“If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one…”
Dateline: O.R. #1
You need to know this.
There is a wall in Afghanistan, and it wears a tattoo.
A young man, a young soldier, a young artist was stationed in Afghanistan, and he brought with him no easel.
And he brought with him no brush.
But he brought with him his talent.
But he brought with him his love of America.
But he brought with him his sorrow about those lost in the attacks of 9/11.
Yet in his medic bag he had a hypodermic needle.
And in the dust of Afghanistan he found tiny amounts of paint.
And in the dust of Afghanistan he found a scrap piece of board for his pallet.
There was a young man, there was a young soldier, there was a young artist who knelt in the dust of Afghanistan and dipped the point of his hypodermic needle into his drops of paint.
And on a wall in Afghanistan.
Drop by tiny drop.
With a needle, not a brush.
Drop by tiny drop, he drew a painting of the Twin Towers.
In Afghanistan there is a wall with a tattoo of the World Trade Center.
Put there by a young man, a young soldier, a young artist, a young American.
You need to know that.
” … drying in the color of the evening sun … “
For the past 10 years I have spent hundreds of hours on Google looking for one answer, looking for one number. Obsessed yes. Saddened certainly. Pissed off, definitely. It’s what drives the keys into the keyboard.
At some point every day the same thought comes. It comes when I see fire fighters, police, children, office workers, taxi drivers, janitors, guys in suits, women in suits, street vendors, airline pilots, flight attendants, the guy in the window seat next to me.
The same thought comes, the same search words appear behind my eyes as I Google my own brain. Looking, looking, always looking for one answer to all this, to all this madness that was 9/11 … or as I see it behind my eyes “nine-elevan-oh-one.”
Here’s my question, my obsession, my sorrow. It’s simple: How many lives have been lost since those four planes took off that September morning.
Now if you think you can find that in “About 153,000,000 results (0.30 seconds)” you need to know what it is I’m really looking for. I want to know how many people are not here on this planet NOW, or who will NEVER be on this planet because of the direct result of those planes leaving the ground on 9/11/01.
Give me a number of all those who have died because of those planes.
Give me a number of all those who will have never have lived because of those planes.
And then Google me the odds, of all those never anymore or all those who will never be, how many would have been Popes who would have turned into Saints.
How many Picassos have we lost. Have our children lost.
Was the child now never to be born, was he or she the one who knew the cure to cancer.
Tell me the odds.
Tell me of the scientist who never was who saved our blue rock amongst the stars.
Tell me of the leader who never was who brought liberty to all those who walked on the blue rock among the stars.
Tell me the odds.
Of the dreams we lost.
Of the future we lost.
When those planes took to the air.
” … tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away … “
The hills of Bristol, Conn., were just starting to turn my favorite color.
The ground was dyed green, the trees were tweaked with orange, yellow and red. Blue outlined the hill as the cloudless sky reached to the earth and seemed to just sit there.
I remembered a bird, could have been a hawk, could have been a sparrow, I remembered the animal played in the sky, up and down, wings would flap, wings would go still. Twisting turning, diving up, diving down, doing what you would do if you could fly and your mother wasn’t watching.
I stood there watching my favorite time of year, stood there leaning on a can, one hip had been replaced, one was still falling apart, and as I moved my right hand down to rub my right hip, I caught the reflection in the window of the large screen TV mounted on the wall of the room that the show I worked on, ESPN’s “Outside The Lines.”
And as the bird played outside, and the trees turned into a Norman Rockwell painting, in the reflection on the glass … I saw the towers crumble.
And in the room with me was my best friend at ESPN, the host of “Outside The Lines,” Bob Ley, and to his reflection in the offices of glass at ESPN I said this, “The world will never be the same,” and as I watched the young bird play, in the reflection of the glass I saw my friend wipe his eyes.
As did I.
And when I looked back, the playful bird, was gone.
” … but something in our minds will always stay … “
Several miles away, at the exact same moment, the man who replaced my left hip, Dr. Bob McAllister, was in the midst of doing a total knee replacement. “It was a good surgery, was really going to help the patient. We had the stereo on listening to two kinds of music … Country and Western.”
Then the music went away.
“They said on the radio a plane had flown into the World Trade Tower, and I’m thinking to myself what a horrible accident, but to be honest a part of me didn’t quite by it. And then, then it seemed just seconds later the guy on the radio said ANOTHER plane had just hit the other tower, and when I heard that, for a moment I just stopped doing what I was doing and just said out aloud … ‘We’re at war.’ “
For the rest of that knee replacement surgery, and the knee replacement surgery that followed, O.R. 1 was silent, “Not a single word was said, there normally is friendly talk and music going on, but it was silent, almost like a morgue.”
So you know, Dr. Mac as I call him, is the surgeon I write about when I talk about my Butt Replacement Doc — he prefers to call it hip replacement — but since we are also friends, he lets it pass.
