As midnight came on September 11, 2001, I stood at my wife’s bedside in the William Randolph Hearst Burn Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
Webs of plastic tubing fed her intravenous fluids and medications. Over the next twenty-four hours she would receive approximately twenty liters—forty-two pounds—of fluids to replace those she was losing through her wounds. She was heavily sedated and would remain in this drug-induced sleep for weeks. She was on a ventilator to support her breathing; there was a feeding tube in her nose. Her body was wrapped in white gauze, and she was draped in sheets and blankets to keep her warm. At 8:48 that morning, she had been burned over 82.5 percent of her body as she entered the lobby of 1 World Trade Center.
At 8 that morning she had been a vibrant, athletic, and beautiful woman, decisive and demanding and the picture of health.
At about 8:30 she had breezed through our living room telling me how she’d solved a scheduling problem, making phone calls that delayed her normal departure about fifteen minutes. She lingered in the hallway, saying good-bye to our ten-month-old son, Tyler, and then she headed off to work, going downstairs and hailing a cab to take her to the World Trade Center, where she was (and is) a senior vice president, partner, and director of global data sales for Cantor Fitzgerald.
Less than twenty minutes later, listening to the “Imus in the Morning” program as I was about to leave for work, I heard Imus break in and say, “What’s this? A plane hit the World Trade Center?”
I ran to our terrace, which looks down Manhattan’s West Street toward the twin towers, and saw a vast hole billowing black smoke from the top of Tower One. I could see that the plane had hit at or just below Cantor Fitzgerald’s offices and that the impact had been huge. I tried to persuade myself that Lauren, that anyone at Cantor, could still be alive. I kept calling her telephone numbers but her office line was busy and her cell phone wasn’t ringing. I paced the apartment, pounding the wall and calling her name, then watched as the second plane hit Tower Two, seemingly right at the 84th floor, my office at Euro Brokers.
I felt like the man on a battlefield who leaves his unit for a moment, only to look back as it is blown up before his eyes.
Friends and family kept calling our apartment to make sure we were all right. I could not say whether Lauren was alive; I was almost certain she was dead.
But she wasn’t.
Arriving at the World Trade Center, she’d heard a whistling sound, entered the lobby to investigate, and been met by an explosive fireball. She ran outside in flames. A bond salesman over at the World Financial Center saw her and two others as they ran from the building, raced across West Street, and put out the flames that were consuming her. Lauren was lucid enough to tell him her name and our phone number. People had fled and there was no one else around for blocks. As heavy pieces of steel debris fell from a thousand feet above them, he stayed with Lauren until the ambulance came.
At 9:35 our phone rang once and went silent. A moment later it rang again. A breathless voice said, “Mr. Manning, I’m with your wife. She’s been badly burned but she’s going to be OK. We got her in an ambulance.” The phone cut off before he could tell me where she was being taken. I was to learn later that the caller was a bond trader. His buddy, the bond salesman, had just saved Lauren’s life.
Lauren’s parents called from Savannah, Georgia; they literally dropped the phone when I told them the news, got in their car, and took off for New York.
Twenty minutes later a nurse called to tell me Lauren was at St. Vincent’s Hospital, eight blocks away. Fighting tears, not knowing what to expect, I made my way there through the stunned crowds headed north on Hudson Street. At one point I turned around and saw Tower One wreathed in black smoke. I did not realize Tower Two had already come down.
I entered St. Vincent’s moments before it was closed to all but patients and medical personnel. I found Lauren in a bed on the 10th floor, all but her face covered in white sheets. She looked normal, though as if she had a deep tan, but her eyebrows had been burned off and her beautiful blond hair was charred.
The first thing she said was “Get me to a burn unit.”
Then she said, “Greg, I was on fire. I ran out. I prayed to die. Then I decided to live for Tyler and for you.”
She asked me to apply balm to her blistered lips. Her pain grew and she begged for morphine. She became less aware. Her face began to swell. They transferred her to a private room and asked me to step out. For the next two hours the nurses dressed her wounds.
