It’s been six months since the attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center, and among the many people who’ve suffered from the attacks, there’s a small group who were gravely injured that day. One of those victims is 41-year-old Lauren manning. Nearly 85 percent of her body was burned, and during her recovery at the burn unit of New York Presbyterian Hospital, her husband started writing e-mails to family and friends who wondered how Lauren was doing. Those e-mails make up a new book titled “Love, Greg & Lauren.” Greg Manning discusses the book on “Today.” Here's an excerpt:
DATE: Wednesday, September 19, 2001 5:30 PM
SUBJECT: Lauren Update
First of all, I want to thank all of you, and all of the others to whom you speak about Lauren. The love that has flooded in and the prayers that are being uttered on her behalf have helped us immensely. She is still heavily sedated due to her condition, but they say she can hear my voice, so I tell her about everyone I have spoken to, that they send their love and best wishes, and their prayers, including numerous congregations across the spiritual spectrum, both synagogues and churches around the world. I have been informed that this evening the Baptists will be added to this group.
Lauren is putting up a heck of a fight. She has been through two surgeries and continues to hold on. She has a long road in front of her, but she is hanging in there, and we are by her side constantly. As of 5 p.m. Wednesday she remained stable.
For those of you who may not know the story, she was entering the lobby of the North Tower of the World Trade Center when a fireball exploded from the elevator shaft. She and two others managed to run out of the building, all three of them on fire. A passerby across the street ran to them, reaching Lauren first, and put the flames out. He then put Lauren in an ambulance, so she was the first person evacuated. He certainly saved her life.
She was at St. Vincent’s, where I joined her, and then at 5 p.m. Tuesday rode in the front of the ambulance when she was transferred to the Burn Center at NY-Presbyterian.
When I got to St. Vincent’s, she told me that she had decided to live for Tyler and for me; so I am taking her at her word.
Thank you for all your support and prayers.
Greg and Lauren
DATE: Friday, September 21, 2001 12:38 AM
SUBJECT: Lauren Update for Sept 20 (Thursday)
Lauren had a good day today — they are easing back on the ventilator support and she is tolerating that well; she is maintaining her blood pressure, and her stomach is functioning normally. She is looking good, too. She is showing encouraging signs of healing on her own in places that were not as seriously affected.
We need to keep our expectations on an even keel because she still has a very long road in front of her. But all of these are good signs.
Yesterday I mentioned that Lauren had already had two surgeries. Several hours after she reached the Burn Center on September 11, they incised the burned skin along the entire length of her left arm to relieve swelling and preserve the pulse to her left hand. On Tuesday the 18th, her surgeon grafted the backs of her legs and most of her back using her own skin.
Her next graft surgery will be early next week if she remains stable and continues to exhibit encouraging signs. Tomorrow she is scheduled for her first visit to the “tank,” the room where patients are given a water bath that helps in removing the burned tissue and promoting healing.
We appreciate all of your prayers; we are thankful (I am thankful) that Lauren is loved by so many people. I continue to admire her strength. She really is a tough lady.
The hour is late but I wanted to share this news with you all.
Greg and Lauren
DATE: Friday, September 21, 2001 10:12 PM
SUBJECT: Lauren Update for Sept 21 (Friday)
Hello All —
Lauren continues to hang on. She did not visit the tank today after all, but she continued to do OK—her blood pressure was lower in the morning but it was back to 110 when I left the hospital at 9 tonight. She will probably go to the tank tomorrow. One of the nurses did say that her grafts looked good today during “burn care,” a changing of the bandages and washing of the wound areas that is done every twelve hours by a team of nurses.
I had the opportunity today to meet with the gentleman who helped rescue one of the other patients on the ward, Jennieann. He was at the hospital visiting with her family. I forgot his name, unfortunately!
