Currently, the information on this site should only be used as future travel inspiration. Also, this post contains affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you book or purchase through these links. You can read my full disclosure policy here.“Triage your patients and clear out your SICU to the extent you are able. We are sending you patients from NYC, victims of 9/11.”
Although the quotes are for emphasis only, this is a paraphrasing of the phone call the SICU (where I was an RN) received on September 11, 2001. It was a day that changed my life as a critical care RN and laid the groundwork for a future bond to New York City that would be years in the making.
We’ll return to this later but for now, a bit of back story…
The number one question I’ve been asked this year is “Where is the first place you want to go when it’s safe to travel?”
My answer comes quickly without fail each time. “New York City”, I always say without missing a beat.
Flying into NYC after a recent thunderstorm
“Why?” is the follow-up question they quickly volley back. “You’ve been there several times.” This is a very true statement. If asked how many times, the only appropriate answer here would be “countless”.
Back to the question. The simple and short answer is I love NYC. But the real, heartfelt answer is much, much longer.
Hold on for the ride and stay with me, please.
Most people are either East Coast or West Coast fans. Big city fans or smaller city, country fans. Los Angeles fans or NYC fans. All of these choices are typically polarizing when presented to any random American.
Born and raised in the South, Los Angeles was a dream city for me ever since my dad went there on a business trip when I was a little girl. One day, I was going to travel there. Little did I know back then that one day I would not only travel there but live there!
Santa Monica Pier, Los Angeles, California
Now, if I had presented those same choices two paragraphs above to myself back then, I would have chosen “West Coast, big city, Los Angeles.” Today, I would choose “East Coast, big city, NYC.”
I am quite surprised by my own change in preference. But you see, I made it to New York City way before I made it to Los Angeles. I first visited New York City at age 17 with my high school wind ensemble to play Carnegie Hall. Totally caught off guard, I became completely mesmerized.
However, it would still be years later with many more life experiences behind me before I would truly realize just how much I was mesmerized.
Fast forward a decade from my very young 17 years of age to the still young age of 27. I had been a travel RN working in Atlanta, Georgia, and Phoenix, Arizona. I had met my future husband before I left on these adventures and we had become engaged. It was then that I discovered my husband’s job would take us to California.
I would become a resident of Los Angeles!
Santa Monica Pier
I loved life in Los Angeles and I had the best RN job of my career there. The weather was fantastic all the time and everything I could ever want to do was in the City of Angels.
However, all good things come to an end and my California living was no exception. I decided I would return frequently and 13 years later, I’ve made it back annually for most of those years.
As life progressed and I embarked on new adventures that included the switch of professions from a critical care RN to a professional traveler and blogger (by way of professional background actress), I found myself celebrating my 40th birthday on New Year’s Eve in New York City. A bucket list item.
New Year’s Eve in Times Square: Spending my 40th Birthday in New York City
Something ignited in me. Although I had been to NYC a couple of years prior, something changed that trip. I would spend the entire next year trying to return to The Big Apple.
Exactly one year and five weeks after that New Year’s Eve trip to NYC, I would return to the city I was falling in love with without even realizing it. At this point, I was still in the “West Coast, big city, Los Angeles” camp.
What was special about this next trip to New York City is that it would be my first solo travel trip as a traveler and blogger. It was on this trip that I not only continued to be mesmerized but I was now smitten too.
What changed? I experienced NYC solo. This enabled me to immerse in the multi-cultural, fascinating iconic city in my own way and on my own timeline. As such, I now highly recommend solo travel to NYC or any destination that suits an individual’s personality.
Watching the sunset behind the Statue of Liberty from Freedom Tower
After returning from a trip where I could be myself, learn more about myself, eat any authentic food I wanted, and have an endless amount of beautiful views to photograph, I decided this would be at the very least an annual event.
In the next 14 months, I would visit New York City four more times with a fifth visit I was forced to cancel as 2020 unfolded. I came to know The Big Apple intimately and felt extremely comfortable there.
It was during these recent visits that I toured the 9/11 Museum not once but twice. As one would imagine, the memories of that awful day came flooding back.
A remembrance rose placed in the name of a hero carved into the North Memorial Pool
See, I was in an unusual position that day. No, I didn’t know anyone in the towers or the Pentagon or on any of the planes. My story will never compare to those individuals or their family members and isn’t meant to be compared to these stories.
But, my story is unusual and does tie in to what has been going on in NYC this year. You see, that Tuesday, September 11, 2001, was my second day on the day shift in the SICU at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Hospital.
Pay close attention to the following details.
That particular morning I was taking care of a patient in isolation. As I put on my PPE consisting of a gown, gloves, and mask, I was privy to the TV in the patient’s isolation room, something that most of the beds didn’t have in SICU back then.
I watched the second plane hit in disbelief like the rest of the nation. However, unlike the rest of the nation except for the other hospitals in our same atypical situation, chaos ensued in our SICU.
Being one of the top level-one trauma/burn centers in the entire country and certainly on the east coast, we received an anticipatory call from New York. Triage your patients and move out the ones who can go to step-down units or the floor. Due to the sheer numbers involved, we were going to be receiving some of the patients who had just become victims of the terrorist attacks in NYC.
Or so we thought.
After madness set in, patients were triaged, and decisions were made, we received a call back from NYC. All of those patients they anticipated sending us didn’t make it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t going to be a mass overload of patients because there weren’t enough survivors. That call still produces tears to this day as I’m writing.
