Where Were You on 9/12?

Images of planes crashing into the Twin Towers flash behind my eyes, as I listen to the veteran before me haltingly describe his flashbacks from the IED explosion that changed his world forever. Years have passed for all of us, and nothing remains the same. It is the question of our generation: Where were you on 9/11?

I was a physician assistant student. As anyone who has survived PA school will tell you, there is no lower person on a medical team than the PA student. Scut work and long hours are the norm, and I had not yet even earned the privilege of standing in scrubs as the lowliest member of the team. I was still in that first long didactic year, where Socrates’ words held sway: I was learning all that I did not know. Navigating the streets of downtown Detroit, inhaling the acrid perfume that cadavers wear, and desperately memorizing the biochemical pathways that make us human, I despaired of ever knowing all that I needed to know to care for others.

Back in class on 9/12, a Wednesday, my helplessness multiplied. There were so many hurting, and in need, and I was a lowly student without the tools to help anyone. Like everyone else, I had spent the day before numbly watching the unlikely images of planes gliding into skyscrapers, gaping holes in the Pentagon, and ash-covered firefighters kneeling in prayer. I stared at my hands, pen in hand, aching to grasp the skills that could bandage or suture or make a difference, somehow. Laying my hand on my daughter’s head that night, I wondered what the world would bring for her, and for all of us. I resolved to learn all I could to make the world a better place for her and others.

The question we should ask of ourselves, and others today is this: Where were you on 9/12? If 9/11 was the day the world changed for us, 9/12 was the day each of us took stock of where we stood, and took the steps into a new future. What resolutions did you make that day? What changes did we make that have led us to where we stand now? And now, so many years later, I wonder at the journey that we as a nation have made, and look back at the person I was, and marvel. Since that day, my husband left his lucrative, but unsatisfying job to become a firefighter/paramedic, and I, like all firefighter’s spouses, lie in bed waiting for the call that he is safe. I know there is more innocence and laughter in the world, because I have brought two more children into it.

And today, I sit before this veteran who has served our country in the fight against terror, and the tools I use every day, are the tools I had then, though I did not know it. I did learn how to suture, and bandage, and administer medications that will heal and soothe, but what I have learned since 9/12 is this: The single greatest thing I, and anyone else privileged enough to be present in the healing process can do, is listen. Though these hands have finally acquired the skills I so longed for as a student, today they grasp the hands of the soldier in front of me, in gratitude, and somehow, it is enough.

Today, I also had the privilege of handing out awards to PAs from around the state. As part of my committee work for my state PA society, I learn about all the good work being done by PAs around the state through nominations by other PAs. It is humbling and gratifying to see all that others do every day, without thought of recognition. I am proud to be able to recognize all these paragons of our profession, and share their good work with others. Many are working in rural clinics, taking care of underserved populations, and making a difference merely by their existence. It truly is a blessing, and I am grateful to be surrounded by such inspirational people. It gives me hope for our world to be in the presence of all these good people. Our state PA conference honored them, as well as all those we lost on 9/11. All of us reflected on where we were on 9/11, and we had several PAs who are either veterans or are currently serving in the National Guard. Perhaps it is my own bias, but I feel blessed to work in a profession where serving others is our priority. Many tonight spoke of the same resolve to be part of the change to make the world a better, more peaceful place. Please feel free to share your story of where you were on 9/11, and what you changed on 9/12 that led you to where you are today.

2 thoughts on “Where Were You on 9/12?

  1. “The single greatest thing I, and anyone else privileged enough to be present in the healing process can do, is listen.”

    This speaks to so many forms of loss and heartache.
    Thank you for sharing it, Nguyen.

    With heart,


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