He was in the Marriott World Trade Center hotel (formerly the Vista) when the first plane hit. For those of you who know the former World Trade Center layout, he was just beyond the revolving door between the WTC lobby and the Marriott. He helped Jennieann as she emerged from the smoky haze on the WTC side of the revolving door, the 1 World Trade Center (North Tower) lobby. But when the second plane hit, he sat down; she urged him to get on his feet and leave the hotel with her. They left through a side exit to Liberty Street (for the experts, through the Tall Ships Bar).
It later turned out that this man had lost his sister and his niece on that second plane — and lost another family friend on the first! There is a lot of tragedy sitting in that waiting room at various times of day.
Lauren’s parents are doing the day shift at the hospital. I think that schedule will help make it possible for me to go back to work, at least for a couple of hours a day, starting next week. But don’t worry—Lauren is still priority one.
Tyler is also doing well, prospering from the care he is receiving from the child care team of Joyce Monday to Friday and Lauren’s parents during evenings and weekends. I am back on my regular morning duty, waking up with Tyler and feeding him his morning bottle, changing him, and hanging with him until it’s time to feed him his cereal.
Thank you again for your best wishes and prayers.
Greg and Lauren
DATE: Saturday, September 22, 2001 11:32 PM
SUBJECT: Lauren Update for Sept 22 (Saturday)
Lauren had another good day. The way the nurses tell it, she is not giving them as much work as she did on previous days. Of course we are still in the early stages, with many more to go, both surgeries and general healing, before she can be declared out of the woods. But every gradual step is important.
Now that she is off “paralytic” agents, she can contribute to her own breathing. This is a step down from the mandatory ventilator setting she had been on. She is maintaining her blood pressure well, and has been weaned off several other medications.
Though she is still sedated and on heavy pain medication, her eyelids are beginning to open slightly, and I touched her arm and stroked her beautiful hair as I spoke to her tonight. She is more aware than she has been.
She is finally due to visit the tank tomorrow, which is the fifth day after her second surgery. The doctors will check how the graft has done on her buttocks.
I read to her from the book “A Poem a Day,” brought to me with a lovely inscription from my friend Dan Gold. Unfortunately, most of the poems are pretty depressing, being mostly about leaving this mortal coil; but there are some great ones about love, including several Shakespeare sonnets. My favorite to read to her today is Robert Burns’s:
“My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose.”
My Love is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June:
My Love is like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune!
As fair thou art, my bonnie lass,
So deep in love am I:
And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt with the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
When the sands of life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only Love,
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my Love,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.
OK, put down the Kleenex.
Again (and again), thank you for your prayers and support.
Greg and Lauren
DATE: Sunday, September 23, 2001 11:55 PM
SUBJECT: Lauren Update for Sept 23 (Sunday)
Lauren visited the tank today, and her grafts looked pretty good. Some areas did not take on her legs, not unexpected and primarily due to the sheer size of the graft that was done, but those areas can be regrafted. Her back looked good. Her face also looks good. Her vital signs continue mostly stable.
The process of weaning her off the ventilator support and reducing the sedation is gradual, over time. Today this resulted in her being more aware of her surroundings, including turning her head very slightly in response to my voice, moving her eyes under her eyelids.
She was also taking on more responsibility for her breathing, a good sign but too big a step right now; her breaths were shallow, and she was not oxygenating as well as with the 100 percent ventilator support.
The nurse managed the situation, and that is mostly what happens. Lauren is still very critical, so the days are a continual process of managing every event, whether a slight drop in blood pressure, a spike in fever, falling out of sync with the ventilator, to get her back to a normal setting.
While Lauren was more aware, I read her some poems again, referred to a number of her friends by name while conveying their best wishes to her, and again told her about the pictures we’ve taped to the wall of her room (pictures of the two of us with Tyler, a picture of Tyler, a picture sent by Leslie of Lauren, Deirdre, and Leslie when we all got together in December). Someone has written on the whiteboard in there, “We love you Lauren!”
