Emotional wounds of Towers attack lingers

By Alexander Dworkowitz

When dozens of victims of the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attack were sent to New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens in Flushing, the doctors and nurses were not content to just patch up their wounds.

“All of them went through psychological counseling,” explained Dr. Patricia Woods, director of psychological services at the hospital.

According to Woods, the counseling was extremely necessary. “Some were disoriented. At least two were in a state of shock. They were having difficulty concentrating. Some didn’t know their own telephone numbers,” she said.

By Friday, all the injured sent to NYHQ had been released. But while their wounds began to heal, the process of healing their minds could prove more difficult.

“Clearly we see people who have post-traumatic stress,” said Dr. Frederic Weinbaum, medical director of NYHQ. “This has been an earth-shattering event for everyone. For those who lost love ones the pain has been practically unbearable.”

For these and other reasons, NYHQ does not complete its services after discharging its patients.

“They may not experience the full impact for a couple of weeks,” said Woods. “If they don’t have improvement, I told them to call us back in a week or two to provide ongoing counseling.”

Woods said the survivors have undergone a wide range of stress reactions, from headaches to guilt. “Many of them were feeling extremely guilty, and of course, the other side of guilt is anger,” she said.

But with a tragedy so large, psychological problems are not limited to those who escaped from the World Trade Center. No survivors have come to the Hillside Hospital of the North Shore- Long Island Jewish Health System, but the hospital provides psychological counseling nonetheless.

“A few patients have been overwhelmed by hearing about things,” said Dr. Mark Ross, director of Acute Care Psychiatry at Hillside.

According to Ross, there are two categories of patients who have experienced psychological problems at his hospital as a result of the attack.

“Most are people with pre-existing psychological problems who under the stress have gotten worse,” he said. But others have also come to the hospital who are “reasonably healthy.”

“One needs to expect to feel a little down,” Ross said. “It’s not unusual to feel sad, anxious, have dark thoughts and have trouble sleeping.”

Ross urged that anyone, regardless of their connection to the attack, “allow themselves to experience their feelings, to cry if they feel like it.”

Transitional Services for New York Inc., one of the largest providers of mental health services in Queens, also is providing free counseling in light of the attack. Dr. Eve Hazel, executive director of TSI, urged anyone experiencing psychological problems as a result of the attack to contact TSI’s doctors.

“People are saying ‘nothing is any fun anymore,’” said Eve Hazel, executive director of TSI. “I don’t know anyone who is immune.”

Dr. Rona Novick, coordinator of child psychology at Schneider Children’s Hospital in Glen Oaks, agreed that many should seek counseling. But she said counseling is not necessary for everyone.

An acute stress response that occurs in the midst of the trauma does not always require counseling, while one who experiences Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder should seek counseling, said Novick.

“The issue is functioning,” said Novick. “Everyone of us had a philosophical shift. We are never going to return to the age of innocence. But it is the person who gets stuck, who can’t function near their regular levels, who should be concerned.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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