Vonderlear's Story | Submitted by Vonderlear Johnson

I returned to work (MS, 2WTC 69th fl.) the last week in August, relaxed and in happy spirits after a two week vacation which included a seven day Caribbean cruise. I spent the week performing the following month end tasks:
Reconciling the G/L
Preparing and generating five allocation journals
Preparing and submitting five monthly expense reports

For Labor Day weekend, I went with my son Michael to Atlantic City. It was my intention to not only have fun and gamble, but to get rid of my recent work stress and further relax. I had a lot of work to do before reporting for jury duty on the 17th. I was one of the few people in NY that actually looked forward to serving on a jury. I always found the judicial process very interesting and educational. Especially since I had been a juror on four cases:
One civil suit (that was settled the first day of testimony)
One armed robbery (foreperson / acquitted)
Two murder cases (foreperson / acquitted) (guilty)

So I really wanted to get as much work done in the event I was once again placed on a panel.

On the morning of the 11th, I arrived at work approximately 8:30. I had picked up an onion bagel with cream cheese, then after putting down my bags in my cubicle fixed a cup of tea in the pantry. I removed my cast (Basal arthritis) from my left hand, so I could use it to eat my breakfast while using my right hand to access my voice mail and email messages. One thing about living and working in NY, multitasking is not a talent, but a necessity.

While reading my messages, there was a sound that seemed to me like a clap of thunder and the lights flickered briefly. At this time, I didn't pay too much attention to it, as this was not the first time in my 17 years at the WTC that this has occurred. After a couple of minutes, those employees on the West side of the building came over and said that a plane had just crashed into 1WTC.

Since I and most of the MS employees on my floor had been in the building for the terrorist attack in February, 1993, I followed my personal protocol devised after that attack.

I immediately grabbed my purse and small tote bag, placing in it back up diskettes for all my journals and reports and a telephone directory. On hind sight, I wish that I had taken my cruise boarding pictures off the cubicle walls, as these can never be replaced.

I then went to the main corridor where everyone else had gathered. We waited for a few minutes, hoping to hear an announcement from the PA. When that didn't happen, we collectively decided to start walking downstairs.

By the time I had reached the 57th floor, the PA started announcing that the building was safe and we should return to our offices. Since the stairwell door on that floor was locked, some of the people started walking up. I was still determined to leave building and started walking down. I found the door on the 55th floor unlocked, exited and made my way to the local elevator bank. A man who had the same idea as me was already there. After we could not board two completely full down elevators, we decided to take one up to the 61st floor (last floor in this bank) then ride down to the 44th Sky Lobby.

As the elevator started down it made stops at every floor. When we reached the 57th floor, a young woman had just exited an up bound elevator, looked at us and began to laugh. We wondered why she did this until we reached the 44th floor. There were wall to wall people, which to me seemed like a few hundred. I often think of this woman and wonder if she ever made it out of the building.

Standing on a chair with a bullhorn was Rick Rescorla, head of MS security. He was telling everyone to either go back to our offices or to my company's cafeteria on the 43rd floor via the escalators. The express elevators to the concourse level were shut down and security was not letting anyone walk down the stairs.

Still determined to leave, I started to make my way through the crowd. I figured the only way they would be able to stop me would be to have the PA police come and arrest me. That would have been just fine with me since the PAPD processing station was in the 5 WTC concourse level.

As I reached the middle of the crowd, Rick once again made his announcement. I looked directly at him making eye contact and thinking SCREW YOU! At that moment the second plane hit our building. The building moved north, what felt like several feet. Rick's chair blew out from under him and as he fell, on his face there was a look of shock and horror that I will never forget.

The glass waterfall for our Retired Executives area exploded with glass and smoke going everywhere. Shattered lights and tiles were falling from the ceiling. I was knocked off my feet and lost my shoes. During the stampede towards the north side of the building, people were stepping or falling on me. Out of fear and desperation I curled up as best I could into the fetal position and buried my face into the carpet. My legs seemed to get the worse of the trampling. When it seemed to settle down, Tony Farrand and another man from my company helped me to my feet and even found my shoes.

