What does my memory of 9/11 have to do with medical malpractice? Believe it or not, there is a connection. It was in my capacity as a medical malpractice defense lawyer, back in the day, that I was traveling to Staten Island that morning.
I was in the middle of New York Harbor, on the Staten Island Ferry, on my way to a court appearance at a facility called “The Home Port.” The Home Port was once a Navy base, but had been turned into an outpost of Richmond County Supreme Court. About halfway into the trip, passengers began talking, and then shouting, about a passenger plane that had hit one of the World Trade Center’s towers. Some gathered on the deck, myself included, to look back toward the towers, to see if we could observe anything. As I was turning to look, I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye, and heard the people around me start to scream. The second plane had just hit, and suddenly the idea of a wayward private plane accidentally hitting the towers morphed into a base fear that we were under attack. And we felt particularly vulnerable being out on a large, lumbering, orange ferry boat in the middle of the harbor.
The level of instant panic was such that the ferry began to list to one side—the side where all the passengers had gathered to watch for the next event. The ship’s captain ordered the passengers to disperse evenly within the boat, and assured everyone that we were headed to shore as quickly as possible. Upon arriving at the dock in Staten Island, ferry service was stopped, and we were instructed by various emergency personnel to gather on the plaza above the ferry terminal. By this point, we’d had further and more accurate news about the coordinated attacks. Unfortunately, this news was mixed with rumors and exaggerations, such that I feared for my toddler and my pregnant wife, who were in the downtown Brooklyn area, where I had heard that bombs were slated to go off.
The irony that all this was happening on a picture-perfect fall day was not lost on me. Some more time passed on the plaza, and suddenly, the first tower began to crumble. People near me cried out in disbelief. But when the second tower fell a short time later, many more were affected, including myself. Some were crying hysterically. Some, like me, were mute with shock and sorrow. It felt as if the world had changed, and, of course, it had. Communication was out, and access to and from Staten Island was shut down. I got the last room at a flea-bitten truck stop of a motel somewhere on Hylan Blvd., and stayed up all night watching television news of the attack. In the morning, I caught a city bus over the Verrazano Bridge back to Brooklyn. You could see the enormous, gaping, smoking hole where the towers had stood as we rode across the bridge. I went home and found my family.