by Gary Beck
The explosion caught me by surprise and knocked me off my feet. I was one of the lucky ones. I hadn't reached the building yet. The blast, shock waves, flying glass, metal and concrete shards killed I don't know how many, and wounded many more. I may have hit a wall with a thump that would leave me bruised for weeks, but I was intact. A quick personal body search confirmed my instant diagnosis. I tested the various parts of the apparatus and found they still worked. Everything hurt, but I got up and joined the other walking wounded, who were going to aid the victims with the best survival chances, at least until emergency services arrived and took over. If they arrived. Secondary explosions went off nearby, indicating that al Qaeda had closed the access routes for ambulances and fire trucks.
This seemed to be the standard type of terrorist attack that had become painfully frequent. A medium-size office building without any particular political, economic, or military significance was targeted. A suicide bomber detonated himself in the lobby at rush hour, then improvised explosive devices were set off nearby to prevent assistance from reaching the site. I had developed some skills in evaluating survivor's chances and although I still had misgivings, I tried to the best of my ability to practice humane triage. It was a harsh process that hardened my heart to suffering, but it was the only choice, except for shirking responsibility to my fellow victims. They needed my help. I might need theirs soon. You never knew these days.
This was one more tragedy in the series of organized attacks that had recently swept the city. The first series targeted open-air markets. The pattern was simple. A suicider detonated himself, killing and wounding dozens. When the crowd panicked and stampeded, a second bomber detonated himself and killed many more. After several markets were devastated, people shopped elsewhere. The next series targeted cineplexes. Bombers detonated devices filled with nails in three or more screens at the same time, killing hundreds. People stopped going to the movies. The most recent attacks were the unexpected assaults on average workers, in average buildings, and was sorely testing the morale of a people under siege.
I managed to grope my way through the smoke and set about the horrible task of separating those who had a chance to survive. Other men and women were doing the same thing and we worked quietly, without supervision and cooperated whenever we reached the same victim. Blood, broken human bodies, and severed parts were everywhere. The moans, cries and screams of the wounded were getting louder. Facial expressions were either anguished or bewildered. We did our best for hours. At last the sound of approaching sirens told us that help would be here soon. I stared at a terrified young woman's face and whispered soothing words, as I tried to stop the arterial flow above her missing leg. Help would not arrive in time for her. EMS finally took over. I knew there would be no work today, so I headed for the subway, fervently hoping they wouldn't bomb it before I got home. I couldn't help thinking that it was time to pack up the family and leave New York City.