When Surgeon General Jerome Adams recently warned that COVID-19 is our generation’s “9/11 moment,” it struck me viscerally.
Like most Americans, I vividly recall the day the twin towers fell, but I lived through the chaotic month afterward as a medical provider on the front lines of that crisis.
On September 11, 2001, I was a young doctor, having just graduated a few months prior from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. As fate would have it, I was also one of three surgical interns newly stationed that fall in Manhattan’s only intensive care unit for critical burn victims. At 8:46 a.m. on that fateful Tuesday morning, we all stood in horror watching the news as the first plane crashed into the north tower.
By 8:48 a.m., our team quickly realized that we were in for an onslaught of burn victims at New York-Presbyterian.
By 8:49 a.m., hospital staff and I were madly rushing to free up beds in our ICU, relocating every patient that could possibly be transferred to another floor, and moving beds and ventilators into every available space.
Tragically, nearly every injured survivor pulled from the towers was severely burned, and we received them all.
Fortunately, doctors of every specialty in the hospital and the broader New York area mobilized quickly and came to help support emergency efforts. But within a few days after the immediate needs subsided, these specialized medical professionals all returned to their respective hospitals and practices to care for their patients.
Cardiologists went back to treating heart disease, internists to diagnosing diabetes, surgeons to removing gallbladders.
After the “troops” of physicians pulled back at our hospital, the other two interns and I voluntarily moved into and lived in the burn unit for the majority of the next month, providing 24/7 care for our patients as they straddled the precarious line between life and death.
Image Credit: Benjamin Domb, MD / American Hip Institute