At 5 that afternoon, Dr. Edmund Kwan, a plastic surgeon affiliated with St. Vincent’s and New York-Presbyterian, secured Lauren a bed in the Burn Center and ordered her sedated and intubated to protect against respiratory arrest during the transport. The ambulance driver headed across 14th Street, up an FDR Drive closed to all but emergency vehicles, and rolled to a stop in the hospital’s ambulance bay. Within minutes we were in the Burn Center on the 8th floor. Lauren was wheeled to a glass-walled room and doctors and nurses surrounded her bed. Someone led me to the waiting room and I sagged into a chair. My friend Mary White arrived a short time later.
The hours passed. With the city locked down, home seemed far away, unreachable. Joyce, Tyler’s nanny, stayed with him that night as I dozed on the floor of the waiting room just down the hall in case I was called to Lauren’s bedside. My friend Bill Fisher kept the vigil with me. Members of other patient families slept there too, in chairs or on cots. Lauren’s mother and father arrived at noon on Wednesday. They would stay in our apartment for the next three months and be there for Lauren and Tyler. Lauren’s sister came in from New Jersey and her brother drove up from North Carolina. I asked my own family in Florida—my mother and father and sister—to remain at home; I did not have a place for them to stay if they came, and I promised to keep them continually posted on Lauren’s condition.
On Thursday evening, a gray-haired man in a white coat met with us in the waiting room. He was Dr. Roger Yurt, the medical director of the Burn Center, Lauren’s doctor in the pages that follow. In a calm voice he described what she was up against. The first seventy-two hours were the resuscitation phase, during which she was receiving an extraordinary quantity of fluids to replace those her body was dumping. If she survived this phase, Dr. Yurt would perform numerous grafts in the ensuing weeks to close her wounds and control her injury. Only after she was “closed” would she be out of danger; until then, infection would be a constant threat.
The prognosis was bleak, but the meeting with Dr. Yurt brought me the first twinge of hope. If there was anyone on earth who could save her, I thought, he was the one.
Late Saturday night, September 15, another critical patient, who had been brought in at the same time as Lauren, died, reducing by one the cadre of bereft and shattered families who had bonded in the waiting room since Tuesday. Dr. Palmer Bessey, Dr. Yurt’s associate director, had to deliver the news to the patient’s family, and as I was leaving the Burn Center that night he looked up and told me, “She’s hanging in there pretty well.” He paused. “She’s going to get sicker before she gets better.” He paused again, then said with quiet ferocity, “But we’re going to do everything we can to pull her through. I don’t want those bastards to get another person.”
In the early afternoon of Sunday, September 16, I was told that Lauren’s chances were less than 50-50, probably far less. (I was later to learn they were about 15 percent.) I found solace with a rabbi who was in the waiting room visiting another patient. He was not on the hospital staff, but at my request he came in to pray by Lauren’s bedside so that she might hear the holy language and know that we were praying for her.
That night, another World Trade Center burn patient died.
Day after day the phone at home never stopped ringing; friends, colleagues, and family called from around the world. It grew difficult to repeat the full story, but I realized that the short version was becoming little more than a medical summary and said nothing of her courage.
So on the afternoon of September 19, I sat down to type an e-mail update on Lauren’s condition. I wanted to thank everyone for their prayers and for their support, and to tell them how she was doing in ways that would convey just how hard she was fighting. So many things I was seeing deserved to be remembered: the resolve and morale of the medical staff, the love of friends and family, the bravery that was already evident as I stood by Lauren’s bed.
As a token of my faith in her, I signed both of our names at the end of that first note, and to every one that followed.
The daily e-mails became a compulsion.
On November 19, I wrote:
“As you all know, I am doing two meaningful things: I am being there for Tyler and Lauren (with an enormous assist from her mother and father), and I am writing these e-mails, which represents, after caring for my family, the most valuable thing I have ever done. I have wanted it to build a network of love for Lauren so that when she needs it, the embrace that will take her in will encircle the globe. I have also appreciated hearing from people that my words have been inspiring; it is equally inspiring to have them read. But the soul of inspiration in this story is, of course, Lauren.”
This book is for her.
Excerpted from Love, Greg & Lauren by Greg Manning. Copyright © 2002 by Greg Manning. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.