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Attack on America: Shock, horror and prayers for healing follow attacks

Though terrorists hit New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, the pain reached PCMH and the Brody School of Medicine

The American flag at the Brody Building flies at half-staff following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Photo by Cliff Hollis
GREENVILLE, N.C.   (Oct. 4, 2001)   —   The prayers spoken, the song sung, Dr. Larry Austin looked across the crowded Pitt County Memorial Hospital auditorium.

"We are strong," said Austin, director of pastoral services at PCMH. "We will survive this. We are in pain, but that's OK."

Thus ended a special service to remember those killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in Washington D.C., New York City and Pennsylvania, though many of the crowd of approximately 200 lingered to talk and share.

Earlier, a number of people had spent part of their lunch hour in the auditorium of the Brody Medical Sciences Building reflecting and praying.

The medical community was slowly getting back into a routine, though getting back to the same normal that existed before 8:45 a.m. Sept. 11, when an airliner carrying 92 people crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center, might not be possible.

"This is one of those days when we will all remember where we were," Jim Ross, PCMH president said.

Two airliners had plowed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, a third had slammed into the Pentagon, and a fourth had crashed in Pennsylvania, perhaps on its way to the Capitol or the White House. Around the hospital, people were gathered around televisions or listening to radios. Executives were wondering what might happen next, how far the disasters might reach.

As events unfolded, special measures the hospital took included increasing the police presence around the perimeter of the campus, making sure that doors that were supposed to be locked were locked and making sure that supplies were at adequate levels, especially in light of air traffic being grounded. Chaplains with the pastoral services department also made themselves available to those wishing to speak with them about the attacks.

"We are trying to do all the things necessary to support your staff and families and all the people in this building," Dave McRae, PCMH and UHS chief executive officer told managers during a called meeting hours after the attacks. "This is a time of crisis. This is in essence a declaration of war on this country and our very way of life and our freedoms."

McRae added that the UHS family will remain strong and continue its mission in the face of the attacks. "In the meantime, we have work to do," he said. "We can't shut down and go home. We have people to take care of."

The attacks also disturbed and angered local Muslim leaders. President Bush has named Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, a Muslim, as a top suspect in orchestrating the attacks.

"[The terrorists] should be considered as individuals, and no ethnic group should be involved," said Dr. M. Saeed Dar, a professor of pharmacology at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. "It is bad as a human being to do that. It is worse as a Muslim. Taking one human life is like taking (all) humanity. No human being has a right to do something like that."

Dar, a native of Pakistan, said most Muslims in his homeland and elsewhere are moderates who do not condone terrorism. "We're shocked. We've never seen anything like this in the world," Dar said. He added that local Muslims were joining relief efforts by donating blood and contributing money.

Dr. Mareen Long, a 1995 ECU medical graduate and surgery resident in Fairfax, Va., was at a conference in Washington, D.C., when the attacks occurred. She said a physician from New York City was speaking when a clock fell from the wall at 8:27 a.m., prompting the speaker to say, "That's not a good omen."

An hour later, after an airliner had struck the Pentagon, the conference center was evacuated, and Long joined the thousands of Washingtonians walking the streets.

"Walking over the Key Bridge, you could see the black smoke coming out of the Pentagon," she said. "It was like a mass exodus out of Washington.

"A lot of people are in a daze," she continued. "For two days, I had trouble concentrating. The biggest thing, I really felt helpless. It's been really stressful."

Meanwhile, at ECU more than 2,200 students and others lined up to donate blood Sept. 11 and 12. Only about 950 made it through the line, with 757 units being collected. Also, the Student Government Association began a drive to raise $18,000, or approximately $1 from each student, to assist in relief efforts. The SGA also held a candlelight vigil Sept. 13 at Joyner Library. The ECU Student Union Cultural Awareness Committee offered free admission to a Sept. 13 program at Wright Auditorium titled, "Sacred Music, Sacred Dance for World Healing."

The university also held a memorial service Sept. 12 in Wright Auditorium to honor victims of the terrorist attacks, canceling noon classes so students and faculty could attend. Sept. 14, ECU staff, faculty and students gathered at the Cupola to stop and reflect on the tragic events of this week.

At PCMH, Linda Baker was one of three operating room staff members who hung red, white and blue bows over doorways outside and inside the O.R. area.

"We're just being patriotic, showing that we're in support," Baker said. Over in the pre-op room, six staff members wore shirts bearing the American flag.

In the medical intensive care unit, 9-year-old Brianna Peaden, daughter of Ron and Neva Peaden, a nurse and respiratory therapist, respectively, had written a message on a dry-erase board to PCMH employees, urging them to pray for those who lost loved ones or were hurt in the attacks. "This was a hard day for all of you," Brianna wrote.

Next to her message, internal medicine resident Dr. Chirag Patel responded. "I wish we adults could make this world a better place for beautiful, caring kids like you," he wrote.

"There are a lot of people in the hospital who are affected," Patel said later. "I feel bad for the youth who have to deal with it. They shouldn't have to see it. This is a scarring event."

"I was out just yesterday, and people were snickering, looking," he said. "I guess that's to be expected, but I didn't do it (hijack the airliners)."

Though the medical center and individual health care professionals were prepared to go to Washington and New York to help, sadly their services weren't needed. So complete was the devastation that few survivors remained to need medical attention.

On a more positive note, the huge numbers of people who donated blood boosted low supplies to more than adequate levels. With that in mind, officials of PCMH and the American Red Cross have decided to keep the hospital's previously scheduled blood drive on Nov. 7 rather than moving it up.

"There will still be a need in the future," said Will Moore of ViQuest, who coordinates blood drives at PCMH.

Medical students follow coverage of the attacks on their laptops during a Sept. 12 class. Photo by Cliff Hollis
Medical students follow coverage of the attacks on their laptops during a Sept. 12 class. Photo by Cliff Hollis


Contact: Doug Boyd | 252-744-2481