I suppose "drop dead" is too strong?

On September 11, 2001, I was the senior pediatric resident covering the inpatient floor at Bellevue Hospital in New York City.

I don't think I set foot on the inpatient unit that day. Like just about everyone else that could possibly be spared, I spent the day in the emergency department.

We ended up ridiculously overstaffed. People either made it out of the towers relatively unscathed, or they didn't get out at all. I volunteered to stay overnight in the ED, waiting for patients that never came.

Those few patients I did see were fire fighters, mainly to get dust and grime washed out of their eyes. The ones I remember best were from Long Island. They couldn't find one of their own, and the memory of their relief in finding him over on the pediatric side (where he had been sent when they ran out of room on the adult side) still makes me emotional.

I never went to the wreckage at Ground Zero. They had more than enough volunteers with emergency medicine/trauma training, and so a pediatric resident didn't have much to offer. I was good friends with a lot of the residents in NYU's emergency medicine department, however, so I heard all about their experiences trying to look for survivors and care for the workers down there under collapsing buildings and among the rubble.

My obviously peripheral experiences of September 11 do not confer any particular moral authority to me. I, like most New Yorkers at the time, experienced the day in my own personal way, and I have my own memories and feelings. I did have the honor, however, of meeting and knowing a number of people who put themselves at risk trying to respond to the greatest single horror most of them had ever encountered (and, let's pray, ever would). They, along with many people like them, put themselves at risk for others in need. Many people did so at the cost of their lives, and others at the cost of their health.

It is a shameful and disgraceful moral failure of the gravest kind that apparently certain members of our government can't be bothered to find a way to pay for their health care.


  1. First, I'm glad people like you were there when it counted. I am grateful you were overstaffed.

    Second, I too am aghast at the abandonment of our obligation to care for these first responders and others injured in the 9-11 attacks.

    The problem, of course, is that we no longer have any money to pay for these moral obligations. It has been spent by the present and earlier Congressi. At the moment, the Doc Fix is being extended for one year (2011) by reducing money committed to funding HCR insurance reimbursements in 2014. The technical term for this is "kicking the can down the road." The backlog of moral obligations awaiting funding is apparently growing rapidly. I gently suggest that some of them will need to be rethought.

  2. Out of curiosity, Jon, if we were to discover that N.Korea or Iran were in the mist of building nuclear armaments would you also claim we have no money to try and stop them?

    There always seems to be enough money to kill and destroy, but never quite enough to heal and help.

  3. For existential threats, we must find a way. If we were to discover a large asteriod headed for impact in 2020, by Jove, we'd find the money. And yes, existential threats come mostly in the "we gotta break it before it breaks us" category.

    To your point, we have discovered that both Iran and NoKo are in the midst of building nukes, and we aren't doing all that much about it. I hope we were part of Stuxnet, but if we aren't, we need to be part of Son of Stuxnet (success be upon it).

  4. GJ, I agree that obligations must be appropriately prioritized. I would posit that paying for the health care of 9/11 first responders is a relatively inexpensive obligation, and one that deserves our commitment as a nation.