comprehensible conversation. Finally I pulled myself up from my pillow and turned up the volume on the TV. It appeared something more, something very terrible was happening in New York, and they were showing scenes at the Pentagon as well; but I couldn’t make out all the wording of the news reporters. Much later, an empty field in Shanksville, PA was being shown, but I didn’t understand the purpose of showing it either.
“Maybe I should turn to Nickelodeon like my cardiologist suggested,” I told myself, but didn’t.
I knew I could be wrong, but from what I was hearing, it appeared people purposely had crashed jet airliners into the WTC and Pentagon. But I also knew I was on heavy narcotics and I would feel very embarrassed calling friends and/or family asking them if someone had flown their planes into buildings purposely. (The thought of the planes having been hijacked had not occurred to me…yet).
I am not sure which friends and/or family I called but it was whomever was in my address book and I just went down the line and began calling. Everyone I called was crying, nervous, fearful, or all three. I knew by then something very terrible had happened.
Finally, and I don’t remember who it was, spoke very slowly and told me what had happened. Of course I was crying too. I remember being very angry as well; which was diametrically opposed with what the surgeon told me to do, but I couldn’t help it. By then, I knew what had happened.
Six hours had now passed, after I’d first seen what I thought was a hallucination or maybe a science fiction channel I’d picked and a film was on about the end of the world.
I took some more pain medicine thinking, “I’ve got to find out what this is, but I can’t let my stress level rise to the point of death”, which is what was going to happen, and yet by now there was no way to turn to a sitcom rerun. This was important news and I had to know what was happening to my country. Much of it was still a blur and made no sense.
Now when the phone was ringing, I picked it up. It was people I knew; friends, relatives etc., wanting to know if I was ok.
“Of course I’m okay,” I answered, “But it appears something terrible has happened to our country.
I assumed by then everyone felt I should know whether it killed me or not, because I needed to know. I remember clearly those on the other end of the line telling me the planes had been hijacked and crashed into those buildings, and it appeared there was one that didn’t make it and crashed into a field in Pa., but was obviously destined for either the White House or Congress. I also noticed a long pause before they told me, knowing the kind of stress it would cause could put me back into the hospital, yet not to know would be very unfair as well. And, they knew I would surely know sooner or later as my health improved. So they did the right thing.
There was a part of me that felt it was all a bad dream and I would awaken soon but this nightmare didn’t seem to end. I kept switching channels and every major network was showing it and commenting on it.
I was always a very active person and a person known to be able to “solve problems” so the immobility that the heart attack and surgery caused was more aggravating than painful, though I had my share of pain. But the pain of that disease didn’t even come close to the pain I would feel over the next weeks and months as it became more clear what had happened on 9/11, the day after I was released from National Park Medical Center.
As time went by, I realized that no matter how good a problem-solver I was, this was one way beyond the scope of my abilities. The U.S. was now at war and I was a target just like everyone else of a sect that called themselves Al Qaeda who look at all westerners as “infidels, creatures of Satan, who had to be killed”.
As months went by, I was able to do a little to comfort some of the 9/11 families and loved ones of our fallen police and firefighters, but not a lot.
(The flag to the left is a copy of an original created by Londons Times Cartoons team member Johann Wessels, a former firefighter (retired before 9/11). He created the original as a wall sculpture. If you click on it, look closely at the red stripes. They are authentic NYC fire hoses. The blue square is an actual official NYFD insignia. It is now a permanent fixture in the Brooklyn firehouse that sadly lost every firefighter. RIP. )
I learned the best we can do, now, is to support legitimate charities that benefit the families of our fallen 9/11 heroes (police and firefighters). It is easy to check on a charity via CharityNavigator.org and the IRS. Charity Navigator will give a rating, on how much the spend on overhead vs. how much goes to the end user, and the IRS will let you know they are a real 501C3 and not a scam (sadly there are many scams out there), so protect yourself and make sure if you give, it goes to charities that are real and really help. (One note; we learned that a charity does not have to have an A+ rating to do the best work.) I started a cartoon project called CAT (Cartoonists Against Terrorism) and a shop of 9/11 cartoon products, which manufactures products and benefits 9/11 families.
A decade after 9/11, I worked with one with an A- rating during the Haiti earthquake; but I had contacted the one with an A+ ranking first (who refused to help because the emergency was in a remote village and “too far away”). Lee and I now constantly promote the one that helped (The A- ranking because they did the job); the one with the A+ ranking obviously refused the job because it “could have affected their ranking); as it was expensive to conduct 2 heart surgeries in a remote Haiti village, when a lesser-known one called Mercy Corps did, and saved two lives who surely would have died otherwise. They saved a five year old girl and an 80 year old grandmother, driving 6 hours round trip from Port Au Prince. Another emergency was happening in Ecuador at the time but these Mercy Corps dedicated surgeons refused to leave Haiti until they knew these patients would be okay. I had a mutual close friend in Haiti; in that remote village (I was not there) who alerted me to the emergency at hand, and that there were no cardiologists near. Mercy Corps made it happen, and the lives were saved, so my friend came back to the U.S. to conduct her usual business.
Though I know “Never Forget” is the popular mantra of 9/11, and an appropriate one, I don’t say it very often, because I know none of us will ever forget. My mantra is, “Don’t forget to donate as often as you can to charities, to choose at least one that helps the families of 9/11 fallen heroes. In New York a small charity called “Tuesday’s Children” is known to be an excellent one, but it is not the only one; just one we know that does a lot of good work and constantly gets excellent reviews. There are numerous ones in Washington, D.C. as well to help families of those who perished at The Pentagon.
In New York @TuesdaysChildren on facebook and Twitter to find out more.
There are numerous ones in Washington, D.C. as well to help families of those who perished at The Pentagon. CharityNavigator.org also lists the best Pentagon victim families charities. HonorFlight93.Org is an excellent one raising funds to help complete the memorial in Shanksville, PA for Flight 93 Thank you.
Rick London is a freelance writer, author, designer and cartoonist. He founded Londons Times Cartoons in 1997 which has been Google’s #1 Offbeat Cartoons & Funny Gifts Since 2005.