Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Un-Answerable Question

            Last week at this time, I was hunkered down finishing a mid term assignment for my ongoing doctoral studies on a real life quality management project. Buried deep in abstract organizational and management theory, I struggled surprisingly hard to pull real life quality metrics and benchmarks out of the literature and a myriad of government and accreditation agency publications. Got it done. On time. Over the page limit (as usual). Irritated.
            The next day, the real-life process of quality improvement continued at a late afternoon meeting. Anxious to get home, get my head out of academia and work related problems, I flipped on the radio for a traffic report and instead heard breaking news about the bombs at the Boston Marathon. Zap. Back to 9/11/01 with my heart racing, my mind struggling to comprehend the reality, listening for every tidbit that would indicate it wasn't as bad as it sounded. My mind wandered back to what it was like on 9/11/01 working in the hospital, waiting for the casualties that never came because there were no survivors. The fear, the grief, the helplessness, the anguish. The big question-Why?
            I, along with a lot of my colleagues, have PTSD related to the events of that day. We go into health care to be heroes, to save people, to run toward the screams and the danger—not away from it. But that theoretical desire collides with reality big time in disasters—and my heart goes out to the first responders, doctors and nurses in the Boston emergency rooms who had to deal with all that—plus their own grief and horror as they pronounced the dead and made life and death. decisions in minutes on whose leg needed to be amputated and who got to go to the OR first.
            Coincidently, I am working on a Moth Storytelling based event about my experiences on 9/11 to commemorate National Nurses Week. And I made my home in Boston during my residency, not far from the big Citgo sign I see on all the pictures of Kenmore Square, deserted while the good people huddled in their basements and maniacs lobbed a bomb out their car window and shot anything that was moving. I've always said if there was another city I could live in besides New York it's Boston—and now both have their own sad legacy of terror and its aftermath.
            This has infused even more emotion and reality into my oral re-telling but it re-opened the wounds. It's hard to concentrate, focus, complete anything. I refused to make my son an airline reservation for his European trip that goes through Moscow, wishing he wasn't going at all. I'll pay more, much more, for what seems like a less risky itinerary but who would have thought watching a running race was risky? Who would have thought going to work one day in the Twin Towers would have involved mortal peril?
            One tidbit I do remember from the chapter on management of complex systems is to make some changes, no matter how small. So, I got on the subway yesterday to go to ballet class. The trains were packed with weekend construction disrupting several train lines and routes. I read my book, moved like a robot across the platform from the local to express, one eye on all the bags and backpacks around me. Walked from 86th and Lexington up to 93rd instead of from 96th and Lexington down. No choice—the Number 6 was bypassing my usual stop.
            I danced till my legs hurt more than my heart and got back on the train, sipping water from a bottle, scanning the faces, the bundles, the baggy clothes, the hoodies, looking for anything amiss. Got home and went to see "42" with my family and munched popcorn (loved the movie).
            Meanwhile, Bostonians held vigils for the dead and injured, celebrated the capture of the surviving suspect, and the death of the supposed mastermind. They took back their civilized and cultured city. They will recover. We will all recover. But we will never forget. We can't. We'll keep asking the un-answerable question: Why?