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Reflections on Storms and Unthinkables

    • 132 posts
    September 11, 2017 10:00 PM EDT

    In a span of less than 4 weeks we've all been reminded that "Mother Nature" truly is a great equalizer. Not only did she inflict the unthinkable on the 4th largest city in the United States, but she also threatened Florida with the largest storm of its kind (in that area) in about a century. My sister and her family live in the Houston, TX area and were affected by "Harvey," and my Dad and stepmom live in St. Petersburg, FL where "Irma" set everyone on edge. Thankfully my loved ones are safe. Property casualties can be replaced. A sigh of relief. Gratitude ... and thoughts and prayers with those who were not as fortunate.

    I write this on the 16th anniversary of yet another unthinkable. Tuesday, September 11, 2001 started out beautifully here in New York City. I was out the door by 7:15 a.m. and recall a clear sky - with a hint of Fall in the air - as I made my way to work that morning.

    My first appointment on 9/11/01 was scheduled for "Penelope" Whitney at 8:15 a.m.  She was a regular. "Penelope" had many problems including severe allergies, and at that time I was tending to her eye problems. The most severe being vision-threatening glaucoma. I'd been caring for her for about 3 years and her owners were incredibly diligent. If I recommended a recheck of her eyes in 2 to 3 months, they were there in about 6 weeks (give or take). You could count on it.

    Sandra - "Penelope's" mom - had it all figured out. She knew what the gig was and she managed it quite well. She always tried to take the first appointment of the morning. If there was an 8:00 a.m. slot, then she was there at 8:00 a.m. She came with answers to questions she knew would be asked about the dog's current status, and then she would swiftly inform us of any meds she needed refilled. All in the interest of time. After all, she needed to get in and out in order to make it to work on time. Sandra worked down at the World Trade Center. In fact, medication refills for "Penelope" were often requested by the pharmacy at the WTC.

    That morning - 9/11 - we proceeded as usual with "Penelope" and Sandra. All was good with "Penelope." Stable. We refilled her meds and out the door she flew sometime around 8:30 or 8:35 a.m. My next appointment - a new patient that was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. - showed up late. The owner had to complete the new patient information paperwork which made him even later. This dog had been treated in Arizona for glaucoma and had recently moved to NYC. Upon finally completing his paperwork the receptionists presented the medical record to me. I was now a good 20 minutes behind schedule. I quickly reviewed the pet's medical history and went out to the reception area to greet him. The dog's owner was sitting on a bench with the pooch by his side - talking on his cell phone. I was a bit annoyed that I was having to wait for him to end his cell phone call --- he was, after all, late! 

    He ended his call, looked up to me and said (in effect) "Oh my gawd ... I can't believe this. I'm supposed to be down there. And I'm not. My brother is. I can't believe this. I can't. There was an explosion. I just started working there. I'm supposed to be there but I'm not. I have to go check on my brother. I have to leave my dog with you. I have to go."

    Talk about shock. What?! What did you just say? Uh. Ok. Sure. No problem. At first I thought - is this guy for real? But he was totally white in the face ... I knew something was wrong. I had to get a little more information about the dog and its condition and meds ... so that I could say ... okay, go.  I took the dog in with no additional paperwork, no consent form, no estimate, no deposit. The guy just left. As I took the dog downstairs to get situated I could hear news of the first plane hitting the WTC by way of the radio playing in the treatment room. It would be another couple of days before the owner would surface.

    I was in shock like everyone else that day. I was numb yet my mind went in a thousand directions. I immediately zoned in on Sandra - "Penelope's" mom. I knew where she was headed after the appointment with me that morning. I wondered ... could she have possibly made it down to lower Manhattan in time to be in harm's way?  I did the math and the answer was yes. I worried. The next day I tried to ring her. No answer. Dead circuit. It would be well over a week - nearly two - before I would learn that she did not make it down there in time. I think she hit some traffic en route and then the area was quickly made inaccessible. She was okay, although displaced from her home (as she lived down in that area). I continued to care for "Penelope" for the next 4 years. Every time I would flip through her chart and come across the medical record entry of 9/1/01 I took pause and got choked up.

    As I reflect on life and on these times I circle back and say something that really isn't very profound but ... you can't change the weather. You have no direct control over nature or the workings of the universe. But you DO have control over yourself, your choices, your actions and reactions in this life. I think "Mother Nature" and tragedies do serve a purpose - albeit painful. If we survive them, then we stand to learn from them. These adversities can help to heighten our awareness and provide the opportunity to reflect on what truly matters (or not) and make meaningful change.

    Witnessing the recent wrath of Mother Nature - in particular "Harvey" - served as a kick in the butt for me to set to task and further declutter my life. To part with things that have done nothing but take up space and accumulate dust - things that were once important to hold on to but are no longer. These storms have served to remind me to pause, reflect, "clean house," and strive to do and be the best I can in this life. Every day.