Monday, May 18, 2020
SENTINEL OF LIFE AND DEATH
FROM THE HOPE OF COMFORT
TO GRIM REALITY
TAGS: NYC, CORONA VIRUS, COVID-19,
CASE AND DEATH COUNT,
NYPD, FDNY-EMS, HHS
ORIGINALLY POSTED MAY 8 TBC. (UPDATED LINKS)
(Friday May 8, 2020 Pier 39, Red Hook, Brooklyn) Since October 28, 1886 our Statue of Liberty has proudly stood in New York harbor and has bore witness to much of Our Nation’s history. She has served as a beacon for immigrants, a colossal monument to our founding principles, and at times, as a silent witness to the good and bad times of our City. Around the world she is recognized as a singular representation of the United States of America.
On Monday, March 30, Lady Liberty provided a dramatic background as the USN Comfort, a Navy hospital ship made her way slowly to Pier 90 on the Westside of Manhattan providing as many as 500 much needed beds for Covid-19 patients. As of that Monday morning New York City had verified 38,087 cases of the virus and a death toll of 914. Those numbers would tragically rise steadily as March gave way to April. The “City that Never Sleeps” was a veritable ghost town except for the long snaking lines of people waiting to get into emergency rooms from the Bronx to Brooklyn. By April 21 the USN Comfort departed having not been utilized as promised for reasons that are difficult to understand given the crush on NYC emergency rooms, ICU capacity, and hospitals in general. She arrived with much hope for the beleaguered, overburdened City Hospitals and seemed to sail away as an afterthought. Perhaps the lesson of the USN Comfort is but a metaphor to the Covid-19 response locally and, particularly, at the federal level. (This is not a political statement, opinion, or partisan talking point.)
While so much remains to be understood about this virus that has gripped the world in a pandemic, Epidemiologists, Virologists, Infectious Disease physicians, Respiratory Therapists, Laboratory Technicians as well as scores of public, private, and academic labs are laboring to break some of the most vexing puzzles given that it appears Covid-19 is more than a “respiratory infection”. It often presents in unusual ways and can vary in exactly how it behaves differently from patient to patient. The one absolute certainty is that it is deadly; it can kill swiftly or it can have a patient linger on a ventilator for weeks on end until such time that the intubated patient succumbs. It can strike with vicious rapidity in patients with pre-existing conditions, the elderly, and those with a compromised immunity. It has claimed lives in younger people in good health, physically fit by most metrics. There is far more unknown than known about this virus that all the efforts of researchers and clinicians will not yield anything like a therapeutic or a vaccine any time soon. It is here to stay.
New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. It hit us hard and fast and became a major medical emergency throughout our Five Boroughs before large swathes of the Country had even become alert to it. Viral particles spread, prolifically propagating as they jump from host to host. Once it infects a person it hijacks that person’s cellular physiology, makes its way into the cell nucleus, and thrives within. In this molecular level hostile takeover, the virus utilizes the cell for its own malevolent purposes. As the immune system responds there comes a series of inflammatory reactions each alone clinically difficult to manage; collectively, they can be fatal. Viruses in this class are exceptionally contagious, very tenacious and resilient in the air and on nonporous surfaces. Social distancing quickly became the mantra and wearing face masks covering our nose and mouth soon thereafter became highly recommended. New Yorkers by the tens of thousands became shut ins; “sheltering in place” as if a gun toting maniac was prowling our streets. This novel Corona virus was able to do in short order what no maniac or terrorist could; it rendered the most densely populated City in America a veritable ghost town.
EYE OF THE STORM
As more and more of Our City became shuttered, there was an eerie calm in the concrete canyons. The FDNY-EMS and NYPD had little reason to respond to a call with sirens and airhorns – there was no traffic, they had the streets to themselves. The only locales of activity were the hospitals many of which were seeing alarmingly escalating Coronavirus cases. Supplies from PPE to respirators, sanitizers to IV tubing, to the whole array of equipment necessary to care for ICU patients became less available by the day.