After, the 1993 attack, I always carried purses and tote bags with straps long enough to drape around my body so they couldn't be lost. When my coworkers assisted me off the floor, I had a purse in my hand. I assumed it was mine until I looked at and realized that I had fallen on another woman's bag. I held the bag up over my head shouting did anyone lose a purse. When I didn't get a reply, I saw Jorge (MS security guard) and gave it to him. He assured me that he would see that owner got the purse returned. That was the last time I saw him. When the building collapsed he was still inside checking floors with Rick and another security guard, making sure that all employees had evacuated.

The ironic thing about that purse, was the next day, while talking to coworkers via phone, I discovered that it actually belonged to Margarita Nisanova, another coworker. Margarita and her husband, Jewish immigrants had fled from Russia to the U.S. via Italy and Canada. She had only been working at my company for one year. On this day, her eight years old son had and afternoon doctor's appointment, so she brought him with her planning only to work a half day. Although I was concerned about all of my coworkers, I was especially so about her. I found out that they did make it out of the building and safely home. Her son had lost his both his shoes during the explosion and without her purse was unable to get him replacements. Having walked quite a distance from the WTC, a woman took Margarita into a store and purchased a pair of sneakers for her son.

Another MS employee, Kathleen, after the explosion had the foresight to grab a large beverage cup from one of the catering carts, fill it with crushed ice and offered the chips to people going down the stairs.

After I had walked down about four floors, my legs gave out with pain I suffered from the stampede on the sky lobby. I then used the handrails on both sides of the staircases (two between each floor) as crutches. At this time Andrea, Harry and an unknown man assisted me on the stairs. As we were descending, people from some of the upper floors told us that explosion was from a plane flying into our building. As we continued down, the air in the stairwell smelled of burning fuel.

Approximately around the 22nd and 21st floors, I had an asthma attack. Kathleen who was nearby said she should have an inhaler in her purse. Unfortunately, she was unable to find it.

I began having serious doubts in regards to getting out of the building. I told my three companions to go ahead on since I didn't want to hinder their efforts to safety. They absolutely refused, so with their continued assistance, we made it to the last exit in this stairwell which was on the Plaza level.

We had to go down the escalators adjacent to the floor to ceiling windows looking out on the Plaza. As we got over to the escalators, there was no way to avoid seeing the horrible devastation all over the Plaza, some of it bloodied.

To my great dismay, they had shut off power to the escalators and I once again had to use the handrails to hobble down. Harry walked behind me, Andrea and the other man (who never told me his name) was directed to go down the other one. When they reached the concourse level, they were not allowed to wait for me and I had lost sight of them.

When I reached the bottom, Officer Flannigan grabbed me and with help from Harry led me through the concourse over to 5 WTC where everyone was exiting onto the street. Officer Flannigan told me that it was his day off and he was on his way to Brooklyn when the first plane hit, so he immediately came to the towers to render assistance. A week later the NY Times website had the names and pictures (when available) of the known deceased. This could be sorted by name, company and profession. For three months, I religiously searched the site for police and was extremely relieved not to find Officer Flannigan's name listed.

Harry and Flannigan took me across the street from the WTC over to the triage area in front of the Millennium Hotel. They helped me to sit on the curb and then Flannigan went back into the center. Harry was determined to stay with me, but I finally convinced him to and find a working phone to let his family know that he was okay.

Soon after he left, EMT's came over, examined me, then gave me a bag with a portable oxygen tank and attached priority level two tag. I was told to take steady even breaths and be patient, that I shouldn't have too long a wait before being placed into an ambulance.

A minute later, the EMT's sat a gentleman (who appeared to be in his sixties) next to me, putting him on oxygen as his breathing was labored as well. We both sat there silently and then with no clue from either of us, we simultaneously looked up at the towers. Even now, pain and anguish doesn't come close to describing what I felt when I saw the cavernous holes with flames and smoke spewing out like an erupting volcano.

From where I was sitting it looked like the plane that had hit my building had entered where the floors of my company were. Immediately I started crying, trembling and much more difficulty breathing. I couldn't stop wondering if any of my coworkers or other MS employees were now dead. I began to rock back and forth like a child, when a woman came over attempting to comfort me.

Suddenly I saw exiting from 5 WTC, Louis Ortiz (he worked on the executive floor) carrying in his arms one of the secretaries. EMT's took her over to the priority level one area. Louis sat next to me and we just held onto each other crying. Soon, EMT's moved Louis to another staging area because he was experiencing chest pains and heart palpitations.

