Virginia Hospital Center delivers new life and tries to save others

Family's celebration mixed with sadness

Terrorism Strikes America

Washington

September 13, 2001|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Outside Virginia Hospital Center, ambulances were unloading dozens of wounded -- the burned, the bleeding, the dazed -- from the terrorist attack that collapsed a section of the Pentagon nearby.

Inside, Carol Nurse Rice, 41, of Falls Church, Va., was welcoming newborn daughter Katie, 8 pounds, 4 ounces. "One of the first things I said was, `What kind of a world are we bringing her into?'" she said.

Her husband, John Rice, said he heard sirens as he strode down the hall to visit his wife and baby.

"It's kind of sad that this is a wonderful experience for us and, unfortunately, now it will always be associated with the tragedy and craziness of the world," he said.

Formerly called Arlington Hospital, the center is one of the closest medical facilities to the Pentagon. After the Pentagon attack, it became a focal point for victims' families to check on loved ones.

Carol Rice, a staff member in the U.S. Commerce Department's inspector general's office, was largely protected from the chaotic scene occurring at the emergency room, on the other end of the hospital from the postpartum unit. The unit contains comforting, home-like furniture, including rocking chairs for moms to rock their newborns.

"There are very few moments in life that deserve to be called miraculous. Giving birth to a child is one of them," the medical center says in its promotional literature. The hospital seemed determined to safeguard that miracle.

The hospital personnel wouldn't mention Tuesday's tragedies to Rice until she raised the subject first. "I think their marching order was to keep things as normal as possible and not let the outside world influence what was going on," her husband said.

But the new mom, who saw reports of the attacks on television, detected a certain edge: "I noticed shellshocked staff walking around."

There was reason for the staff's concern. Not only was the medical center dealing with the newly injured, it was also trying to confirm a rumor -- which proved false -- that a day care center at the Pentagon had been hit and that infant casualties might be expected.

Katie Rice, born by Caesarean section about 36 hours before the attacks, was expected to be released in the next day or so with her mother. Both are healthy.

"We're realizing on a microlevel how fragile life is," John Rice said. "To see little Katie and realize people are out there mourning."

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