A New York cop’s account of his 9/11-related health problems and struggle to have them recognized by the city’s bureaucracy.
After the tragedy on 9/11 at the World Trade Center, NYPD lieutenant Bill Dement spent four months amid the toxic dust and debris at Ground Zero and the Fresh Kills Landfill. Like other first responders, he has since developed a host of health problems: reactive airways dysfunction syndrome (RADS), acid reflux, sleep apnea, heavy metals poisoning and permanent cognitive damage. When Dement asked a doctor in 2008 if he could still be a cop, the doctor told him, “You can’t be a clerk in Wal-Mart.” Co-authored with his wife, Dement’s first-hand account as a first-responder unveils a harrowing, lingering tragedy. The contaminated air around Ground Zero “felt like death. It was death.” Dement’s deteriorating health forced him into retirement and has left him a virtual invalid. In lucid detail, the book then describes his Kafka-esque journey through New York City bureaucracy and the medical establishment in search of a diagnosis, treatment and an adequate disability settlement for his injuries. “We have faced organized obstruction in our struggles for health care and compensation,” Dement says. He was diagnosed with “WTC cough” as early as January 2002, but a pulmonary specialist in 2005 said he did not have RADS. “Perhaps it’s in your mind,” the specialist said. A panel of city doctors repeatedly denied his request for a tax-free disability pension, ruling he was not eligible because his sleep apnea was not related to 9/11. At one hearing, Dement presents a letter from a doctor diagnosing him with lead and aluminum poisoning. “Do you have anything more?” a member of the panel asks. Dement's conversational, pull-no-punches prose style and vivid imagery add to the power of his bleak narrative. “[I]t seemed like someone had glued my pleural lining together,” he says of his breathing problems. Congress finally passed a bill in 2010 to help ailing first responders, although that’s little solace for Dement. His focused, understandable anger should be our own. It is as he laments: “I and thousands of first responders have been handed a death sentence.”
A powerful expression of anguish from a 9/11 first responder.