By Umut Newbury
Originally published Sunday, Septemeber 16, 2001
Robert Ivy of Decatur was sitting at his desk inside the St. Vincent Hospital office building in Manhattan Tuesday morning when he heard the roar of a jet engine flying over.
“I thought it was a medical helicopter landing on the roof of the hospital,” he said. “You connect things you hear with feasible things and a 767 flying over downtown New York City is not one of them.”
Ivy works for Superior Consultant, a Michigan-based health care computing consultant company. For the last six years, he has been working as an information system specialist for different hospitals across the country.
In November 2000, he was assigned to St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City.
“I’ve been flying to New York City almost every week, except for vacations,” he said. “I usually leave early Monday morning and come back late Thursday.”
In New York City, he stays at the Holiday Inn at the United Nations Plaza across the street from the Israeli Embassy.
This week, he was scheduled to leave Monday morning at 8 a.m. as usual, but American Airlines canceled the flight. He took a later flight in the day, getting to New York City after 5 p.m.
Tuesday, he arrived at St. Vincent’s Hospital about 7:20 a.m.
“It was a beautiful day in the city,” he said. “It was a bright sunny day, people were opening their shops, buying bagels from street vendors. Within the span of an hour everything changed.”
After the first plane hit the World Trade Center Tower 1, Ivy said everybody in the office thought it was an “aviation accident.”
“We all went outside the building to 12th Street and Sixth Avenue,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of black smoke. You could look right down Sixth Avenue and the north face of the building is right there.”
The streets, Ivy said, were filling up with people and traffic started to thin out.
Seeing things happening on the television set is much different than seeing things in person, he said.
“When you see these 1000-foot buildings with a hole in it … ” Ivy said, his voice trailing off. “I don’t know why it affected me so much, but my co-worker and I stood there and cried for 20 minutes.”
Then, Ivy went back into the office building before the second plane ever hit Tower 2.
St. Vincent’s, he said, went into disaster mode in less than 20 minutes after the first attack.
“They set up a command center in the cafeteria and people started coming in off the street to volunteer,” he said. “They did great.”
Ivy went back to the office building after the first attack, but started to “feel stressed,” he said. “I didn’t know why I was feeling stressed.”
So Ivy left the office and went back into the hospital to put his name on the volunteer list.
He had worked at Parkland Hospital as a radiologist. He thought he could help.
“People started coming in by the hundreds,” he said. “There were too many things happening too fast and we hadn’t even heard about the Washington D.C. or the Pennsylvania planes.”
“When I worked at the emergency room I saw gun wounds, stabbings. I thought I had seen it all,” he said, “But there were so many injured people in one place – that was upsetting. I don’t know how other people handled it. I couldn’t handle it even at the volunteer level.”
What he saw in New York City Tuesday, Ivy said, cannot be described in words.
“You can say it is surreal or horrible, but then you think (those words) are not enough,” he said. “Seeing that many people screaming and sobbing, it was hard.”
By 11:30 a.m., after the second tower collapsed, Ivy decided to leave the area because he felt “unsafe.”
“I’ve never seen anything that traumatic … it was so vicious. A natural disaster would have been bad enough,” he said. “This was an enormous conspiracy. I thought one of the targets could easily be the nearest hospital.”
“They cordoned off everything below 14th Street,” he said. “So we were right inside the police line, where only pedestrians and ambulances were in.”
The streets, Ivy said, were filled with people, describing it as “Midway at State Fair and widen the width to a four-lane city street.”
People were mostly looking at what was left of the second tower. He had to walk to get to his hotel, because the cabs were not running, the subways were shut down and the city buses were filled with people.
At the Crown Plaza where the Holiday Inn is located, security was high.
“Because of the proximity to the embassy they didn’t want to allow anybody into the area,” he said. “The National Guard was there, I had to show my hotel key to get in.”
He felt safer at the hotel with all the security around and watched television.
“I was naive enough to think I could get on a plane Thursday,” he said. “Those of us who fly for a living don’t even think about it. But I was only kidding myself.”
Wednesday morning, Ivy said, he could smell the smoke in the air and started feeling “rattled.”
“There was a haze over the city,” he said. “I always fly on 757s from Dallas-Forth Worth to LaGuardia because they are more comfortable. Wednesday I didn’t think I could look at one that was parked.”
Instead, Ivy and another co-worker from Denton decided to rent a car Wednesday.
“I really wanted to get out of New York City,” he said. “Maybe others didn’t feel that way, but I was the only one from the company at St. Vincent’s when it happened.”
There were no rental cars available in New York, especially outbound, one-way. Ivy and his co-worker finally learned they could get one in Connecticut.
They had to take a train out of Grand Central Station to New Haven and then take another Amtrak to Hartford.
Once in the car, they drove 1,800 miles in 28 hours.
Ivy arrived home in Holly Ridge Friday morning.
“If we had not done it right then, I think we would have been still stuck in New York,” he said.
Now, Ivy says, it will be a while before he flies again.
“We planned a vacation to Las Vegas, too, but I think we’ll drive,” he said. “I don’t know how long it is going to be before I feel comfortable to fly again, but you can’t let these people change our routine and govern our way of life.”
As for his job, which relies on air travel, Ivy said it will have to be put on hold for a while.
“All bets are off for a while. I’ll probably dial into their computer line from home and do some remote work.”
Superior Consultant, Ivy said, has a counseling service for traveling consultants because of the stress caused by the job.
Thursday, he contacted the counseling service for the first time.
“I talked to them and I will probably keep on talking to a therapist for a while,” he said. “I feel OK most of the time, then it’s like someone’s hitting me in the back of the head with a sledgehammer.”
Ivy said he cannot pinpoint to the cause of the psychological effects of what he has seen.
“I don’t know if it’s empathy for the victims, or the fact that I’ve always flown American 757s or my personal fright, or the fear of what is going to happen to our way of life … ” he said. “You replay the whole thing in your head … if anything ever felt like a war zone, this was it and I can’t get it out of my head.”
It will also be a while before Ivy returns to New York City.
“It will be months before they get the rubble cleaned up. It’s not going to be a place to be,” he said. “It’s going to be a while before I feel safe being there.”
Look for more of WCMessenger.com’s special 9/11 tribute at www.wcmessenger.com/911.