It felt like I had been sitting there an eternity, although in reality it was more like five or six minutes. I was both shocked and disgusted at the number of people taking pictures of all of us that were being treated and or awaiting ambulances.

The EMT's moved me from the curb over to one of the planters in front of the hotel, telling me that I would be in the next group to be transported to a hospital. A woman sitting next to me started to become hysterical. As I futilely attempted to comfort her, I then asked a passing clergyman from the church across the street to pray for both of us.

An EMT came over, removed the oxygen tank and led me and four other persons over to an ambulance (#334) in front of the hotel near the corner of Dey Street. I was the first one to reach the vehicle and with help from the EMT climbed in. As I was about to sit on the stretcher, there were shouts of RUN, RUN, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE. Despite the pain in both legs and difficulty breathing, I attempted to leave the ambulance. The EMT pushed me back into and down on the floor of the ambulance. He then climbed in, closed the doors. While shielding my body with his, he said that this was the safest place to be. As the words left his lips, there was thunderous rumble that shook the ambulance. Then it was immediately pummeled with what felt and sounded like huge boulders. I held onto the EMT with a vise like grip and with closed eyes, started screaming OH GOD, OH GOD, and OH GOD. After what seemed like something extremely large struck ambulance's roof, I thought, I'm going to die right here and now. I then said Father forgive me all of my sins and take me into your arms. This horrifying ordeal felt like it was never going to end and every time the vehicle was hit with debris, I expected that moment to be my last.

When at last it finally ended, I couldn't see my hand in front of my face. The EMT groped around for the emergency lights and when turned on was barely visible. He continued feeling around and found the vehicle's oxygen supply, fitting me and then himself with masks. We then sat on a stretcher holding onto each other. Finally he said my name is Ray and I was praying right along with you. He then told me that it was the south tower that collapsed. I was completely stunned finding out that the building I had exited approximately ten minutes earlier was no longer there.

Many times on bad days at work, I would think and on occasion tell a coworker that one day this job was going to kill me. I also realized that had it not been for the insistence of my coworkers in the stairwell, I would surely have been still inside at the death of 2WTC. To this very day, I can't believe just how close this was to becoming true.

As the dust started to settle, Ray said "let's make a date to meet here on the fifth anniversary of this day". I agreed, unfortunately, that is a date I will never keep. The very thought of going back to NY, the city I was born and lived in my entire life, brings on a panic attack, along with the fear that if I return, I will surely die. I can't help feeling ashamed that I let terrorists win by forcing me to leave my home.

When the dust cleared up enough for us to see, Ray asked me if I would be alright if he left alone while he looked for people needing help. I told him NO, but to go anyway, since I know if I was out there hurt, I would want someone to come to my aid. He opened the doors, got out and took a few steps away from the vehicle. He then quickly returned, then asked me if I thought I could walk. Again, I answered NO, but if it meant getting the hell out of there, I would.

As Ray helped me out of the ambulance, I couldn't help but notice that the height between the vehicle and debris covered street was significantly lessened. As I was getting out, I saw that the drivers section was severely damaged. I then decided not to look at the cab or the ruins of the south tower out of fear that what I see probably would be more than I could handle. So I just looked straight up Dey Street towards Broadway. While walking the debris filled street, it dawned on me that the sidewalk and street was now level. There was no need to step up or down from one to the other. With painful and unsteady steps, I made my way over to the wrought iron fence of the cemetery and used it to assist my walking as I followed emergency personnel directions. As I walked on the debris, I reached a point that felt like I was stepping on a body. Total fear prevented me from looking down. My vision became blurred and my body felt numb. I continued to walk, repeatedly saying aloud, I'M ALIVE.

I continued in a dazed state following directions away from the WTC. While walking, and Asian man drinking bottled water, with a concerned look on his face offered it to me. Now normally, I would never drink from another person's container (not even family members) but I accepted his water. It was only then that I realized I had sand like debris in my mouth.

Still walking where directed I came to a fire station, where a police officer in the entranceway was handing out face masks. He had given out his last one when I reached him, so he gave me the one he was wearing.

