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september_11_smoke.jpgToday is the day of my hearing with the World Trade Center Victim Compensation Fund about the life-long damage to my health caused by the inhalation of smoke and debris while trying to escape from the disaster.
The Fund has apparently decided that anyone who wasn’t within an extremely narrow perimeter of the towers could not have suffered smoke inhalation of long-term health damages. That is because thousands of people who, like me, have Radical Airways Disease Syndrome (RADS) have applied for compensation and the government simply doesn’t want to deal with us. We’re the lucky ones, because we’re alive. But we can’t breathe.
Counting Jumpers
I cannot remember much that happened between the collapse of the first building and 1 p.m. when my dog, Sam, and I were taken, by ferry and then ambulance, to St. Francis Hospital emergency room in Jersey City to be treated for smoke inhalation. But I will never forget being trapped by emergency workers in Battery Park after they herded thousands of us into it and prevented us from leaving. “Too dangerous,” they insisted. We counted jumpers and wondered aloud if the building would come down. A piece of a plane lay on the West Side Highway just outside the Battery Tunnel exit.
As the building collapsed, there was a huge rush of airborne debris and smoke that barreled down West Street like an avalanche. It was suddenly pitch black and we ran as we tried to breathe air that was the consistency of the dirt inside a vacuum cleaner bag.
Within a few days, the choking feeling and rough cough progressed to pneumonia, and I use three asthma medications a day now, and forever. So I can’t imagine how the special investigator is going to prove that nothing happened to me. I will report after the hearing. My attorney, to whom I am extremely grateful, is working pro bono on my behalf through Trial Lawyers Care. I am hoping, at least, for some kind of closure on this difficult chapter of my life.
Black & White Memories
I remember trying to cover Sam’s face, and not being able to figure out how to help him. My memory of that surreal morning is in black and white. The only color is the flames from the fire and the cherry ice pop handed to me at some point by a kindly street vendor, who happened to be Middle Eastern. A rescue worker screamed at us to keep coughing out the air and blowing our noses to get the fiberglass-like debris out of our bodies. There also was the noise, which I hear in my head to this day.
And there was the beige woman’s half-slip. It flew gracefully through the air, swirling in the wind until it blew right into my hands. The woman who lost it, a jumper, I guess, was very petite.
I carried her slip in my backpack for the five weeks when my apartment building was evacuated and me and Sammy were homeless. We bounced around between family and friends and then to a hotel. I also carried around a pack of red TicTacs that had been in my pocket. The little plastic container had filled with the same thick black World Trade Center dust we had inhaled. Occasionally, I ate one of the TicTacs. Until one day, I didn’t need to keep them anymore.