On Sept 11, 2001 I was scheduled to have surgery performed on a bad elbow. I arrived at the hospital in Asheville, NC at 6:00am, was prepped, rolled into the OR and was under by 7:00. The surgery lasted 3 hours. I can remember being awakened around 10:30 by one of the nurses who told me everything had gone well.
The next memory was hearing a nurse assistant tell me; “Mr M., this is the worst day in the history of the United States. The World Trade Center has been attacked and there are thousands dead.” I was very groggy, had no clue as to what planet I was on or whether or not it was some kind of warped dream.
I was rolled into a recovery room with a number of other patients and oddly enough there was a television mounted high on a wall above us. It was turned to CNN. As I slowly recovered from the effects of anesthesia, I began to absorb the sounds and images of what happened. Truly the most bizarre experience of my life. The most historical couple of hours in the history of this country seemed to pass in the time it would take to snap my fingers.
My family and I had visited the Trade Center eight weeks before the attack. We had dinner at the Top of the World Restaurant in North Tower (WTC1). We viewed the city from the enclosed Observation Deck on Floor 104 of the South Tower (WTC2). We had breakfast the next morning in the glass-covered restaurant in the Marriott Hotel (WTC3) that was tucked between both towers. What a magnificent view looking straight up. My family and I played around the Plaza Fountain where the now-famous Koening sculpture ‘The Sphere’ stood. We took the obligatory photos where dad lies on his back looking up to get the towers and the family in one shot.
All the time I was there I had a tremendous feeling of vulnerability, particularly when visiting the tops of both buildings. While eating dinner at The World I recalled the plane crash at the Empire State Building in 1945 and said to myself: “Jeez, if we were up here when this place got hit by an airliner, we wouldn’t get down. The only way is to jump.” I suppose that a large percentage of the people who visited these buildings had similar feelings. It is only human nature when confronted by an unknown like the tremendous height of both structures. There were other scattered coincidental thoughts like this, but I am not even going to attempt to write them down or recall them because they were just too close to reality.
Strange to think that two months later, the top of that Marriott hotel would be littered with the pieces of American 11 before being smashed to pieces by the South Tower collapse. That the Plaza to the northeast would hold parts of United 175, its passengers and the remains of the North Tower. On the elevator ride up to the Observation Deck during our visit, I had one of those moments where the brain takes an obscure snapshot that is held forever. I guess a normal person would have a couple hundred of them just like this stuffed into the recesses of the mind. The woman operating our elevator, an African American whose hair was neatly braided and who was wearing a blue/black uniform, smiled at me and I smiled back.
I can remember that the express elevator was so big- twice as large as a normal elevator to move as many office workers as possible. I couldn’t understand how a person could spend their entire working day in a box that moved up and down 78 floors. She must have loved her job. I found her photograph on the New York Times web site in the tribute to those who were killed.