|A Chiropractors Experience at Ground Zero
By Dr. Mark Guarino, Chiropractor
I left for New York on Monday night October 1, 2001, to attend a family funeral in New Jersey and a "New Beginnings" Chiropractic Seminar on Thursday. The tragedy at the World Trade Center hit very close to home. I grew up in NJ and knew people who had lost their lives because of this senseless act. I was hoping at some point during my trip, I would be able to pay my respects to the missing and now dead. After the funeral I was taken into NYC to spend the next few days. My brother lives in Gramercy Park. I would be a city boy for the next few days. That night I took a 3-block walk to the armory where all the families with missing persons gather to fill out questionnaires and to display pictures of their loved ones. This place on Park Avenue became another memorial with pictures, descriptions and phone numbers of people lost. Everywhere you turned whether it is a fire station or a trailer with the beautiful bronze statue of a fireman grieving, people continue to remember. Everyone in New York talks about this tragedy 24 hours a day.
While in the city, I contacted a chiropractor friend of mine, Dr. Jay C. Liss. The next thing I knew we were with the cast of Adia getting the entire Broadway scoop. A lot of the people I have taken care of in Richmond during "Broadway Under The Stars" have permanent jobs in NYC. They welcomed me with open arms and allowed me all access for the afternoon. This was a great experience but one that would pale as the night continued.
That evening Dr. Liss asked me if I wanted to go to Ground Zero and take care of the Police and Firemen. I do consider myself an expert in the caring for the Police and Firemen. Henrico County's finest have been patients of mine for the last thirteen years. I have done Back Schools as part of in service training and have been on numerous committees with the department. I know how to relate to these guys. My relationship with Henrico County Police and Firemen in no way prepared me for what I was about to experience.
I was whisked below 14th street with the aid of a FEMA badge. I grew up 20 miles from the city, if anyone had told me that I would be in the only car going down to Battery Park with police barricades everywhere I would say they were crazy. We parked four blocks from ground zero and pulled the portable adjusting table out of the trunk. There were soldiers and police everywhere, checkpoint after checkpoint. Dr. Liss found soldiers that had been adjusted by the Chiropractors on the Red Cross Ship. We were driven, along with our Chiropractic table, in the back of a John Deer Gator. We then drove through every checkpoint without stopping and landed in Battery Park on the ship where people helping in the rescue went to become recharged. The place was full of food and drink. Rescuers were everywhere eating, talking, sleeping and getting chiropractic adjustments. We went up the stairs to the top deck where there were 5 chiropractic tables and 8 message tables. It was 1 o'clock in the morning and the chiropractors on duty were glad to see us. They have been coming down to ground zero since the beginning. They first started taking care of the rescue workers on the street in very difficult breathing conditions. I have friends who spent 36 hours straight caring for these workers. I was just happy to have known these Chiropractic men and women. One Doctor I met was seeing his patients during the day near Philadelphia and driving to ground zero and taking care of the workers all night. It was truly an amazing experience.
I spent the next six hours adjusting Police, Fire, Rescue, Red Cross, Electricians, and Steel workers. Each one had there own stories to share. At 3:00am a person's guard comes down (even in NYC) and you really get them to open up. I met a Fireman who had to dive under a car to save his own life. The car was being hit with boulders from the building and he was having a hard time coming to grips with why he had lived. He thought he had become blinded during the incident because he could not see for about two minutes due to all the smoke, fuel and concrete dust. He told me that he couldn't see his hand in front of his face. That is how bad it was and to this day he can't believe those buildings fell down. He talked about how it was a wake up call for him because he felt he had not done anything meaningful in his life. I don't think he even knew what a hero he was and how much admiration the country had for him. I told him all this and he was shocked. You see the same guys helping on that tragic day are now helping night after night. He has seen his kids four days in the last three and one half weeks. He knows nothing now except death and destruction and is living in a daily hell where a good day is that you found a body part or uniform from a missing comrade. Twenty-four hour shifts are the standard with no time off ...period. That night I gave him an adjustment and an ear. I am not sure what helped him more but they were both needed.
Throughout my all-nighter, the first one since Organic Chemistry at the University of Richmond, stories were being told caring was all around and no one was thinking of himself. If I was told once I was told 100 times how thankful everyone was that we were there to care for them. It was my honor to take care of these people. They were from every walk of life and were giving of themselves daily. I just did it for one night, with a lot of coffee, I might add. I learned in Chiropractic School that if a person had lasting purpose, they could achieve anything. Lasting purpose means that you give for the sake of giving, serve for the sake of serving and love for the sake of loving asking nothing in return. All the people I met that night had and shared that purpose and probably didn't know it. I am a better person for meeting them.
As these days continue, please remember these men and women. They are giving of themselves in ways we can't imagine. I saw a police officer come up for care not knowing what time it was or whether it was day or night. His body was there but his mind had checked out. This recovery will take a long time and the scars for some New Yorkers will last a lifetime. I may have been able to help many workers for one night but they taught me a lot about life. The irony: Doctor means teacher and I felt much more like a student that night.