As I continued north, all of the office buildings were letting their employees leave. I don't remember what street I was on when three women approaching my position, smiling like they hadn't a care in the world, stated that they wanted to go over to the WTC to see what all the excitement was about. I told them that was crazy and they should get the fuck out of the area.

I continued heading north and when I reached Federal Plaza, I saw Andrea and Tony. As I walked toward them, I kept saying "it's gone, the building is gone". They responded to me but I never heard what it was they said. I replied, you don't understand, the building is gone. Then suddenly, there was another thunderous rumble and when I looked up, I saw the transmitter atop the north tower disappear. Andrea, Tony and I just stood perfectly still holding onto each other crying.

After a minute or so, Tony said we should start walking. So with Tony in the middle, the three of locked arms and started on our way. When we got a couple of blocks north of Canal Street, we spotted a Holiday Inn and simultaneously stated an urgent need to use a restroom. A clerk in the lobby directed us to the bar located on the mezzanine. It wasn't until Andrea and I saw ourselves in the ladies room mirror that we realized that we were completely covered in pulverized WTC debris. We were frantically trying to rid ourselves of the dust when a young woman came in with two glasses of water saying we looked like it was very much needed. We took the water thanking her and she left the bathroom. When we left the restroom and found Tony, we inquired at the bar if there were any working pay phones. When we reached the area, there was a very long line of people waiting to use them. Then we heard someone say ladies, over here. When we looked, standing near the front of the line, was the woman who had brought us the water. When the line for the phones formed, she got in it to hold spots for us. Expressing our deepest gratitude, we got into line.

When I dialed my home number I was expecting to get my voicemail, since the MTA had shut down all transportation in Manhattan and I didn't think my son had made it home yet. When he answered the phone on the first ring I was shocked. I said Michael; he then hysterically started crying into the phone saying thank you Mom repeatedly. I yelled to him, shut up. I told him there was a long line of people waiting to let their families know that they were alright and I didn't want to tie up the phone. I told him that I was basically okay (not wanting to worry him further) and from where I was calling. I also said that I didn't know at the time how or when I would get home, but I would definitely get there.

I asked him how he made it home and he said that he just arrived at work (Random House Publishing) when the first plane attacked. So following our post 1993 protocol, he immediately left the job and was able to get home before everything was shut down.

When I finished my call, I sat down in one of the lounge chairs (the first time off my feet since the ambulance) and waited for Andrea and Tony to complete their calls. When they joined me, we sat in silence for a little while in utter disbelief about what we just went through. We started to discuss our next move. Andrea lived in Staten Island, Tony in New Jersey and with no traffic allowed in or out of Manhattan, they were stuck. Andrea attempted to get a room at the hotel but it was full. With many more people seeking refuge there, they were fast running out of chairs.

Although I lived in Harlem (at least twenty six miles away) walking home was not an option for me. The longer I sat the pain in my legs was becoming very close to intolerable. My breathing had eased a little, but it was still labored and my chest felt like I had a ton of weights on it.

Since all available emergency vehicles were being used at ground zero, I decided to attempt walking to one of the two hospitals closest to the hotel (St. Vincent's – 12th Street Westside, Belleview – 16th Street eastside).

I told Andrea and Tony my plans, telling them that I thought it would be better if I kept moving. We hugged and wished each other good luck and I left the hotel still wearing my face mask and the priority tag I had been given in triage.

I headed north and after I'd walked a few blocks, a woman was noticing my difficulty, linked arms with me giving much needed support. When reached West 4th Street there was a parked bus and the driver was standing outside the open door. I asked if he was going back in service soon. He replied that he was there to help transport the injured to area hospitals. I showed him the tag, explaining my situation, then asked if I could board the bus. He refused, saying that the vehicle was reserved for injured emergency rescue workers. So the woman and I continued walking. When we had reached 14th Street and Union Square the woman said that this is where she had to leave and wished me good luck.

As I reached the corner of 15th Street, MTA dispatches announced that they were starting bus services, so I got in line at the nearest bus stop. Several buses passed by completely full. I looked around and saw that they were all coming from the eastside of 14th Street. So I got out of line and walked in that direction. Three blocks later I saw several buses lined up waiting to be dispatched. I walked over to a driver asking where he would be going. He replied his altered route would take him to 125th Street and 12th Ave. via the eastside. I lived on 133rd Street just off Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., eight blocks north of 125th. So I boarded the bus, praying that when we reached my destination I would be able to get off. So I sat near the rear door and within a few minutes the bus which was still waiting to be dispatched didn't even have standing room.

