Today, the President, his wife, aides, agents came to visit the families and the burn patients of the tragedy at the Pentagon. He left the burn unit a different person after the visit than he was before.
FULL STORY_The President approached the [hospital] unit, walking down a long hallway, accompanied by his wife and a cadre of staff (lots of agents!) and our nursing staff. He appeared chatty, engaging, and expressive.
Inside, we were 2 parallel lines of docs, nurses, aides, etc., forming a "U" around the burn unit. Altho' I am not a fan of this administration, I was the first in line (with my camera) on the outside perimeter, nearest the patients' doors..... He began by working the line on the inside perimeter, with his back to the patients. In fact, he walked past the first room entirely, including the 4 of us at the door to the first patient's room. When he did turn to us to shake our hands and thank us, it became evident as to why he passed us by.
When he turned around towards us, he caught his first glimpse of what the terrorists' carnage had wrought. This was not a building of twisted steel but a fellow human, swathed as a mummy in gauze, only the eyes/lips/fingers and toes visible, unrecognizable except by family (perhaps), and breathing thru a tube connected to a ventilator. In addition, there was the smell of burns, dressings and body fluids.
Before he went into the room, he was visibly shaken. He took that deepbreath we all take when we are trying to suppress emotions that are welling up inside. He looked directly at the nurse in the doorway, sighed, and entered the patient's room. I then moved to a new position-- at the opposite, left, corner of the "U", on the inner perimeter. He went from room to room, speaking to each family member, giving cheek kisses to some. When he finally turned left towards me, I saw his face again. He was a different man-- his walk slower, face more somber, shoulders more stooped, thank you's more deliberate, his hand shakes taking longer. By the time he reached the left corner of the unit, a colleague [of mine] awaited him, flag in shirt pocket, weeping. This encounter was just as difficult for the President.
Fortunately, a faux pas broke the ice. He turned unexpectedly towards me. A young female resident to my left took a flash picture right in his eyes. The President gave that scowl that only a father can give a daughter. She immediately apologized, almost dropping the camera, and said, "Oh my God, I've just been spanked by the President." Following the laughter by all of us, you could see his change. It was a little easier for him , tho' the burden was not entirely gone.
When he reached the last room, the patient, fully swathed /intubated, but wide awake vainly tried to salute. The President snapped a sharp salute and gamely tried speaking to him. By now he had finished seeing the patients and families and he was getting back his stride. When I hollered, "Give 'em Hell, Mr President", he turned and gave an affirmative nod and smile. Before leaving he posed for a picture with the "A team"(his words), thanked us on behalf of himself and the country, and asked that we participate in National Prayer Day........
To visit these seriously ill burned patients was not easy for the President (nor is it for some of us health care workers). I do not believe that he or his staff anticipated the full magnitude of those visuals.
But he did not need to be there, nor do this. This was not a photo-op. There was no press pool. The country was unaware of the particulars. This was personal , genuine, and it was heartfelt. A President walked into our burn unit today. A man with awesome powers at his disposal left--now keenly aware of the human toll and suffering of this "despicable act" ; humbled and mindful of our patients and families courage and strength, as he begins to test his.