"We Are Under Attack"

Index: Ostomy Wound Manage 2001;47(11):13–16

  In the September 2001 issue of Ostomy/Wound Management, Alan J. Cantor, DPM, CWS, FACFAOM, Diplomat of the American Board of Podiatric Orthopedics, was recognized for his passion for learning and teaching, as well as for establishing a humanitarian project in the Caribbean. He never imagined that he would be asked to share his thoughts again so soon, especially on such devastating events. A decorated volunteer fireman accustomed to responding to many accidents and catastrophic emergencies in his 23 years of service, Dr. Cantor was awarded the Medal of Valor for his role as triage commander at the crash site of Avianca Flight 52 in January 1990 in Cove Neck, NY. The following is Dr. Cantor's account of the attacks on September 11, 2001.

  "Tuesday morning was absolutely gorgeous in New York," Dr. Cantor begins. "Perfect weather, clear skies. My wife Alyssa already had left for work, and I was doing the daily routine of sending our children to school. I walked our daughter Brittany to the bus stop, then drove our son Justin to nursery school. En route to my office, I was listening to New York's popular radio show, 'Imus in the Morning.' At 8:48 a.m., sportscaster Warner Wolf called into the show, screaming he had seen a plane crash into one of the Twin Towers. Reports were mixed - some people were saying it looked like a small commuter plane and others that it could have been a 737 commercial jetliner. Warner reported seeing fire and smoke and people waving for help from the upper floors of the building. Initially, like most others, I thought it was a bad accident... until moments later when another aircraft crashed into the second tower. Speeding to work, I looked west to New York City, 20 miles from our hospital and my office. The crystal clear sky was now filled with black smoke spewing from the World Trade Center. I thought, 'We are under attack.'"

  When he reached his office, Dr. Cantor's phone was ringing with patients and family members fearful for relatives who worked downtown. Everyone was wrestling with conflicting responsibilities. Dr. Cantor wondered if he should go to his children, go home, go to the hospital, or go into New York City to help at the scene. His experiences with the fire department taught Dr. Cantor that ingress into Manhattan would be virtually impossible, as the city would be paralyzed with traffic and emergency vehicles. Egress from the city also would be compromised - a lesson learned from the Avianca crash, when the crush of vehicles obstructed the roads to and from the site. Knowing that the schools would safely care for his children and enough emergency personnel and medical help would respond to the crash site, Dr. Cantor reported to his hospital.

  Nassau University Medical Center, East Meadow, New York, is Long Island's Major Level I Trauma Center and Burn Service. Undoubtedly, this facility would receive victims of the attack. When Dr. Cantor arrived, all of the alarms that previously had announced drills were ringing. As the bells continued to shriek, everyone knew this was no drill. The medical center's disaster plan was implemented - a fluid field of personnel secured the floors, cleared the burn unit of noncritical patients, and tripled and quadrupled patients in room on the floors. "The emergency plan was executed with no panic, no hesitation, and no confusion," Dr. Cantor says. "Medical and administrative meetings were held simultaneously. Team assignments, responsibilities, and scenarios were discussed. All staff were held and additional staff called in - a strategy that was performed in every hospital in our region - and supplies were gathered.

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