Doctors Who Tried to Help

Hospitals Prepare for the Worst, and Then Wait

"As a surgeon, the body parts have much less of an impact," said Jennifer Svahn, echoing her brother's sentiment. "But the grandiosity of the absolute destruction of Manhattan, which used to be unthinkable...we thought we were safe. The skyline is unrecognizable. And you just get lost in the carnage. It's hard to know where you are. Everything isolated, deserted, it's a white ghost town. Food carts were abandoned, stores were just sitting there deserted with their doors open, cars were incinerated and flipped over, windows were busted out. On the positive side, New York's tremendous division along racial, economic, religious and gender lines are just gone. Everybody is involved, they all want to help This is the first time in a long time I've felt any collective public respect. It's a notable feeling that we, as doctors, discuss among ourselves."

The Svahns come from a long line of physicians. Their mother, Karin, was a nurse. Their father, Dr. David Svahn, will be conducting an assembly this week in Cooperstown, New York, aimed at deciphering nineteenth century medical jargon to diagnose the final illness of the American novelist James Fenimore Cooper, on the 150th anniversary of his death.

Both Jonathan and Jennifer plan to stay in New York City. "I'm a firm believer that if people start moving out of the city, not going out to dinner, being afraid, that's a way of letting them win," Said Jonathan. "Personally, I'm determined not to let that happen," said Jonathan.

"Everyone is distracted," said Jennifer Svahn, "but life must go on. It's a personal fear, literally, not just an existential fear. I believe that in the next week they will be saving some of the victims still stuck in the rubble. Those who haven't starved to death or dehydrated, or died of injuries that are going untreated." But she's seen enough of downtown Manhattan for now. "It's war zone, and my brother, my husband and I have agreed that unless we're needed medically, we're just not going back there."

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