In the Aftermath
by Deborah Egel, RN, mental health nurse, Creedmoor Addiction Treatment Center
"A couple of weeks after the attacks, I got a call from the NYSNA District 14 office saying that mental-health nurses were needed to help the families of the victims. They sent me a flyer, and I circulated it at work. Three of us from Creedmoor went, along with Donna LaFiosca, a NYSNA member in the visiting nurse program at Mt. Sinai. We were told to go on Sunday, Sept. 30 to a pier on 54th Street. We arrived at t 7:30 a.m.
Mental-health nurses were giving out death certificates to the victims families and doing crisis counseling and grief counseling, and lawyers were telling the families about their rights, how to receive benefits, and so on.
A man from the Federal Emergency Management Agency came over to us and asked, Are there any mental-health nurses here who dont get seasick? It turned out, they needed nurses to go on boats with the victims families to Ground Zero.
On my boat were about a dozen families, including two children of about 10 and 11. I just want to say that it was a privilege and an honor to be with those families at that time, in their most private moment. When we got off the boat, we walked through Battery Park to look at the wreckage of the destroyed towers. Their feelings and reactions varied, depending on the person. Some were going through the deepest kind of grief, some were coming close to acceptance of their loss, and some seemed to have reached a kind of closure.
As we walked from the boat to Ground Zero, the most amazing thing happened. Police, firefighters and construction workers were all busy trying to remove the rubble, keep people out of the area, restore power, and keep everyone safe. But when they saw the families coming, they stopped, turned off their equipment, removed their helmets or hats, and bowed their heads in silence until we had passed by. This gesture was very moving, for all of us.
At the makeshift memorial to the victims, the family members placed various personal items, like teddy bears, candles, etc. Some prayed; some cried. We gave them all the time they needed. On the way back, they thanked not only the nurses whod accompanied them, but also the firefighters, police, construction workers and all the volunteers who were still working so hard in that area. They told them how much it meant to them, to see how much people cared."
Nurses Stories from the Field - "Ground Zero"