Every year Mary Bannan gets a letter requesting she undergo a physical.
It doesn’t have to do with her age or previous health conditions.
It has to do with the two weeks Bannan spent at ground zero.
“We had hard hats and masks,” the retired nurse said, “but when you’re trying to take a blood pressure it’s really hard. We had our ventilators down half the time.”
Bannan was assisting in surgery at Medical College of Georgia Hospital the morning of Sept. 11 when a nurse ran in and announced a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Before Bannan’s heart quit pounding, the nurse returned announcing a second crash.
Less than 24 hours later, she was on her way to Washington, D.C., with about 30 other members of the Disaster Medical Assistance Team to assist at the Pentagon. After arriving, the team learned it wasn’t needed.
It was nearly a month before Bannan got a call asking her to join a team headed to New York.
When she arrived Oct. 8 for the first time in a decade, she didn’t recognize the city. The smoke from fires was still rising from the fallen buildings.
“You could smell burning all over,” she recalled. “There was dust everywhere. All the firemen and police officers were over the pit right next to the excavators still looking for their comrades that were dead.”
The team of doctors, nurses, EMTs, logistics experts and security specialists busied themselves caring for those clearing the site.
Many times, Bannan said, rescue workers would come in for first aid and discuss the emotional toll the job was taking. Others sat silently, completely withdrawn.
“It does take an emotional toll,” she said. “You don’t realize at the time how much of an emotional toll you go through. You come back and you’re still emotionally upset about what you’ve seen.”
For the 10th anniversary, Bannan said she felt the need to be near the site even if she won’t be allowed at the ceremony. She and her husband have already made arrangements to be in New York.
Several times she’s been back, always taking time out of her vacation to revisit the site and recall the time she spent there that October.
In her home, Bannan keeps a journal of her two weeks at Ground Zero, as well as stuffed animals, drawings and work gloves sent from children across the country to lift the spirits of the workers.
“People might want to take a moment on the 11th to look up there and hope and pray it never happens again,” Bannan said. “Those of us who were there are more aware of it and how horrible it was. We never want to see that on these shores again.”