Firsthand: Breathing Ground Zero

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There is a guy I know, Dave. He was down there two months longer than I was. He was working in the same area I was. He was only 33. Three years later, he needs a lung transplant. Me? I had post-traumatic stress, but didn’t know it. My cough was like dry heaving. Then you get the sinuses dripping all the time. Now I have chronic lung disease. It’s sleep apnea, too, that is so bad I need an oxygen machine and a breather. The doctor just got my tests back for that and he says I’m one of the worst cases he’s seen.

I stop breathing 55 times an hour.

I was on the pile from 12 at night until 8 in the morning. I was with a construction company pulling out steel. When my shift was over, we would find firemen and work with them trying to dig out people..

The [Environmental Protection Agency] was telling us that all the air was at an acceptable breathing level, but then the Daily News said otherwise. We didn’t know what to believe, until people started getting sick after about two weeks. Nauseous. Sick. Throwing up. Coughing. But when you got sick, you went out for a while and came right back. Everyone kept working. You cough up blood–you kept working..

That was what we did. Everyone wants to be a macho guy, so no one said, “Oh, I’m sick,” until they just really couldn’t take it. .

I’m not supposed to be working now. But I was out of work three months. My bills were three grand a month. That’s almost 10 grand. I put in for the workers’ and victims’ compensation fund from the federal government, but I haven’t gotten anything yet. I’m also trying to get disability, but the way they see it, I’m only partial disability. I can get around, but I can’t breathe in dust, or lift real heavy things, but that’s my job. That’s everything I do. .

Before I never had to take antidepressants. Now I have to take three different kinds just to keep myself up. Some days a certain song will come on and remind me of my brother and I’ll be lost. Until I know what’s what, I’m not going to stop working. I’ve got a 12-year-old-kid. I’m not going to disrupt my family’s lives right now. I have good days; I have bad days. If I get around dust and stuff, I cough like crazy. But, you know, you can’t stop breathing.