The nature of this disease didn’t allow for the most gravely ill to have visitors; no family members to accompany their loved one when their time came to step over to the other side. More doctors, nurses, technicians, EMT’s and Cops were the last mask-covered faces they would see during their final moments as sentient beings. And then the bodies began to pile up.
Funeral homes were overwhelmed. Social distancing precluded memorial services in churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship. Next of kin typically never laid eyes on their deceased again once they were admitted to a hospital. Even graveside services were curtailed.
By early April bodies of victims that were “unclaimed” began being interred in mass graves on Harts Island, the historical home of NYC’s “Potters Field”. FEMA began sending 53-foot-long refrigerated semi-trailers to some of the hardest hit hospitals including NYU, Bellevue, and Elmhurst. Bodies were found in U-Haul rental trucks besides some funeral homes in Harlem and Brooklyn. These had become among the grisly agonies of reality in Our virus ravaged City.
As the number of cases continued to rise each and every City Agency could count Members of Service among the ill and dying. From the FDNY to NYPD, the Department of Corrections to Sanitation, Transportation and Education, Nurses and aids of the Union 1199, and so many others were lost often leaving their surviving colleagues depressed, disheartened, and worried. The environs these people worked in posed a level of danger and stress that had never before been so pronounced.
UP TO THE CHALLENGE
As native New Yorkers we have a global reputation of toughness. As children born into the most complex urban metropolis in America, we simply grow up as products of our environment. Personalities and traits that outsiders see as rude are but our inherent genetic expressions. We as a City, as a diverse, sometimes disparate population have always united during the hardest of hard times. We’ve squared off to confront every challenge, crisis, hardship or threat. We are doing so at this time just as we have never failed to do.
Perhaps some among us are praying more than usual. Certainly, every other New Yorker who might be reading these words has had to take a momentary pause when we learned of an extended family member, neighbor, coworker, acquaintance or familiar face from our daily coming and going having passed away. Many of us have a profession that comes with higher than normal inherent risk; some of us may reflect on our own mortality, the circumstances and happenstances that shadow us every time we show up for work.
Our City will soon slowly but surely begin to reopen. Day by day the traffic will increase, the flood of pedestrians will flow, and all the familiar sights and sounds that define life in Our City will again be present. That will be a good thing for us all. But maybe it will be wise to hold onto a few of the facts of life we have learned since this plague invaded Our Town. Maybe not.
Bless All, Good Luck, and Be Well
Copyright The Brooding Cynyx 2020 © All Rights Reserved
Copyright Brooding Cynyc 2020 © All Rights Reserved
Thursday, September 5, 2019
18 YEARS OF INJUSTICE AND INSULT TO INJURY
(Thursday September 5th, 2019 Trinity Place, NYC) It has been 18 years. Not that any of us in the 9/11 Community need any reminder. No, each and every one of us who raced to the Twin Towers moments after the first hijacked plane struck remember all too vividly the sights and smells of that atrocity. Most of us can still taste it today. Those fiendish toxic clouds created as our Towers collapsed one after the other. Ours have been 18 years of anguish and agony – grinding sorrow in its most profound manifestation. Families still grieve; grief knows no timetable, no expiration date. It has no end point, there never comes a time that it is “supposed” to end. The addition of raw anger and the gut-wrenching ironies that have defined the last 18 years for so many of us is but an additional cruelty, an insult dealt by our own federal government.
How many years did we have to fight for funding the medical care that so many of us desperately needed as we faced respiratory ailments, strange malignancies, and the myriad illnesses from the toxins inhaled while working on “The Pile”, in “The Pit”, at “Ground Zero”, whatever one prefers to call that hellish landscape of twisted structural steel and debris. Those MOS sifting through debris at Fresh Kills on Staten Island also became ill. How many among our Community died after valiant battles with cancers? How many were lost before the proper funding became available or a medical panel “decided” what diseases were and weren’t classified as 9/11 related? While the exact number may be unknown what is for certain is that the number was far too high.