As the bus turned right onto Third Ave. going north, I caught sight of a clock and the time was 11:45. It took forever to get uptown, most of the time the bus was at a standstill until they reopened the subway. I rode the bus in total terror, biting my lips to keep from screaming every time I heard anything fly overhead. I finally got off the bus at 126th St. and Fredrick Douglas Blvd., found a pay phone and called my son, told which direction I was walking and had him meet me. When we walked through the apartment door it was after 5:00.

The first thing I did was call William ( my oldest son) in Dallas letting him know that I was basically alright and that I would be going to a hospital in a short while. I returned a few other calls. Then I removed all of the clothes I was wearing, placing them in a trash bag including my shoes and instructed my son to take it the trash cans outside the building. I took two extra strength Tylenol tablets, showered trying my best to rid my body and hair of all remnants of the collapsed building. I then turned on my stereo laid down and tried to calm down. My breathing had gotten easier at this time and the pain in my legs became tolerable.

As I lay in the bed, I immediately began having flashbacks, reliving every smell, sound and feeling over and over again. Experiencing that HELL repeatedly was excruciating. Around 11:00pm I started having severe chest pains and once again found it difficult to breathe. I decided not to call 911 knowing that the majority of emergency services were still downtown. So I got dressed and with my son walked to the corner in hopes of finding a taxi. The only vehicle we saw was a police car that wouldn't stop when we tried to flag them down. So we went back to the apartment and my son went to the manager's apartment asking if he could drive us to St. Lukes Hospital.

Once at the hospital, they immediately placed me on a Nebulizer. I commented to my son that this was the first time in my life I have ever seen an empty emergency room. Soon after, while being treated two detectives came over to talk to me regarding the WTC. They stated that NYPD had officers at every hospital to get any information they could about what happened.

As I was telling them my story, my breathing became erratic and I was having heart palpitations along with terrible pain in my neck and both arms. The doctor said that what was happening was a typical reaction to a traumatic event. She gave me something for the pain and Ativan to calm me down. She also requested the detectives cease their questioning, which they did. About an hour later, I was feeling and breathing better and released. When we got outside an off duty taxi was just leaving but he agreed to drive us home.

That night, although I dozed off many times, I was always awakened by a flashback. That morning I was tired, anxious, angry and unsure of everything. I called the member service's number of Aetna US Healthcare explaining my situation and requesting information for a psychiatrist in walking distance. They gave me the name of a doctor (whom I can't remember at this time) whose office was on 138th Street. I called and was told to come to the office around 3:00pm.

While I waited for the appointment time, I started my manager and other coworkers making sure that everyone had gotten home safely. I was told that everyone had made it to their homes safely except two electricians (Steve Strauss and Joe DiBianco) contracted by my company from Petrocelli Electric. Joe who would have had difficulty walking down from the 61st floor took with Steve the manually operated cargo elevator after the north tower was hit. Apparently Steve was on his cell phone with another electrician who was outside when the plane hit our building. From what I was told the elevator's (which was in the center of the building) cables were severed and they plummeted to their deaths.

I called one of the vendors I regularly dealt with, Guy Ball, his secretary said he was in a meeting and would take a message. One minute later my phone rand and it was Guy. He said that he told his secretary if I, my boss Sam or another manager Marc call, she should get him immediately, even if it meant pulling him out of the men's room. He inquired if we had any losses, which I told him. He then asked about my experience and when I told him, he cried like a baby. When he had calmed down, I gave him Sam's home number and informed him that the company was already looking for temporary work space and to be prepared to be called upon to replace hundreds of fax machines and copiers.

I spent the remaining time talking by phone to coworkers, friends and family. When I arrived at the doctor's office, he was surprised that my medical insurance company referred me since he no longer accepted them. But he agreed to see me anyway pro bono. After spending more than an hour with him, he gave me a prescription for an anxiety medication and wrote a letter for the state courts to excuse me from jury duty the following week.

