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Member since: Thu Nov 6, 2008, 02:01 PM
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A Repeat: The 36 Hours That Changed My Life...

Reprinted from 9/11/2009


Warning: This One is Serious

Today is not a day for politics. Especially the way I treat (or if you prefer, mistreat) them. Today is for remembering…

I had only met John Feal once before, and only briefly at that. A friend with whom I was working on a political project suggested that I attend a rally his organization, the FealGood Foundation, was holding in Washington, D.C. to not only show our support for 9/11 first responders who had become ill, but also to see if there was a way we might help their cause in the course of pursuing ours.

I emailed John to express my interest in hooking up with the group and attending the rally, and asked him if he knew the best way for a non-driver to do so. He responded that his foundation and another organization, 911 Health Now, were sending buses and providing hotel rooms and meals, and invited me to join them for the trip. The only condition: no political discussion until after the rally. At the time, I had no idea of either how easy that would be or how this one simple act of graciousness and hospitality would forever change my values.

Had I met them for the rally, I probably would have taken a train to D.C., attended the rally, chatted briefly with a few people, and jumped on a train back home. Instead, I found myself on a bus, immersed for the next 36 hours in a group of the most amazing, heroic, inspiring, and most of all, astonishingly ordinary people it has ever been my privilege to meet.

Being an outsider, I felt somewhat uncomfortable at first. When I met people from this group for the first time, one of the first questions they invariably asked was, “Where are you being treated?” Not being a first responder, let alone seriously or terminally ill, I would somewhat sheepishly tell them that I was just along to stand with them in front of the Capitol. Every one of them responded in the same way, “Well thank you so much for coming.” More importantly, they treated me with the same spirit of family in which they treat each other, taking in this outsider who shared none of their experiences, none of their pain, none of their tragedy, as their own.

Some of them knew each other. Most were meeting for the first time. But there was an instant kinship they all seemed to share. They were in their comfort zone. They shared their stories freely – personal stories about their ordeals — physical, psychological, and to the shame of our country, financial. And, in spite of what each was experiencing themselves, like family, they would help and support each other as best they could. Men and women, not only firefighters, police, and EMS, but security guards, plumbers, carpenters, Red Cross workers, National Guardsmen… not just from the New York area, but all over the country.

The only time there was a pause in the usual conversations about where they were within Ground Zero, when, and for how long and the related illnesses, diagnoses, treatments, and financial and other struggles that have resulted was when a couple of movies were shown. They knew when someone would have a coughing fit to leave them alone. It wasn’t cold or flu, it was the cement dust that will always remain in their lungs because the human body can’t break it down, a.k.a. ‘Ground Zero Cough’. The only time one of the nurses on board knew, instinctively, to intervene was when one more serious fit started as the result of laughter during the movie they all seemed to be enjoying – The Bucket List. Talk about a crew with a sense of humor I can appreciate!

And with this outsider, these people who had already given more than any human could dare ask, not only shared their meals, their stories, and their precious time, but also their experiences. One was a firefighter who had, at most, three months left. He was there in the hope that Congress would act soon enough for his family to be able to have a home and live in dignity after he was gone. One was a mother with cancer who rarely could spend time with her family because she was so exhausted from working that she spent the rest of her time sleeping – but she couldn’t quit her job because she’d lose her insurance and as a result, her home. One was a plumber who came to the U.S. as a teenager. He was successful and financially secure, and volunteered at Ground Zero because he wanted to give something back to the country that gave him so much. By now, his savings and 401K had gone to pay medical bills and he was unable to make ends meet. Another, who didn’t survive long enough to make this trip but who I met the first time I met John and deserves to be remembered, was a National Guardsmen who reported to his Armory immediately upon seeing the first burning tower on TV. Like many others, he was issued full gear, including 360 rounds of ammunition with which to protect the public from possible attack. But since the Governor didn’t officially mobilize the Guard until September 13th, he was told he was there merely as a volunteer, and his health benefits were denied.

I could go on…

On this day when, as we should, we remember the nearly 3000 lives that were cut short on September 11, 2001, let us not forget the 817 first responders who have been forever lost since, as well as the thousands more doomed to follow them. Hailed as national heroes at the time and since generally forgotten, many remember the $1 billion fund the government set aside for their needs. What most don’t know is that the only money spent out of this fund was for lawyers to challenge the approximately 8000 claims made. Not a single dollar went to these heroes or their survivors left with unpaid medical bills before the Bush administration ‘re-allocated’ the money. When I met them was in February of 2008, when they went to protest the government fund allocated for the care promised them being cut by more than 75%. At that time, about 230 or so had died. I know that many of these extraordinary human beings who shared those 36 hours of their precious time with this stranger are among the recent 600.

And I’ll never forget when I thanked some of them for their hospitality. Their response was always the same and was as sincere and wonderful as it was horrific: “No — thank you. It’s nice to know somebody cares.”

Please support the Feal Good Foundation and 911 Health Now.

And call or email your Congressional Representative and urge them to support H.R. 847 The “James Zadroga 9/11 Health Compensation Act”.
Posted by ThisThreadIsSatire | Tue Sep 11, 2012, 09:49 PM (7 replies)
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