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Humpty Dumpty

Posted January 14th, 2011 at 06:03 AM by chas
Updated January 14th, 2011 at 11:16 AM by chas
"Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again"
--children's nursery rhyme

A hospital is in emergency mode on three shifts, 24 hours a day, as a matter of course. And in an institution with a campus of 27 buildings, we had one designated for each letter of the alphabet and one more--from A to AA--the place was so big that I gave an orientation tour around them during one afternoon of the program that was now in progress. We had thousands of staff--with our own cafeteria, emergency back up generator, police force, and repair shops, and many of us carried personal pagers or early cell phones. Think Starship Enterprise. As a City hospital, we were a major community resource on the border of several poor neighborhoods. But today was different, and my several dozen "rookies" were about to get a lesson about emergency conditions that had never happened before in our lifetimes. I was returning to the Main Auditorium in T Building ('That's T for Training, people!'), after watching a TV news playback in my office in the Training Department, where monitors were accessible all the time for use in showing educational casettes during classes. I'd just had quite a shock myself, and now had to deal with an audience of near panicked people, veterans though some of them were in health care, from maintenance crew to nurses, from lab techs to doctors. I was running New Employee Orientation in one of the the nation's largest hospitals in Brooklyn, New York.

As usual, something had gone wrong. In such a complex week long program with over 20 guest speakers and more workshop modules I taught myself, the occasional unexpected problem was routine. Sometimes a speaker couldn't show up at the last minute. Sometimes breakfast didn't arrive on time. Sometimes all this happened simultaneously while we were changing classrooms at the last minute, while some employees were running downstairs to finish some matter in their intake paperwork processing, new folk who had been wandering around lost--before I could give them a campus map, among many other things--were just coming in, and the microphone or the sound system or the heat was suddenly out. I'm handling this single handed, you understand, with no assistant. (What the hey; when I was Administrator On Duty at night a few times a year I ran the whole hospital! This was a little extra feature of the job which sent some new managers screaming for the hills, to resign before they started work--at the very thought of screwing up, and having their names in the newspapers the next day! 'John Doe causes people to die at City Hospital in biggest mess of the Twenty-First Century; photos below.') Today was even worse, and I was doing what I did best; improvising. It was late morning on September 11, 2001. Now I'm not much on being noble, but it didn't take much to see that the problems of one staff trainer and his students didn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world...

In the Executive Conference Room in B Building, the Hospital Director would be plugging in the emergency phone to the Mayor's Office. Her department heads would be gathering there to form Disaster Headquarters. Extra staff was being called in from their homes, and crash preparation for massive casualty clearing procedures were in effect in the Emergency Room. My students had been getting garbled versions of what was going on on their cell phones:two planes; two towers. Another plane had just crashed near Washington D.C. The sky was falling! They returned nervously from our morning break and waited for what I was going to say. And what the hell was I going to say? There were no emergency procedures for the Training Department! Hmmm... I went up to the front of the auditorium, with no guidance but common sense. My boss, 'The Colonel,' a tough senior nurse manager who had held that rank in the army nurse corps (we ran special medical courses for the armed forces, and had everyone from medical corpsman to Navy Seals training on campus from time to time) had real health care emergency stuff to deal with. She was at the Disaster Center; and I was on my own.