I was unable to see my PCP, Dr. Brenda Matti. She lived in NJ and although she was a doctor still could not get into the city which was still closed off. I did eventually see her on Friday for follow up treatment for my breathing, legs and hypertension.

When I returned home, having filled my prescriptions for two inhalers, Norvasc and two other medications, there was a voice mail message from Sam. I returned the call and was told to report to work on the Tuesday the 18th at 75 Varick Street, 4th floor. I should wear jeans and old clothing since this was an older building which was a warehouse. I really didn't want to go back to work, but since neither my PCP or the psychiatrist didn't give me any documents stating that I should stay home, I went to work out of fear of losing my job if I didn't show up. I desperately tried to convince myself that going back would be good for me, forcing me to focus on something specific and possibly keep the flashbacks from occurring so frequently. I was wrong, it didn't help at all. In fact it only made it worse.

Since I was a MS employee for 17 years, I got annually five sick days and five weeks vacation. At this time, I had two sick days and one week's vacation for the remainder of the year. Of the 6,600 employees in NY, 3,700 worked in the WTC and company wasn't giving anyone any additional time off.

I was a senior accountant for the communications department, so I tried to concentrate on my work. Recreating databases, working with communication vendors canceling and restocking calling cards and working with equipment, leasing vendors and insurance companies regarding costs for destroyed and replaced equipment. While working at this location, I availed myself on more than one occasion of the on premise counseling the company had set up for the displaced employees.

Because the building was old, there was no central air conditioning. So they placed in the windows industrial sized units. This also contributed to the worsening of my flashbacks. We were located about a mile from ground zero and these units sucked in the fumes of the still burning WTC ruins. In addition to all of this stress, MS was laying off employees left and right, all that were previously located at the WTC. In some cases entire departments was closed down with no transfer of employees to other departments. In December, I received a promotion to Associate Accountant but received no increase in salary as the company had placed a freeze on all wages. I foolishly thought that because I was functioning that I was alright, even though I was waking several times during the night from night terrors. My company had counselors on the premises for about three months. I had three one on one session (my choice) and one mandatory group session with my department. Other than free breakfast and lunch, these were the only things MS did for the survivors.

In February, 2002 they moved my department to 825 Third Ave., 4th floor on 50th Street. The office space was much smaller than what we had at 2WTC, but definitely better than working out of the boxes on cafeteria lunch tables at the warehouse.

I still was tortured by flashbacks and night terrors. One day in March as I and my coworkers were entering the subway at the end of the work day, I saw and heard an Arabian suicide bomber scream Jihad then explode. I stopped on the staircase and was about to scream when I noticed that no one was reacting to this occurrence. I soon realized that I was having a hallucination. After that I stopped riding the subway, taking only buses instead.

In April, on Monday the week before Easter, while at work, I went to the ladies room around 9:30am, went into the stall and started crying. It was after 10:00 when I came out and still felt like crying uncontrollably. So I went to a conference room, locked the door and called the employee help line. I was able to speak to a therapist and was on the phone for over an hour. They arranged for me to have three sessions with a local therapist. I left the job right after I got off the phone explaining to my Sam what had happened. I read the four page list of mental health professional the help line faxed me. I made several calls leaving messages. By Tuesday only one returned my call saying her first available appointment would be in August. I then went to Dr. Matti's office who in between patients she tried to find and available psychiatrist. It was a futile search. She then suggested that I go across the street to St. Lukes Hospital emergency room and tell them that I needed an evaluation, which I did after calling my son at work letting him know what was going on.

I was escorted into a locked room where two people searched my body and belongings while another questioned me about why I had come. My son arrived at the hospital just as I had finished relating my story. The person I was speaking to asked if I felt like causing harm to others which I replied no. She then asked if I felt like causing harm to myself. I replied that I had thought about it and that I even considered combining all of my medications and swallowing them. I said that I just wanted the torture to stop. She continued talking with me then my son. Then she left the area for a few minutes and when she returned said that they felt I was not in immediate danger of harming myself and referred me to St. Vincent's Hospital, which was listed as having a 9/11 mental health program. We then went directly there via taxi and arrived sometime after 5:30pm. The clinic was closing for the day and we were told to come back in the morning. Wednesday morning we arrived at the clinic when it opened. Explained once again the situation, then given an appointment for the following Monday.

