Many iconic images shot in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks bring back sharp memories, like “The Dust Lady,” who recently died after suffering from mental health issues and cancer. The news of her passing is an important reminder that the resources of essential hospitals can only have an impact when those suffering are aware of available services.
Marcy Borders, the 9/11 survivor who recently passed away at age 42, was 28 at the time of the attacks and working for Bank of America. The haunting photo captured by an AFP photographer shows Borders covered in dust and moving through a yellow-lit hall.
According to the AFP, Borders suffered for a decade after the attacks from severe depression and substance abuse. She went through a recovery period in 2011, but recalled to the AFP that no one contacted her in the months following the attack though her photo was viewed by millions.
She lived without television, without social interaction, without grocery shopping. No messages of help penetrated this fearful shelter; she never learned about the free health services available to 9/11 survivors from New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC).
With this tragic loss, I am reminded of how important HHC’s World Trade Center (WTC) Environmental Health Center is for the thousands of people who are aware of it. From 2005 to September 2014, the Center treated nearly 8,000 people suffering from illness or trauma related to the terrorist attacks.
Today, the Center still enrolls new patients.
“Without appropriate intervention, the passage of time can exacerbate mental health conditions in WTC patients, and so can local and world events that stir up memories of 9/11,” says Nomi Levy-Carrick, MD, mental health director of the HHC WTC Environmental Health Center. “… The overwhelming experience of loss of control during a trauma can cast a long shadow over many aspects of decision-making and relationships with others. When that support system erodes, symptoms can worsen.”
Over the years, I have lived through many traumatic events worldwide, but it is rare that we as a community look back during a time of peace and quiet. Those with first-hand experience live with the aftermath forever.
Borders, for me, is a symbol of how many people fall through the cracks and how easy it is for us to forget the unique role that essential hospitals play in our communities. The more we can talk about this in the open, the more chance those people suffering in silence may seek help.