"Okay folks, as I said before the break, I'd find out what is going on, and let you know. Two planes have hit the World Trade Towers and knocked them down. A third plane crashed outside Washington. That's all we know right now. Questions?"
"Will there be more suicide planes?"
"No one knows." (Well, we don't.)
"Will one hit us?"
"We have people watching the skies."
(Of course we have no Sky Observer Corps, but with all the buildings in New York City for them to target, what were the odds they'd want to hit good old T Building?)
"Can we go home now?"
"You may have noticed that some of us have not returned from the break; they've been been called back to their own departments as Essential Personnel. The rest of us are going to continue this program for a couple of hours. The subways aren't running, so most of us aren't going anywhere for a while. We might as well do something useful. I'll arrange for an early dismissal today, when transportation gets back to normal." (Improvise; improvise.)
"What about our families at home?"
"As I said, we'll get you out early today. But there's something you need to understand, even if you're not a medical person. In an emergency like this, you work for a hospital, which provides an essential service. You're on call too. So before something happens again, make sure your families have emergency procedures to follow at home, just like a fire drill. Because you may be called in to work; or you may not come home on time. For example, I'm just a non-clinical training guy, but if they need me to do anything from answering phones to running messages back and forth, they can call on me too to do whatever I can do to help out. Even if you're a clerk or a grounds keeper, you're on call. And plan out alternative ways to get to work if one subway or bus line goes out. We have designated van pickup points which your departments will share with you when they give you their own local emergency plans after you finally report to work there. That's what who we are; that's what we do. (Ah, seize every opportunity for more training. Sounds good...maybe I should add it to the program.)
"Well folks, our next scheduled guest speaker won't be able to come today I'm sure, so I've brought you one of my famous 'rainbow' training books for a workshop. We've already had red, and blue--this one has a pretty green cover! It should keep us busy until we can think about going home later on. I'll step out during it to get another news update for you. In the meantime, I'll be passing these out to each row; please pass them along to your friends in the same row. Back to work, everyone!"

I dismissed them early in the afternoon, when limited train service was restored. Not being called up for emergency duty, I left and got most of the way home before my particular subway stopped running, and I walked about twenty minutes to get home. It stopped running because in a few stops it would cross the river to a station right under the tower ruins, which would be closed for months. To this day, trains go through but don't stop at Courtlandt Street in downtown Manhattan, where rebuilding is still taking place. Back in Brooklyn Heights, I detoured to the harborside Promenade, so I could look across the river at the area I'd only seen on TV. A giant column of dark gray smoke was billowing up, and debris raining down on the roofs of several nearby neighborhoods. I stepped out onto the deserted boardwalk. My throat was irritated by God know what in the air, and I looked out across the water. The towers were just...gone from the skyline. By now, the crowds of people fleeing from lower Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge right by my apartment had gone. Earlier, the brand new hotel two blocks from my place had been dispersing drinks and snacks to them on our side of the great bridge as they staggered back from the scene of terror. On Montague Street I saw a Japanese mom and young son go by wearing protective masks. Now those people were prepared! I'd seen them being worn on TV covering disasters in Tokyo, but never seen one here before. In the days ahead, they would soon be common sights on the streets of New York City, especially on the faces of the many, many emergency workers who would flock to The Site.

I got home and closed my windows to the polluted air, even before this was advised on TV, which I switched on for the continuing news coverage. And took some honey for my throat. The nice young fellow who had rented the co-op apartment before I bought it the previous year had moved into another just down the hall with his wife. He worked in finance. He never came back from that day. His wife moved out afterwards. Once while walking past her door I heard her speaking on the phone in her place: "You search years for the Right Guy, and then he dies." Occasionally I still get mail for one of them. A few days later, a casualty list was posted for our building complex of seven 16 story buildings.

On later occasions, when the experience of that day came up, I'd mention that because the local hospitals in Manhattan had taken the casualties, we only got a handful. We wished we had gotten more. But above a certain floor height in the towers, no one got out alive. Most of our carefully prepared emergency beds stayed empty that day.
Total Comments 2


Sylvano the Wasabus's Avatar
...we will never be able to put the pieces back together again...
Posted January 18th, 2011 at 12:57 PM by Sylvano the Wasabus Sylvano the Wasabus is offline
There is a puzzle of Humpty Dumpty and all of his pieces were put back together.:D Then I mess all the pieces up. Now Humpty Dumpty can't be put back together for long!:twisted:
Posted March 7th, 2011 at 07:19 PM by
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