My son had previous plans to visit my niece Yolanda in Norfolk, VA leaving Wednesday night returning Sunday. Not wanting to be left in the city alone, we went home packed our bags and went to the Greyhound bus station and bought a round trip ticket for me.

Because this was Easter weekend the bus station was extremely busy. Security was at an all time high. There were police with dogs and National Guardsmen everywhere. I was very tensed and frightened. When we boarded the bus I carefully scrutinized every passenger looking for anyone who could possibly be a terrorist. I had in my mind that if one was to get on the bus, they could self explode while the bus drove through the Lincoln Tunnel killing hundreds while disrupting commuting to and from New Jersey. When we finally started on our way, I felt relief only after we exited the tunnel. I began to relax a little when we crossed the Delaware Bridge. I never slept on the bus. Whenever I dozed off I had another flashback. When we reached the Chesapeake Bay Bridge I had a panic attack that lasted all the way through to Virginia Beach. We arrived in Norfolk around 6:00am Thursday and I was a nervous wreck.

Being at Yolanda's house with her children, sister and her children had a calming effect and finally I started to relax. Since Yolanda's is in the Navy she lived in base housing. On the morning of Good Friday, I once again had a panic attack as several Navy jets flew overhead. I immediately thought we were being attacked. I woke everyone up then my niece explained that the jets were flying to Oceania for drills, and then she immediately apologized for not warning me that this could happen. It took the remainder of the day for me to calm down. The rest of the weekend was uneventful including a day trip to the beach.

On Monday morning at St. Vincent's, I twice related my circumstances, first to a social worker, then a psychiatrist. The doctor gave me prescriptions for Zoloft and Klonopin and an appointment two weeks later. They also told me the earliest available appointment with a therapist wouldn't be until June but I'd be placed on a waiting list for the first opening. One week later I received a call stating that they had hired additional staff and my first appointment with a therapist, Betty, was two weeks later.

I returned to work the following week. It was a struggle for me which was visibly noticed by my coworkers. It was approximately three weeks later that the Zoloft was starting to have an effect and my dosage was increased from 50mg to 75mg. By the end of June I was having weekly sessions with Betty and monthly sessions with Dr. McGowan. In addition to my medication for hypertension, I was taking 150mg Zoloft; 300mg Neurontin (arthritis, minor nerve damage left arm); eye drops twice daily (Glaucoma) and Advair (asthma) twice daily as well. Although there was no easing of the flashbacks I was sleeping better.

During the ensuing months there were many employees laid off (including my department) most of them WTC personnel. To add to the stress MS announced that there would be no salary raises. We were also told that my department would be relocated sometime in the second quarter of 2003. One of locations being considered was the Paramount building on Broadway and 50th Street on the 40th floor. When Andrea and I stated that we could not work that high up, the Division manager (who worked in midtown on 9/11) told us to suck it up and that we needed to get over it and move on.

At this time my son told me he was planning to relocate to Norfolk sometime around March or April. I panicked and immediately started making plans on quitting my job and moving as well, which I did in March 2003.

My niece helped me find and apartment in a nice neighborhood with a Super K-Mart; Super Wal-Mart and shopping mall all within 3 miles. At this time I was living in constant fear; too afraid to go any further than the 3 miles, not even to seek medical and mental health assistance.

In September of that year Norfolk got slammed by hurricane Isabel which was a category 1 storm. I lost electrical power around 6:30pm just after the news had announced that a tornado touched land within blocks of my apartment. I sat in bathtub for about two hours surrounded by my sofa cushions. Needless to say I didn't get any sleep that night.

I continued to live off my pension becoming more and more depressed while still being plagued by flashbacks and night terrors. On the few occasions that I visited my niece or saw neighbors, no one had a clue about how depressed and paranoid I had become.

When 2005 rolled in I decided that I had enough and my death would be the only way to rid myself of the flashbacks and night terrors. So I started planning my suicide by doing research on the internet. I discovered a book titled Final Exit and ordered it.

