Ambulance view of NYC

This is the view from the back of a New York City ambulance after the klutzy photographer and writer snaked his lower leg in a Lower Manhattan subway station on June 27, 2021.

The whole thing came down to one problem: How do I cover the 15 feet over to that Dunkin’ Donuts store?

This story about me is also about politics, so hang with me. I was in New York City at the end of July to work on Colorado Politics’ special edition commemorating the 20 years since 9/11. (You won’t be disappointed.)

I was booked in a tall, glassy hotel overlooking Ground Zero, and the next day I had lunch plans with Dana Perino, the Fox News host, press secretary to then-President George W. Bush and a very warm person, not necessarily in that order.

We planned to chat about her time at the White House, specifically about the time when America joined hands to fight terrorists from abroad after 9/11 rather than make fists to use against cops and each other since the last election. Rescheduling was a problem that would have to wait until some time after making it to the Dunkin' Donuts door.

Meanwhile, back at the plot, I made it from JFK airport to the Fulton Street subway station, a 10-minute walk from the hotel just after 6 p.m., so the place was crawling with Wall Street suits.

With a backpack and a rolling bag the size of a microwave oven, I descended one of those treacherously steep metal staircases New York subways use to remind people it’s a dangerous city.

I missed the last step with my right foot, which I do all the time, because I’m a klutzy person with bad depth perception. Normally it’s a dance. This time it was a gravitational plunge that I tried to hurdle, but I was pulled forward by a 40-pound suitcase swinging at the end of a handle and pushed from behind by a 25-pound backpack. The physics were against me.

It happened fast, but I swear I heard the bone snap like a twig. If that was possible it also could have been a finger snap saying what I planned to do the next four days just disappeared. No dollar slices. No late-night diners. No Dana Perino.

The only show I would see was human drama that played out over nearly seven hours in a Lower Manhattan hospital walled into the urban landscape a few blocks away.

I hopped eight or nine times to the doughnut shop. The doughnut guy went to find help and came back with two young New York City cops with Brooklyn accents I wish I could re-create. We talked while we waited on an ambulance.

The paramedics were a young man and young woman. She was just a kid when 9/11 changed everything, she said. Every child's upbringing was shaped by it, she explained to me on the short ride to the hospital, after I explained what I was doing in town.

The hospital took a lot of X-rays, put my leg in a plaster splint made of chalky gauze that dried into itchy concrete, handed me a set of crutches with no instructions and didn’t even say goodbye, unless “you can go” at 1 a.m. counts.

The show I saw was this human drama from the viewpoint of a gurney in an abundantly air-conditioned hallway. A middle-aged woman walked in with her arm and head wrapped in bloody towels, a man about her age trailed with an overnight bag, as she was greeted by nurses and orderlies. A man with white hair rested peacefully, almost too peacefully, on a gurney parked a couple of spots ahead of me, except for when a young doctor would stop to insist that he eat the cheese sandwich a nurse brought him.

When wounded or worse were rushed in, I couldn't do more than glance, but I was close enough to get a sense of how the real world feels up close.

I had a long chat with a nurse who is 58 years old and plans to retire soon to Delaware. She is going to put her house in her son’s name, even though he is young, and move into a retirement village so she can play cards and go to a spa.

She made me feel like everything was going to be OK, and there would be a better tomorrow. If you had lived in the shadows of 9/11, it probably became some of your nature to think that way.

That gets me back to politics and that Dunkin’ Donuts doorway.

We overthink everything in this game, even when there's little thought that goes into it. When your leg has snapped in a 6 o'clock subway station, all your problems become one and you solve it. 

Yes, government can chew gum and walk at the same time, debatably, but until you solve the real problems in front of your face, the others are background noise.

What we lack as a people and a government are priorities and patience.

The terrorist attacks 20 years ago gave us that: focus. We knew what was important for a short time and did something about it. Then we quickly lost our unity, and turned on each other.

Look at us now.

The doorway to the Dunkin' Donuts might as well be on Mars.

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