I never would’ve made it
This article was particularly difficult to write, as it touches on a very emotional subject. While I’ve tried to be delicate and compassionate, yet honest, you may find parts of it difficult or disturbing to read as well. These thoughts have been going thorough my head for years. However, I’ve never put them into words until now, in the text that you see below.
Recently, I’ve been working a lot at a bustling construction site in Manhattan. These days, the 16-acre downtown area between Church and West Streets is a busy work-zone, teeming with carpenters, masons, electricians, and other trade workers navigating heavy equipment through narrow below-grade corridors. Aside from the security checkpoints at entry, the view from close-up pretty much resembles any typical construction site. Since I, as well as many other workers, take a train directly to the site, we aren’t greeted by the inspirational and emotional view that you see atop this post.
We all took a vow never to forget what happened on that spot ten and a half years ago. In New York, Washington D.C., and in Pennsylvania, the unthinkable became reality as innocent lives were taken, indestructible families were shattered, and fear replaced confidence.
These days, we still remember the statistics and timelines that made it into the history books, but we sometimes gloss over the images and emotions – and for those even closer, the smells, sounds, and tastes – that defined September 11, 2001. It’s understandable. To this day, when a particular picture or video is shown on TV, I turn my head away. When I catch a glimpse of it in print, I quickly turn the page. I remember it well; I have no desire to re-live it.
As the months roll by and I see the Freedom Tower grow taller, my mind brings me closer and closer to that ordinary day that began like so many before it. I ask myself, What if it was me? What if I was in that tower? No matter how I replay the scenario in my mind, the result always comes out the same. I never would’ve made it.
A friend of mine was working in one of the buildings when he felt a sudden jolt and the lights went out. He headed directly for the staircase and made it outside (I’m deliberately omitting some interactions that took place along the way) where a police officer motioned eastward and instructed him to proceed through the dust-cloud “that way”. He safely found his way across Manhattan Island and eventually to his mother’s house in Brooklyn (his home was in New Jersey). Except for the clothes he was wearing, everything he brought to work that day ended up in the giant pile of rubble. He made the right choice: to get out, and to get out fast.
He didn’t need anything to run that impromptu marathon other than his own two feet. Adrenaline would provide the extra strength he needed. But what about me, a person with Type 1 diabetes? Would I have grabbed my meter, glucose tabs, snacks, and insulin pens before safely making my way to the exit and out of the building? Doubtful – my friend didn’t even bother to lift his cell phone off his desk. Would I be hypoglycemic before reaching the ground floor? Would I have enough stuff to get me to safety, and then to carry me through until I could get back home?
This recollection then gets me thinking of other emergencies and disasters that might (or recently did) happen, and if diabetes would hurt my chances of “making it”.
Remember The Blackout of 2003? The widespread summertime power outage affected a big part of the United States and Canada. In Philadelphia at the time, I was unaffected by the incident, but my girlfriend (later to be my wife), needed to take a ferry from her Jersey City office to Manhattan and walk 60 blocks to a friend’s sweltering-hot apartment, where she stayed overnight before boarding a series of buses to get home. These trains don’t run without electricity. But other than some sweaty clothes and blistery feet, she got through without a problem. A test-strip shortage or half-baked insulin was no concern to her.
In 2009, Captain Chesley Sullenberger heroically piloted US Airways flight 1549, without working engines, into the Hudson River. Everyone survived. I’m sure I would have, too, but I can’t say the same for my non-waterproof insulin pump.
I sometimes wonder, if I were on one of those ill-fated airplanes, if I would have had the emotional strength to stab a terrorist with a Flexpen and unload 300 units of Novalog into his leg. Or if I could clock a hypothetical gunman on the head with my insulin pump and restrain him with its indestructible tubing. It may sound macabre or just plain ridiculous, but when I think about how I might handle an extraordinary event, these are the tools I have at hand. It crosses my mind.
When that soon-to-be 1,776-foot tall tower was first conceptualized, it was intended to symbolize strength and resiliency. However, when I see it, it reinforces a different reality: one of vulnerability and compromise. The change in landscape, in that block between Church and West Streets, symbolizes a change in how we look at readiness.
As a nation, we struggle to figure out how much preparation really makes sense – whether it comes to airport screening, fire department funding, subway agent staffing, or police recruiting. We try to balance how much security we want with how much inconvenience we’ll accept or how much money we’re willing to spend. People with diabetes have struggled with this balance for a long time: how do we prepare for the unexpected – without making life cumbersome and making ourselves broke? There are some things we just can’t protect ourselves from, and we need to rely on hope, chance, and luck.
There comes a point where taking additional precautions are no longer worth it. It’s up to each of us to determine what that point is.
I’d like to take this moment to express my deepest sorrows to those who lost loved ones on that fateful day. Further, I thank those of you who came to our aid on September 11, and to those who made the outstanding commitment to civil service to keep us safe in the years that have followed, up through and including today. Please don’t interpret the brevity in this paragraph as insincere – I’m just having a hard time finding the right words.
Back in late 2001, nearly every blog – and every web site, for that matter – featured a graphical reminder to remember those whose lives tragically ended due to the events of that day. Over time, these reminders have diminished. I’ve decided to put the iconic red, white, and blue ribbon in the sidebar, with a link to a CNN web-page of the names of those who are no longer with us.
In a similar fashion, I’m also adding an image of a blue candle, symbolic of those who have been lost to diabetes. If anyone can give me a good page for a link to go with this image, I’d really appreciate it.