—Adam Trosterman, MD, University of Colorado Denver
Bellevue’s ICU is on the 15th floor, with an unobstructed view of lower Manhattan. When he got there, Dr. Trosterman had a perfect view of the horror at the World Trade Center. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God,’ ” he recalls. “There was a humongous hole in the tower. At that point, I almost started laughing to myself. Not really, of course, but … we had to mobilize a whole different system, which, of course, I was a part of. But it was no longer my typical role for trauma.”
The first patient Dr. Trosterman saw that morning was pronounced dead on arrival. Ironically, he says, the patient looked a lot like his best friend’s stepfather, who worked in the World Trade Center. “They were like parents to me,” he says. “I couldn’t get through. It wasn’t until the second day that I could make a call. I don’t think I spoke to them until Sept. 13.” (Fortunately, everyone Dr. Trosterman knew who worked in the towers survived.)
The next patient Dr. Trosterman saw was a police officer who had a dislocated shoulder and a small fracture. He was screaming and it was difficult to tell if his outbursts were pain-related, Dr. Trosterman says. “He was ranting about what had happened—appropriately ranting,” he says. “He was saying, ‘My partner was at my side and I was trying to save him, but I knew I couldn’t get him out and save myself. I just had to run or I would’ve died. I left my partner to die. I left my partner to die.’ It was horrible. He probably still feels guilty about it right now.”
Contrary to some reports, Dr. Trosterman says, Bellevue and other New York City hospitals were overwhelmed with work, if not injured patients. Much of the work following the attacks was moving inpatients to free up space for casualties. The trauma service ballooned by 40 patients. “We saw more people than we ever see,” he says, “and, literally, the same number of doctors. I was, physically, unbelievably busy. I was emotionally worried about my friend and his family, and I hadn’t had contact with anyone for 48 hours. … I was frustrated that all I kept hearing on the radio was that there were no patients. I was like, ‘You need to come visit me and see what I’m doing!’ It was nonstop and nobody was alive.”
The saddest part really was the faces. I remember a college friend of mine actually coming and looking for his girlfriend’s family member at the time, and I just remember how horrified these family members were going from hospital to hospital throughout the city looking for loved ones.
—Dahlia Rizk, DO, hospitalist program director, Beth Israel Medical Center, New York City
Dr. Trosterman cared for dozens of patients on 9/11, working into the wee hours of the night (see “The Most Interesting Patient,” below). He was told to go home at 3:30 a.m. but had to return to work at 6 a.m. He says walking out of the hospital that night was like walking through the morgue.
“Manhattan is one of the most happening places, and downtown Manhattan, it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, there’s always somebody in the street and there’s always something open,” he says. “Everything was closed, dead, silent, scary, barren. It was the most surreal thing I can ever remember in my life.”