9/11, by the numbers

9/11, by the numbers
: I got the call last night, as expected, from the World Trade Center Health Registry. I’m now one of a few hundred thousand people who were there that day or who worked at the site afterwards and whose health is being tracked for the next 20 years.

This was the call to collect data about me: where I was, what happened to me that day, what happened afterwards. It’s all data now.

They did a very good job with the script the woman from North Carolina read to me. Some of these questions may be upsetting, she said; you can quit anytime and come back later. If you want to talk to somebody, they’ll give me a name. If you don’t want to answer any of the questions, you don’t have to. She has a tough job. I stayed as cheery as I could.

We went through all the basics: age, address, all that.

They asked about my health following 9/11. Coughing? Yes. Shortness of breath? Yes. Wheezing? Yes. Skin irritation? Yes. Eye irritation? Yes. Changes in hearing? Yes. Diagnosed conditions? Pneumonia… Arrhythmia… Tinnitus…

They asked about my mood. Nightmares? No. Depression? Well, of course. Trouble concentrating? Yes….

And then came the questions about that day. Their simplicity, their evenness, their scripted rhythm of question and response turned this into an odd poetry of tragedy.

Did you witness a plane hitting the World Trade Center? Yes.

Did you witness people running away from the World Trade Center? Yes.

Did you witness one of the towers collapse? Yes.

Did you witness people dying or falling? [Long pause] Uh-huh.


  1. MommaBear says:

    At this remove from that date, would you say it might tend to awaken things you don’t want to think about, or, did the rational layout of the questionnaire perhaps help place some things in a better perspective?

  2. Oh my God, I had no idea, Sir. Well I enjoy reading and following your blog and any sign of trouble with concentration doesn’t show up in your writings.
    Don’t get depressed, we don’t want to give the enemy anything to be happy about. They’ve been hitting us here and there for 20+ years, I think it’s high time we do something about them and put a stop to their reign of terror. On my blog I listed just about every atrocity islamist terrorists have committed against us since 1979: http://www.jenmartinez.com/mt/archives/2003_09.html#000165
    Jennifer Martinez sends

  3. Anonymous says:

    As the woman who did the interview, its the hardest question to ask…there is no right way, and no way to soften the blow.
    I did a google for web pages about the health registry, when I saw Buzz Machine it jogged my memory of our interview…I went to a school whose msascot was Buzz, so it stuck with me. The rest of the people I interview, while I don’t remember any names or identifying characteristics, everyone has their own story. And each and every story makes an impact on me…

  4. Daniel Cato says:

    [note: this comment was lost in a server migration and i’m posting it again – jeff]
    [i now find this post, to which Daniel was responding:
    I earn my living asking people unthinkable questions and I’m sure she found no delight in asking you the questions on her script. what I don’t understand is what physical health problems can be linked to the WTC falling down. I’m not trying to be a snot, but what debris is specific to this event and what are the health hazards of that debris?]
    Daniels’ reponse:
    The contents of the air contained many toxic materials–the combustion products of jet fuel, plastics, vaporized metals, etc. Breathing of such materials can affect the central nervous system in subtle or very obvious ways, depending upon the amount of exposure. In addition, there was a huge amount of irritating material in the air (if you remember the opaque clouds)–pulverized gypsum board, asbestos, and concrete dust. All of these materials have the ability to scar the lungs and cause multiple respiratory syndromes. If you would have been close to the site, the smell-a kind of acrid, plastic-and-metal-and-electrical fire smell-lingered for days, and depending on the winds could be noticed at a great distance (20 miles) from the site itself.
    I work at the medical school in NYC which is cataloging the physical effects of breathing in this material. At two years out, the head of the program, Dr. Levin, says he is quite surprised at the very large number of people in the immediate vicinity with substantial physical problems. The severity of these problems seem ot be directly linked with the amount of exposure, with virtually all rescue workers showing the most substantial effects.