The New York City detective had gone into the city early for a court hearing. A suspect was being arraigned. He was almost back home when he heard the news on the car radio. Two planes had hit the World Trade Center. He rushed into his house and quickly got ready to dash back to ground zero. His wife, a couple of months away from giving birth, begged him not to go back.
He went on anyway, and spent three weeks in the rubble searching for survivors. He started getting sick right away, breathing in toxic smoke, but kept on going, helping, looking for those he might aid in saving.
Later, he needed medical treatment. Treatment proved hard to get. Insurance demanded proof his medical problems had something to do with the debris he had inhaled. Eventually he died. His name was James Zadroga. He was 34 years old.
Others who rushed in to rescue victims of the 9/11 attacks later suffered similar health problems, mostly respiratory ailments. It's sometimes called the pearling effect. Scar tissue forms around foreign particles. Microscopic bits of plastic, calcium phosphate, cellulose, talc, asphalt, you name it, gather in to clog up the lungs. An afflicted person struggles to breathe, and the brain signals the heart to work hard, then harder, to force blood through clogged up capillaries to get oxygen. Respiratory failure kills some, others die when their hearts give out. Survivors just suffer, struggling to breathe. Each labored heartbeat is the possible last.
These folks were hailed as heroes as they pulled nearly lifeless human beings from the wreckage. They stayed on, working exhausting hours, refusing to leave until what little hope was left finally faded away. Then they got sick. Then they got mad. We all should have gotten mad.
You would think that providing medical care for these heroes would be a no-brainer. Nearly two dozen hearings were held over two years. Pretty much everyone finally agreed these folks needed medical treatment. The Obama administration demanded, cajoled, begged for passage before more died. But sometimes partisan zeal overpowers humanity. Republicans filibustered efforts to pick up the costs of medical treatment. They said it might add to the deficit. They complained about the rush to pass the proposal. Mostly they opposed a Democratic President.
Almost every network ignored the story. Fox News mentioned the outrage, but managed to do it without using the word "Republican." The "Democratic Congress" had defeated the bill. Shep Smith on Fox, the network's sole gadfly, briefly named several Republicans, singling out Tom Coburn (R-OK) as the main culprit. Only Jon Stewart of Comedy Central beat the drum again and again. He devoted continuous coverage, in one night his entire show, to telling about denial of health coverage to 9/11 rescuers.
But in the end, the bill was brought up again, with far less help for the rescuers. The compromise attracted enough stray Republicans and it finally passed. It is called the Zadroga Bill.
Fox News credited Shep Smith for passage of the measure.
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We are apparently living in an age where a portion of something is better than nothing at all, with important concessions always having to be made to special interest groups, and we are all supposed to accept and like it. In this case, the 9/22 rescuers got something, but not quite enough. Even Fox gave us something, but nowhere near enough.
It is good that the 9/11 rescuers got at least something. My question is this, though: when will big business and its Republican protectors in Congress ever have to accept less, like they try to make everybody else do?
Merry Christmas, Burr. I hope you and all your readers will have a most blessed one!
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