The events of Sept. 11, 2001 left marks on the world that will be apparent for years to come. For those who were seriously injured in the attacks, those marks come in the form of scars—physical and emotional.
"Basically they tell me your body heals physically first," burn victim Mary Jos said in an interview on PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer a year after the attacks. The mind and the heart can take a little longer to recover.
"I still feel the loss of my friends and co-workers," Jos said. "That’s still hard. And I don’t think that’ll go away very quickly. I don’t think it will ever go away."
Jos, who managed a New York state office in the World Trade Center, was one of 25 seriously burned people who were treated at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. After shrapnel tore the flesh off her left arm and one leg, a man named Eric Thompson helped her down 77 flights of stairs. She also suffered third degree burns, and has since undergone extensive skin grafts, surgery, physical and psychological therapy.
Some Sept. 11 burn victims encountered balls of fire that doctors believe reached 1,000 degrees, CNN Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said in a CNN.com article. According to Dr. Gupta, contact with a 155-degree object for just one second will cause a third degree burn. Many people were literally incinerated by these fireballs.
Compared to them, Vasana Mututanont is one of the lucky ones. (Mututanont and Jos were interviewed in two PBS pieces, on Oct. 11, 2001 and Sept. 3, 2002.) She was in the lobby of the north tower when it was hit. When she ran outside, broken glass sliced her leg and fire engulfed her from behind.
"Swept to my back from my feet up and then I see fire all over, in my hair, also. A lot of people just blew away, you know, like that," Mututanont said.
Though Mututanont, a Thai citizen, has returned to her job at a Thai government agency, her wounds still have not yet healed. She still wears a pressure garment under her clothing, which minimizes scarring by smoothing the skin, flattening scar tissue and putting pressure on the tissue below the skin. This helps the vascular system recover and keeps swelling down. The garment can be uncomfortable, but Mututanont has gotten used to it.
"In the beginning, two, three months, I just hate every minute of it. I just hate it. But then, you know, after that, you have to wear it because it help reducing the feeling of having a thousand needles poking in your skin. So I think I can stand it. I will keep wearing it," she said.
When the physical wounds heal, burn victims may still have to deal with the psychological results of surviving such an attack. Many, like Jos, still feel the loss of their friends and co-workers who did not survive and do not have the luxury of recovering from injury. Mututanont said she has not experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress, but she still feels the pain acutely. When the interviewer asked her what she would tell her grandchildren about that day, she said:
"I would just probably tell them a little bit that I was kind of reborn. I’d probably tell them that I changed my real birthday to September 11 because, you know, actually a lot of people die on that day, and I happen to be one of the survivors. It’s a hard work, and you have to really, you know, be strong. Otherwise you can’t … you can’t survive. I have to pretend that I’m okay. But you can always crying after everybody sleep as much as you want to. I usually did it after … after everybody’s go to bed; is only me in the room—is only me."