Our madness and chaos quickly turned to shock and disbelief.
As most Americans, I have a soft spot in my heart for NYC from the events of that day. But at that moment, my soft spot became even softer. I was hungry to help take care of these precious people and the reason why we wouldn’t get that chance was heartbreaking.
Fast forward years later. Fresh off another NYE birthday spent in NYC (2019) and a return solo trip this past February 2020, I found my heart breaking again for New York along with various other hard-hit American and international cities.
Once again, I watched the devastating reality unfold in NYC on TV or read about the rapidly growing numbers on Twitter. It was so hard to believe that less than a month ago I was enjoying the city I loved so much in a fully functional capacity.
One month later, it was apparent that my next trip to NYC in April would have to be canceled. I became obsessed with New York’s daily numbers and my concern for the health professionals grew.
Even though they are totally different situations and not to be compared as each is important in its own right, I was having flashbacks to 2001. And I wanted to help.
Around this same time, I saw where Governor Cuomo was calling for healthcare professionals to come help New York. I was ready.
There were many obstacles for me. I kept my licenses current with the exception of Arizona. This means I was still licensed in Alabama, Georgia, and California but not New York. Then there was the issue with being out of practice for 13 years. I knew this was a HUGE strike against me but I was determined to try anyway. NYC would have to make that call.
I searched until I found the link to the application. Obtaining a license for New York wasn’t going to be an issue. They would let mine reciprocate granting me the temporary ability to practice in New York due to the current and emergent health crisis.
I began the application and came to the part where I had to list my current employment along with the number of practice hours I had within a recent timeframe. Of course, this number for me was zero. Unfortunately, this was a firm, non-negotiable requirement and one can understand why.
I knew deep down this would most likely be the case but just as so many other exceptions were being made I hoped maybe this might be an exception as well. While so much has changed in 13 years there are some things that remain constant. There are some things one just doesn’t forget.
I had begun to go through the steps in my head of all things critical care. Simple tasks such as priming IV tubing and common drip concentrations to the intricate details of determining a normal P wave or QRS complex on ECG and shooting wedge pressures in the pulmonary artery danced through my mind.
Could I still explain the difference in ventilator settings of SIVC and ACPC? Could I still code a patient correctly? If I was being honest on the latter, probably not according to the current Advanced Cardiac Life Support guidelines. It was a certification I hadn’t kept up in recent years. The very first move an RN makes after calling a code can determine if the patient lives or dies so clearly there is no room for error here.
I was sad I couldn’t help patients or my colleagues on the critical care front lines in New York or anywhere else. However, that didn’t mean I couldn’t help at all. In addition to my thoughts and prayers for all patients and healthcare workers around the globe, I have stayed at home, maintained distance, kept my face covered and my hands washed.
The longer the crisis carried on the more my heart longed to walk the streets of NYC. To eat dim sum in Chinatown, watch the sunset from Freedom Tower, walk the Brooklyn Bridge, get lost on the High Line, grab a cocktail on a rooftop bar, play in Central Park, catch a show (or 3) on Broadway, and scour the city for the perfect nighttime photography spots.
Missing NYC’s Special Moments
I long for special moments that NYC has given me such as the opportunity to be on the 86th outdoor observation deck of the Empire State Building all ALONE. It was a particularly cloudy night. I had been up multiple times in the past and it was the remaining activity left on the city pass I was testing out for my readers.
The ESB was an included option on the pass and since I was leaving the next day I had nothing to lose. The employees advised me upon my arrival that there would be virtually no view that night.
That’s okay I remember saying. I will take my chances. But, as the elevator shot up to the 86th-floor observation deck, I had no idea that I would have the place to myself.
My “view” from the 86th-floor observation deck of the Empire State Building
Eerie? Yep, absolutely. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t. Probably even eerier since I had been up there before and knew I should be sharing this experience with a few thousand of my closest friends with city lights dancing below.
Just as I was taking in the situation, albeit not silently due to the wind, the clouds parted and granted me the coolest glimpse of the bustling city 86 stories below.
NYC peaking through the clouds 86 stories below
About as fast as it appeared it was gone again. And the next night? I checked the weather after returning home and the forecast called for crystal clear skies that night.
My point here is that just like the city lights of NYC persevered through the clouds that night, the people of NYC have come together to persevere through the events of 2001 and 2020.
For these reasons and so many more, I can’t wait to return to support New York and enjoy a city I love so much. I currently have plans for three trips in 2021: my annual solo trip, a girls’ trip, and the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
I’m not sure how many of those if any, the health climate will allow me to take but I’m hopeful. Whenever the time comes to safely travel, I will be there NYC. I’m missing you.
Now it should be clear why (if forced to choose), I’m “East Coast, big city, NYC”, why NYC is the first place I want to go and…the why behind the why.
California is still my second home. I loved living there and left part of my heart there as it says in my bio. Living in California can’t be replaced by visiting NYC a number of times. I just have a different bond with New York.
Reflection from the top of Freedom Tower
Thank you to the heroes of 9/11 including first responders, healthcare providers, military, and police. If you think the average American has forgotten, we haven’t. We will never forget.
Thank you to the heroes on the frontlines continuing to fight this current global battle in NYC, my home state of Alabama, the entire United States, and worldwide. As a former critical care RN, I can imagine what you are going through and you have my utmost respect and admiration.
‘Til next time…