A number of you have written back asking how I’m doing (“how are YOU doing,” like in that beer commercial). I am doing OK. I could do without all of this, but I have much to hope for. It is sometimes hard to maintain an even keel (well, almost all the time) but I give it my best shot. I have been eating and sleeping, and last week actually went to an Off Wall Street Jam jam session and rehearsed with the Rolling Bones (I play bass.). It’s a long road, but mostly, right now, I am focused on being there for Lauren.
Thank you again for all your prayers and for all the offers of help.
Love to all,
Greg and Lauren
DATE: Tuesday, September 25, 2001 12:27 AM
SUBJECT: Lauren Update for Sept 24 (Monday)
Another good day. Lauren was stable throughout the last twenty-four hours. The grafts on her back and legs looked good, except for one area on the top of her right thigh, but that may yet be OK; the part that didn’t take was the outer layer of skin-bank skin, not Lauren’s own, so there may still be good news underneath.
As I’ve mentioned, last week she received extensive grafts to her back, the backs of her legs, and her buttocks. There are three ways that burn sites can be grafted: with cadaver skin from a skin bank, called a homograft, a temporary measure since it is rejected within two to three months; with artificial skin, a silicone rubber material with a matrix underneath to help the growth of the foundation layer of skin, the dermis (which later receives a graft of the outer layer, or epidermis); and with the patient’s own skin, called an autograft. The autograft is the only permanent solution; it is harvested from the patient’s undamaged skin areas, called donor sites, which heal normally within about two weeks, at which point they can be used again.
Lauren’s back and legs received autografts; her buttocks were grafted with artificial skin. During her visit to the tank this morning, she did lose the graft of artificial skin, but this is not as much of a concern, since it can be replaced.
She is due for her second major surgery at 7:30 am on Tuesday, a one-and-a-half-hour procedure that should be over by midmorning (give or take some time to go down to the OR and be returned to the burn unit floor). Her left arm will be regrafted (this was always expected) and they may attempt to graft her left hand, all with her own skin.
Lauren is unlikely to remember any of this period. She remains deeply sedated, although there are moments where she is more aware. In both cases, she is very stubborn. For example, over time, they try to wean her off the ventilator, permitting her to breathe more on her own. Yesterday, this led to a period of rapid and shallow breathing that was out of sync with the ventilator. The ventilator had been set to deliver a certain number of breaths per minute, which the nurse said Lauren “did not like,” adding, “You told us she was strong-willed, didn’t you?” Her efforts to breathe were conflicting with the ventilator’s attempts, leading to sub-par blood oxygen.
The settings on the ventilator were then changed. Now the machine senses the increase in pressure when Lauren seeks to breathe on her own, and assists to ensure that she gets a complete breath. She seemed much more comfortable this evening.
I was able to buy her a boom box today, which means less poetry and more Willie Nelson in the room. Tomorrow, I will bring a few CDs to vary the selection. I think the music will be very helpful, some easy blues mixed with classical. Overnight I left the radio tuned to Lite 106.7; I hope someday she forgives me for this.
As far as the report on me, I went to a friend’s tonight for an informal dinner. There were around ten people there, most of them connected in some way to the tragedy. Two of them were in 2 World Trade Center when the first plane hit Tower One, saw the rain of debris, and recognized that they had to get out. Another person watched the attacks from a New Jersey ferry pier, feeling sick and helpless as he followed the arc of the second plane.
We talked about people who had been lost, many of them close friends of the people there; while it was occasionally somber, mostly people had a good time, which we all needed. Many congratulations to the hostess (you know who you are), who also made some excellent stars and stripes cookies.
I thank everyone for their responses to these updates — even if I don’t have the chance to respond individually, I read every piece of e-mail, and I am grateful for everyone who is lending their love and support.
Thanks from both of us!!!
Greg and Lauren
Excerpted from Love, Greg & Lauren by Greg Manning. Copyright © 2002 by Greg Manning. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.