On November, 4th I sent emails at 3:00am to my niece and Andrea. I had also mailed letters to my sons in Dallas and Marana. I then filled a glass with milk and swallowed 100 over the counter sleeping pills. My niece who couldn't sleep that night read her email, called police and I was rushed to a hospital. I was spent three days in the ICU, one day on the regular ward then transported to Virginia Beach Psychiatric Center. While in the hospital, my son in Marana along with his fiancée said that they wanted me to come there when I was released in order to help me. I stayed there for five days and had daily sessions with Dr. Thrasher. He prescribed Effexor and Trazodone for me. I also attended and participated in all group therapy sessions. I inquired about possibly going on Social Security disability and Dr. Thrasher said that he wouldn't be able to approve since I had been his patient for only five days. He then told me that he felt that going back to work would be better for my self esteem and aid in my recovery.

December 4th I sold my furniture and packed up most of my clothes and Michael and I drove to Marana, stopping overnight in Dallas to visit William. Although I didn't portray it I was still in a constant state of fear. I forced myself to go to AppleOne employment and interview for temporary work. On January 20th I started work as an accounts payable clerk at First Magnus Financial Corp. This was a temp to hire position. I worked there for two months and suffered with depression; flashbacks and anxiety attacks daily. When having these attacks I would have diarrhea; severe spells of coughing and difficulty breathing bordering on a full out asthmatic episode. On St. Patrick's Day I was asked not to come back. They told me that although my work was good I was not personally compatible with coworkers. I guess that much was true since I did keep to myself and didn't participate in the usual office conversations. But, I know in my heart it was the chronic coughing that was the cause. My guess, they probably thought I had TB or some other infectious disease. It was a shame no one bothered to ask me about it, because they lost a good worker, but it did prove to me just how terribly wrong Dr. Thrasher's professional opinion.

This entire experience for me was overwhelming and disheartening increasing my level of depression. Once again I started isolating myself and having thoughts of suicide. May 4th, I finally hit rock bottom and knew that I had to either get help or die. So I had Michael take me to Northwest Hospital for psychiatric evaluation and was admitted into Sonora Behavior Health Center. From the moment I entered the Adult unit I felt safe and comfortable. I stayed there for eleven days seeing Dr. Mia and therapists daily. I was prescribed Effexor; Restoril and Ativan (prn). Dr. Mia diagnosed me SMI (severe mental illness) with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression. After several one on one session with therapists I was told that I shouldn't consider returning to work for at least a year. They all kept asking where I saw myself in a year or two and all I could say was that I can't see that far. Then I was asked what did it was I wanted for myself and my reply was to just be functional and not be afraid all the time. Even simple everyday stuff like riding a bus; walking to a neighborhood store or even making some phone calls can trigger an anxiety or panic attack. I told them that I needed and desperately wanted help because I can no longer live this way.

When I was discharged I was supposed to go to Caring Hands board and care. While Raichelle was driving me to Codac Marana I had an anxiety attack with severe coughing and difficulty breathing. After I was processed we then drove over to Caring Hands and I must say how grateful I am that Raichelle didn't leave me there. As we sat there waiting for the person in charge of the house to show up I began to get more and more anxious and depressed. Noticing this, Raichelle asked me if I thought I could handle staying here for a week or so until she could find someplace else for me. I suggested returning me to Sonora but she said that it couldn't be done. So she called my son and his fiancée Mia asking if I could stay with them for the interim.

I stayed with them for almost two weeks having multiple anxiety attacks and taking Ativan which is something I never had to do while at Sonora. Finally, she got the okay to place me in 7th Street house and after meeting with Mardria Williams, I felt not only comfortable, but safe. I know that one of the goals is for me to be able to live on my own, but at this time, just the thought of leaving my current environment depresses and frightens me. While here I've had a few anxiety attacks and still to this day whenever I hear or see a plane I tense up and have to watch it until it disappears from view, so sure that it's going to turn around and crash into where ever I am.

Whenever people find out that I'm a WTC victim, they always say that I am blessed and that God has a purpose for me. Well I don't agree with that and I even wonder if my life now isn't a punishment. All I can tell anyone is that I want the fear; guilt; anger; night terrors; flashbacks and depression to end. Is that asking too much, I hope not?

 

Voices of September 11th Connecticut Headquarters   161 Cherry Street   New Canaan, CT 06840   Phone: (203) 966-3911   Toll Free: (866) 505-3911
Voices of September 11th New Jersey Office   84 Albany Street   New Brunswick, NJ 08901   Phone: (732) 543-2300