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William W. Parmley, MD, MACC, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 415 Judah St., San Francisco, California 94122, USA.
It’s hard to overestimate the impact of September 11, 2001, on life in the U.S. So many things have changed. The travel industry has nosedived. It didn’t take great powers of observation at the recent American Heart Association meetings in Anaheim to appreciate that the crowds were down by at least one third or more. The good news related to this was that it was much easier to get around the convention center and attend meetings of individual interest. Similarly, it was always easy to get a seat, and there wasn’t a problem with overcrowded rooms. On the negative side, there were very few people in the audience for some of the abstract sessions, which was disappointing to the presenters, especially the fellows. It was also clear that the numbers of foreign attendees were down considerably. Even at our own small American College of Cardiology postgraduate meeting in October 2001, our attendance was less than usual due to cancellation by individuals who had to take long plane trips to get there. Although we assume that this will all pass, it appears that presently, Americans are much less likely to travel by plane or to even travel, period. The bargains on airlines and cruise ships and the rock-bottom bargains for vacations in Hawaii all underscore this remarkable change in the flying and vacation habits of Americans.
Even though the stricter security at airports and fewer flights have inconvenienced all passengers, it is clear that this alone is not the reason. I believe the bottom line is FEAR. A frequent flyer cannot watch four large planes go down within a few minutes of each other without being profoundly affected. Unfortunately, that very FEAR represents the result that the terrorists desired. Fear can paralyze individuals so that they not only don’t travel very much but also want to “hunker down” in an underground fortress, safe from the unpredictable acts of terrorists. It is going to take a dramatic change in the American psyche to be able to live comfortably with terrorism and still carry on our normal activities. Many other countries have had a long-term spectre of terrorism hanging over them. Obvious examples include the UK and Israel but, in fact, should also include much of the world, since terrorism knows no national boundaries. It may take considerable time for us to adopt the “life goes on” philosophy amid the constant threat of terrorism.
The local newspaper recently reported that the surge in church attendance after September 11 had begun to wane and that the attendance figures were now back down to where they had been. Similarly, the surge in marriages after September 11 had now subsided to normal. Perhaps people are beginning to adjust. Wasn’t it interesting that it became OK to pray in public, and everyone flew the American flag? One positive aspect of this experience has been a clearer recognition that, in many ways, we are in this together and need to get along. Perhaps all of you noticed, as I did, that people were more polite, friendly, and helpful toward each other. Even “road rage” seemed to diminish.
To the extent that we remain semiparalyzed, however, terrorism triumphs. My own thoughts about dealing with this are:
1. We need to be well informed. This includes information related not only to bioterrorism, such as anthrax or smallpox, but also to all potential threats, so that we may act appropriately.
2. We need to be alert to possible threats and to work together. In its simplest form, this might be just observing those who get on a plane with us. Vigilance may be the price of freedom. In some cases, we may have to be proactive if actually confronted with a terrorist act. We would expect no less from our armed forces abroad.
3. We need to contribute to our own society’s flagging economy by spending more. We need to take those plane trips where appropriate. We need to contribute to our favorite charities. Since every area of the economy is offering huge bargains, it is an ideal time to take advantage of them. When my wife goes shopping, she indicates that she is just being patriotic and following President Bush’s counsel.
4. We need to be upbeat about life and the future. I am always distressed about negative conversations that continue to fuel the “fear” and “hunkering down” mindset that has paralyzed us to some extent.
5. At the same time that we are positive about life, we also have to remind ourselves that there is the possibility of hard times being suddenly thrust upon us. Having at least some food and water storage at our homes is a wise investment. Food storage items should be things we normally eat, so that they can be rotated as needed and, therefore, do not really cost us additionally. In our area, we also have 72-h kits, with everything required to sustain us for that period of time. Some even have one in the car, one at home, and one at work. I believe that proper preparation does contribute to peace of mind and a positive attitude.
6. Most importantly, we need to live our lives to their fullest. It’s time to be with and enjoy our families. This is not a time to hunker down or to shrink from our responsibilities. No matter how hard times get, and no matter how much we may be affected, we must remember this lesson: LIFE GOES ON.
↵1 Editor-in-Chief, Journal of the American College of Cardiology
- American College of Cardiology