Dr. Mac grew up in East Hartford, Conn., and was going “down not such a good path,” when he up and joined the Navy at age 17. Mac spent the next 6 years stationed, “boatside,” in Bethesda, Md., where he was trained as a medic/surgical technologist.
After that he came back to Hartford to complete his medical training and joined the Army Reserves where he spent the next 14 years, “Without my time in the Navy, things might not have turned out very well for me, so I joined the Army Reserves because I felt like I had to give something back for all that the military did for me.”
Back in O.R. 1 as he was doing the last knee replacement of the day, in the silence, in the sorrow of medical personnel all around him he told me he thought of two things, “The fact that we were at war, and the fact that I would probably be going to war as well.”
Mac, it turns out, was right on both accounts, and it wasn’t even noon yet on 9/11/01.
” … on and on the rain will fall
like tears from a star like tears from a star … “
Dr. Mac is also, Lt. Col. Robert McAllister. He has been awarded the Bronze Star. He has been awarded the Combat Medic Award. He is the Commander of the 947th Forward Surgical Team.
“I thought while I was still doing surgery that I would be called up THAT DAY, I mean the unit I ran was designed for this.”
What “this” means is just this, “my unit is designed to do critical trauma surgery on the front lines. Save the soldiers who would normally die before they could be transported back to a base hospital.”
That night when Dr. Mac went home, his wife LeeAnn was waiting, “I’m telling you Don, she is OK with the Army stuff, she is the daughter of a career military man. I met her while I was in the Navy … she gets it.”
For the first couple of days after 9/11 every phone call Dr. Mac got he was sure was his call-up orders, after a week or so it started to fade a bit … by a month the anticipation was going down … by March … six months after 9/11 … it was moved to the back of his mind.
“I was on rounds in the hospital and my pager went off … I was there with a resident on rounds and when I looked down at the number on my pager I could see the area code right away and knew what it was … I told the Resident to stay with the patient for a moment and when I returned the phone call the person who answered the phone did so by saying … Pentagon.”
After standing there for who knows how long just saying, “Yes sir … Yes sir … Yes sir … ” Dr, Mac was told his unit was being mobilized and that as the commander of the unit he, “had to call the 20 of my guys and tell them we were going over.”
His team took it as well as could be, many of their wives did not. “I would just hold the phone out to here (he is showing me arms length) and listen to them screaming or crying and all I could think was … ‘They blew up New York City, somebody has to go get them.”
That night at home he told LeeAnn, the daughter of the military man, the wife who got it, “I took her out on the porch and told here and she fell apart. My two sons Rocky and Ryan heard what they later told me they thought was a dog howling.”
Then he came in and told his sons, his fishing buddies since they could stand up in a boat.
“I told my oldest son, Rocky, I told him I was being sent to Afghanistan and that he was 17 years old today … tomorrow when you come down the stairs you have to be 25 … you will have to be the man here.”
And Rocky was.
And Ryan was.
And two weeks later, Dr. Mac was gone.
That’s because he was 10,000 feet up in the mountains of Afghanistan as the Commander of the Forward Surgical Team. The most forward surgical team in Afghanistan.
That’s because he was 18 clicks from the Pakistan border.
That’s because he was on the front lines attached to the 3rd Special Forces Group “A” Team.
That’s because he was doing orthopedic trauma surgery, in a converted goat barn.
This is what he looked like when he got there. That’s Dr. Mac on the right … we can’t say anything about the guy standing next to him.
That’s because while he was doing surgery, outside, the adobe goat barn was being sprayed with machine gun fire.
“I told my team … good thing we’re not in a tent, huh?”
Then he cracked open the special forces soldier’s chest, and saved his life.
“If we didn’t have these forward surgical teams … he wouldn’t have made it.”
And when I find the Google number of the lives lost or the lives that never were because those four planes took off, when I find that number, I will scratch one number off that list.
Then I will wonder, was that young man in the goat barn the one.
Will it be his child who knows the cure.
Will it be his grandchild who grants liberty to us on the blue rock.
Will it be his great-grandchild who brings us to the stars.
Or is all of that, now gone.
Because those planes, left the ground.
” … on and on the rain will say
how fragile we are how fragile we are.”
Tomorrow: B.A.S.S. meets M.A.S.H. Dr. Mac and I go fishing on a tiny Connecticut lake … Twin Lakes … the lakes he used to dream about fishing on when he was back on the front lines of Afghanistan.
“Twin Lake is one of my favorite places on earth … it’s where I brought my young sons to fish … I missed it so much … I used to dream about being on it at night and then I would wake up and all I would see around me was my green canvas Army tent and I would just yell out loud … No … no … no …”
And on this the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, this is where I took Dr. Mac back to.
And it was the lake, that cried.
That’s next …