While we had to fight for our medical care, the actual legislative maneuvers engaged on behalf of us all by men like John Feal founder of the Fealgood Foundation, Ray Pfiefer retired FDNY, NYPD Detective James Zadroga and Jon Stewart were successful only after shaming Congress to do the right thing. Actually the bill that will provide the requisite funding of the "Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11 Victim Compensation Act" was only passed by the Senate and signed into law at the end of August 2019; 18 years after the fact. Yes, in the aftermath of 9/11/01 all MOS were suddenly “heroes” and were recognized for their valor for doing what they do on a daily basis day in day out in anonymous scenes and scenarios throughout the Five Boroughs. The world bore witness to MOS of the FDNY, PAPD, and NYPD doing their jobs. Sadly, it took such a monstrous tragedy and loss of life for the public to have a glimpse of the collective character and individual bravery of the men and women who constitute these Agencies. Politicians promised all those negatively affected, sickened from their efforts would be “taken care of”. What a crock of shit that turned out to be. Their hollow promises faded just as fast as did the makeshift street memorials all around the City. It took a man, a gravely ill yet extremely strong man, Luis Alvarez of the NYPD Bomb Squad, sitting in front of members of Congress telling the long story of how his illnesses left him ravaged. He would be dead just 32 hours after that appearance. That is beyond shameful. But that is not the end... Now comes the irony.
As has been widely reported recently the Pentagon is finalizing plans to expand the facilities at the Detention Center that has housed up to 610 “enemy combatants” since 2002. Originally intended to be a temporary prison for those captured on the killing fields of Afghanistan, the Tora Bora region of Pakistan and later insurgents from Iraq, only 40 remain held there. The classification of these terrorists and Islamic zealots as “enemy combatants” was made to avoid having them claim their rights as codified in the Geneva Conventions. The legality of having these detainees on US soil seems muddled and murky. All things aside these men are in our custody and we are responsible for their care as well as their mounting health care needs. According to the Pentagon’s own discussions regarding GITMO, they are preparing to transform it into a geriatric medical/prison facility at a cost of over $88 million. It should also be noted that many of our Military troops assigned to GITMO reside in substandard living conditions basically unchanged over the last 18 years.
While the 9/11 Community was fighting our own Congress tooth and nail for funding of the SVCA the detainees have been receiving the best medical care our Military can provide. On numerous occasions the physicians serving at GITMO have had specialized surgical teams from US bases in Homestead, Florida, Norfolk, Virginia, and other locations. They have been flown in with their specialized equipment to perform surgeries ranging from spinal fusions to joint replacements. The expense of these services has been astronomical all things considered.
The Pentagon has been a bit fuzzy in providing accurate numbers but a common figure of $11 million is what it costs, on average, to house each detainee. What a miserable slap in our collective faces this is.
As the detainees have aged so have we. Some among us have begun to move on in baby steps while others remain paralyzed in their grief. There are those who may protest that this is not the time to write about anger towards the detainees, but we must counter that this is precisely the time. The admixture of grief and mourning laced with seething, festering anger is a toxic vapor that impedes our ability to put some emotional distance from 9/11/01 to this day and beyond. Yes, it has been 18 years but no amount of time can ever fill the voids in families across the tri-state metro area, no passage of years can extinguish the fires and billowing clouds that choke us in dreams. But we all must continue to soldier on, allow our memories to become planks of living history we have the sacred responsibility to share with younger people.
Copyright The Brooding Cynyx 2019 © All Rights Reserved
Copyright Brooding Cynyc 2019 © All Rights Reserved
Wednesday, September 4, 2019
FOR THOSE WE KNEW,
FOR THOSE SAVED,
FOR THOSE WE LOST
THESE WERE OUR TOWERS
AND THIS IS HOW THEY SHOULD BE REMEMBERED
THE BROODING CYNYX HAVE NEVER AND
WILL NEVER POST ANY PHOTO OR IMAGE
OF THE WTC TOWERS FROM 9/11.
