While September 11, 2001 simultaneously seems so long ago and also like yesterday, one thing is for sure: the day is burned into my memory and it is one I will never forget.
I had been a practice owner for a mere 11 days and that Tuesday I was still working as an associate at a practice in another part of CT. My 8am-5pm shift required me to be on the road early, and I remember driving into work that day and looking at an incredibly clear blue sky.
My work day began like any other, and my first patient’s appointment went smoothly. I walked my patient up to the front desk and as I stood at the desk a woman from the reception area approached me and said, “Excuse me, but do you know how many casualties there were?”
Wait… What just happened?
I did not know what she was talking about! I was actually a little disoriented because I was merely thinking of what procedure I had just performed. I had just worked on tooth #31. There were no casualties!
When she saw my confusion she followed up with, “A plane hit the World Trade Center.”
I don’t remember answering her, but I do remember thinking that it was probably a small plane that had had a tragic malfunction. The reception area had a television that was playing a dental education video and I felt the need to turn on the news. I turned off the video, grabbed the remote for the TV, and put on CNN just in time to see the second plane hit the South tower. LIVE.
All of us that saw it gasped and looked at each other stunned.
The rest of the day is a blur. I remember being shocked that each and every patient scheduled in the practice that day showed up. News kept trickling in as the morning went on and the patients kept coming in. I heard that the towers fell. I heard that the Pentagon was hit. I heard that there was a plane down in Pennsylvania. Every time I thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did.
I remember eating lunch in the reception area with the staff. We sat in silence. No one knew how to process what we were watching.
As I walked out of the building at the end of the day I looked up at the sky. The amazing blue sky I had admired in the morning was still there but it was eerie now. I was so close to Bradley Airport yet there was not a single plane flying in the sky.
A few days later I was sitting in my newly established office when a fax came in asking for dentists in CT to volunteer to help with victim identification via forensic dentistry. I signed up without hesitation and after going through the process of getting clearance I got notified that extra dentists were never needed. There were few remains to identify.
That tooth possibly saved a life
Weeks later I was back at work at my associateship office. I finished cementing an onlay on #31 and I was saying good bye to the patient he said, “I want to thank you.”
Thinking that he was thanking me for working on his tooth I simply said, “You’re welcome!”
He replied, “No, look at when I was here last.”
I looked at the (PAPER!) chart. September 11, 2001 was the date of the preparation. I instantly remembered that he was the 8am patient that day.
I said, “Oh, yes, I remember that day.”
He continued, “I want to apologize for running out of here so quickly when that lady asked you about casualties and said that a plane hit the World Trade Center.”
“Honestly, I didn’t even notice that you did that, so don’t think twice about it” I replied.
“There’s more to it than that. I ran out because I was supposed to be in the World Trade Center that day. I had an appointment to fix this tooth in the Spring and I cancelled it because of a business meeting. At my last cleaning you talked to me about this tooth and you helped me understand why I needed to make an appointment to fix it, so I made my appointment for September 11. Shortly before my appointment a business meeting came up in New York. I had already cancelled this appointment once, and I didn’t want to cancel it again, so I told my boss that I needed to go to the dentist that day. He told me I could go to a meeting in Colorado the following week instead. If it weren’t for you telling me how important this tooth was to fix, I would have been in New York City in the World Trade Center that morning. My company has lost quite a few people and I might have been one of them. So, thank you.”
With a tear in my eye I answered, “You’re welcome. I guess this will forever be your lucky tooth.”
He shook my hand and put his other hand on my shoulder and said, “It certainly will.”
I can’t remember that patient’s name, but I will always remember this story. I hope that his onlay is still out there going strong and giving this man continued luck.