Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

September 11, 2001

I had just finished my first case of the day in the gynecology operating suite at New York Presbyterian Hospital. My patient had been transferred to the recovery room nurse, and I sat by her bed to write my notes. Then I was paged to the phone. It was Mommie, from her home in Columbia, Ky.

She had found me in the recovery room at the hospital. “What’s wrong?” I remember asking her quickly. She was 82, after all.  “Nothing is wrong with me, but people are flying airplanes into the Twin Towers,” she said. “Where is Ashley? Where is Douglas? Are they safe? Can you find them and go home to the country?”

I swear I thought my mother had sudden onset dementia. “Turn on the television in the Recovery Room,” she shrieked. And there it was. Visuals seared in my mind by a branding iron of disbelief, panic, disorientation.

Visual memories that are as fresh this morning as they were on September 11, 2001.  “I will find your grandson and my husband,” I promised. “But, I have to get off the phone now, because the hospital and all of us will be involved in rescue work and the phone lines will be needed. I will call you as soon as I can find the guys.”

My husband had flown into Boston that morning, leaving from LaGuardia at the crack of dawn. Rumors were all over the media at that point about hijacked planes leaving from Boston, and I was in a panic. I could not reach him for hours, since the cell service was out in much of the northeast. I was able to get to my office and calm my staff. I knew I had to find my son, find my husband and make a plan. I called the hospital to volunteer, but they were overwhelmed with physicians by this time.

My son has asthma. He was two blocks from the Twin Towers. I knew he needed to get to the river and walk uptown, no matter how long and difficult that might be. I reached him at his office where he was standing at a window on the 30th floor watching the nightmare close at hand. “Get out and walk home,” I insisted. “Do it now.”

I knew that the black smoke coming out of those buildings could cause him to have an asthma attack. There would be no one to resuscitate him if his simple asthma medicines did not work. I focused only on this small problem because the horror of September 11th continued to unfold and I had to hold on to something concrete: Get Ashley here. Find Douglas. Go home.

Ashley did take that long walk up the river, with thousands of other refugees from Wall Street and lower Manhattan. He made it to my office, and we found our way to the train that took us close to home.

I found my husband through his best friend’s law firm in Boston. He rented the last car in Boston, drove back to New York and picked us up at the station in the country. We knew we were lucky to make it home safe.

I remember the lost ones and the bereaved today. I remember those who never made it home. I remember those who waited for hours and days and weeks and months for something that they could just hold on to.

I am reminded today of that afternoon train filled with strangers, united by gratitude that we were all going home. Grief and gratitude. The bookends of life.

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  • Ainslie Jones Uhl September 12, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Pat describes so well the events that left her with “grief and gratitude” on a day that changed all of our lives irrevocably.

    My husband phoned me from LaGuardia on that morning to say he was okay. He had flown in from Boston, had been at Logan boarding his flight as the terrorists were boarding theirs. After that call, we could not reach each other for hours. Transportation out of the city was frozen. Several days later, he was able to rent a car and drove all the way to North Carolina.

    We wrapped our arms around each other and our children, embracing sadness and joy, clinging to hope, holding on to deepest gratitude.