IT HAS BEEN AND ALWAYS WILL BE OUR POLICY
TO USE ONLY PHOTOS THAT
PORTRAY THE WTC AS THEY WERE AND,
AS FAR AS WE ARE CONCERNED,
OUGHT TO BE RECALLED
(September 4, 2019 Cedar St, NYC) There are many shadows in this neighborhood; these narrow streets are among the oldest in our City originally cobble-stoned by the Dutch settlers who purchased Manhattan Island from the Natives for a pittance. The narrowness of these shadowy canyons shouldn’t let anyone assume that the buildings that block the overhead sun aside from a few brief minutes each noon are inconsequential. This is just one border of the famed World Financial Center with the “catchall” Wall Street, as the heart and soul of commercial finance, banking and trading. Here, on Cedar Street is O’Hara’s an old time NYC “Irish Pub” in the classical sense of the term. It’s a fine place for a power lunch or for happy hour Monday through Friday; dinner is as good but the joint closes around midnight. For a Manhattan bar O’Hara’s is almost an unheard-of oddity but it is common for establishments in this part of Town that rely on the “Wall Street Crowd.
Between the end of lunch and before the after-work rush of commuters wedging a few quick drinks before heading out to the suburbs and home, this is a bar that knows how to treat a single patron. Good drinks at a fair price, bartenders who actually know how to tend bar while delivering fine service for the lone drinker. On this first Wednesday of September, a month many of us have come to dread, we met here for a few cocktails and to catch up. Some of the cohorts have long since retired; others of us are still On The Job. This early September gathering had become an annual ritual that began in 2002. It began casually enough but has persisted for 18 years. After a few drinks, a couple of bad jokes, and some plain old bullshit small talk the conversation shifts and becomes focused; an individual set of memories that are at least collective in their experiences that craft the images, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, loss and anger into a cohesive telling of that which can only be told by those able to tell it; only by those who lived it. This is not a conversation for outsiders and the memories given voice will never be heard by ears that did not hear what this small band of comrades did on that painfully clear Tuesday morning, that day of infamy, September 11, 2001.
Next Wednesday will mark the 18th year since the terrorist attacks on our City, Towers, and Country. The events of that day and the immediate aftermath have altered the passage of time for some. In ways the time since then has been elongated by the continued sense of sorrow and loss. In other iterations time has been compressed as survivors have watched children grow and mature; perhaps humans never again undergo a more important 18-year period of their lives. Humans go from newborn infancy to the adolescent threshold of young adulthood in the first 18 years of existence; from complete dependency to a rebellious stage as they attempt to find some measure of independence. No matter how you cut it, 18 years is a long time and the fact that for many families of the 9/11 deceased, these past 18 years have been a disorienting trek. It is for this reason, if no other, that it is vital to keep our memories of those prematurely taken alive and vibrant.
Our small cadre of greying MOS knows the gravity of remembrance. It has become a duty, a Sacred Duty at that, to keep the memories of those we lost alive. Not in the hyper-sensational portrayals of bumper sticker slogans and “Salute To Heroes” banners. No, our Sacred Duty is to the men and women we knew, men and women some of whom we depended on for our lives over the years before 9/11. That day was not an aberration, it was not in any way unusual. Every day before and since 9/11 MOS respond to the calls that come in; the incidents, the conflicts, the response to the injured, wounded, trapped, suicidal, victimized, scared, and every other scenario under the Sun the men and women of the FDNY, FDNY EMS, NYPD, and PAPD respond and render the assistance they are able to. The rest of the United States and the media made a large fuss about the unselfishness of our MOS. What they failed to recognize is that, initially at least, no one among those who responded knew or could have imagined the nature of the disaster nor the scale and scope of the calamity that was to followed within minutes. All MOS where simply doing their job; yet merely by being who they were, who we are, and what we do, that was just another “day at the office” until we learned otherwise.
And “otherwise” it was; an egregious assault on us as Americans in general and New Yorkers in particular. But we all rose to the challenge from the brawniest MOS to the most slender office worker, we rose to the challenge of an event that we had no way of realizing just how much our world would be changed once we escaped the highly pressurized, noxious-fumed fires of Our Towers. And make no mistake about it; they were OUR TOWERS…Bless all who perished, all who survived, and those left to mourn unconscionable death…
Copyright The Brooding Cynyx 2019 © All Rights Reserved
Copyright Brooding Cynyc 2019 © All Rights Reserved