Harry Waizer Surviving 9-11 Part 2


Part 2 of Harry’s amazing story. He shares how he recovered from his physical and emotional pain. What he learned from his experience and the whispers that kept him going. It is an amazing story that you don’t want to miss!

Episode Transcription:

Intro plays

Ari: Welcome to whispers and bricks. My name is Ari Schonbrun, and I’m your host. Today’s episode is part two of an amazing interview that I did with Harry Weiser. Harry and I worked together at Cantor Fitzgerald on 911. He was severely burned, he was in an elevator that caught fire, he was engulfed by a fireball and his miraculous recovery is unbelievable. His story is unbelievable. If you didn’t listen to part one, yet, I recommend that you listen to that first before you listen to this one. And without further ado, here’s Harry Weiser.

Harry: There was a lot of they didn’t make it. They most of my department, most of my closest friends and colleagues did not.

Ari: Let me ask you a question. Now. Sorry for interrupting. Let me ask you a question. So you’re in an elevator at 8:46am. Was that your normal time to get to work? Did you or were you early or were you late?

Harry: I came into Manhattan on Metro North Westchester, and then ever get a subway and they were two subways. I could get the Lexington Avenue line which was faster. Or he go across town on the shuttle and take the one two or three I think it was the now though. It was the a of the E FF which I used to go that way sometimes, because I had a friend who worked in the other trade center, who would sometimes be on the train with me. And she preferred that because you get a seat. It was less crowded. It was a little bit slower. And that morning, even though she wasn’t there, I decided to just take it a little bit slower. Get a seat, which he never got on the Lexington line. So I went that way. It’s ours, probably two to three minutes later. Then, had I taken Lexington line? And those two, three minutes were saved your life. It’s between life and death. Yeah.

Ari: Well, well, but under normal circumstances, that’s that’s about the time that you got in every day. Yes. Yes. Okay. And the people that that were that were lost in your department? Was it again today? Was it their normal time to get in?

Harry: You know, I was a bit of a late comer to the park department officially opened at 830. And most people were there by then. And I had the company’s blessing to come in 15 minutes later, because the alternative was coming. I think 40 or 45 minutes earlier because of train schedules.

Ari: Yeah. Okay.

Harry: So yes, that was my usual time. Okay.

Ari: Please continue. 

Harry: Yeah. So Karen answered questions that GRS did.

And, you know, I went through a few names I probably went through a dozen names and then I just stopped. I just I was emotionally exhausted I was in New York Presbyterian. Until around Thanksgiving. I don’t remember the exact date I you know, I needed to do rehabilitation work there. And when I woke up I literally could not pick myself up out of bed. I couldn’t. I couldn’t even sit up in bed on my own. And one of my more powerful memories is the first time I stood up. I had a nurse or physical therapist like Have a voyage on each side. To Help me stand. I had a walker in front of me.

And with the walker, I took two steps and they applauded. I had a little crowd, I still get a little emotional darkness. I’m sorry,

hey, no, that’s fine.

Two steps, two steps back into bed, completely exhausted. But feeling, you know, I’ve made a little progress, or something. And I remember that night after Karen left. And Karen always stayed late. And after she left, I remember unexpectedly, just bursting into tears. Thinking Here I am 50 years old. And I’m being applauded for taking two baby steps I’ll share a story that I’ve shared a few times, but very few times about the the elevator. I still don’t know where this came from. But I remember this also, very vividly. As I was beating the flames i remember shouting. And the words I shouted were, you can’t have me. Not now. I had a 13 year old and a 12 year old and a 10 year old at home. And now wow. Wow.

And he didn’t take you

like to think somebody was listening.

Ari: Somebody was listening. Somebody was absolutely listening. Alright, I think you know that that kind of that kind of story or situation, I think goes more towards what the mind can think the body can do. And it’s like, you know, you had the willpower so to speak, or the frame of mind where no you can’t have me at and I’m not going to let you take me. Right. And that gave you the strength to do what you needed to do to get out of it. That’s That’s what I believe. You’re always a fighter, Harry. I know that.

Harry: Yeah, well, I the doctors.

And I’m not even a doctor.

Yeah, yeah. Okay. I, I was incredibly lucky, and I know it.

Ari: Well. So let me ask you this. Did you suffer? Do you suffer from survivor’s guilt? I ask you that because that’s what people always ask me.

Harry: I asked myself that. I, I certainly a little bit. I know that. As I said, I was close some of the people who died. And I wanted to call their wives and husbands. It was months before I could be myself to do it. Because all I could think of was

they must be asking themselves. Why was he spirit and not mine? And then I and I didn’t think that mainly of them.

And I thought to myself, how could they not be asking themselves that question how can they not see me feel happy for me and Karen and my children but still ask themselves that question because you know, they suffered such a terrible loss. So it it took me a while and they were when I finally reached out, they were gracious and kind and happy for us. but they were still very, very difficult calls for me. I suspect for them also,

Ari: for sure. For sure, right, let me ask you this. How? And I know it did. But how did it change your life? Besides the obvious, you know, besides the physical? How did this experience change? Like, if at all? I mean, are you the same guy that you are on September 10? Or, you know, or did you change?

Harry: You know, I think something like this does one of two possible things. I don’t think anybody comes out of this unaffected. I think it either changes you, or deepens who you already are. And I think in my case, it was the second. I mean, I think that I’m not fundamentally different than who I was before. But I think some of the things that I feel, I feel more deeply. And on the other hand, you know, there’s this for a while you’re living in an almost an elevated state of gratitude and appreciation for life. It’s hard to maintain, I still have moments where I will literally just draw a breath. I will remember the days when I struggled to draw a breath. And I’ll feel this enormous sense of gratitude. But those are moments you know, I, I breathe constantly. I’m not constantly in a state of right, gratitude.

Ari: Right. Right. Is there a day that goes by that you don’t think about it?

Harry: No, there’s there’s there isn’t. It’s just not possible. I see myself in the mirror.

Ari: Right? Every day. I

know, I experience an ache or pain or a twinge. I still have some of those. I remember where it comes from. And not not angrily, but I remember. Right. Right. Well,

well, you know, it’s it’s just, it bring it brings, it brings all of us back to that to that horrible, horrible day. You know, most people don’t know, but I do. You actually wrote a book about your nine and 11 experience. She never got it published? Nope. Okay. Now the reason I know that is because I actually have a copy of that book. I do. And I’m waiting for the go ahead from you to try and get it published.

Harry: First of all, you probably have to trust because I’m a, I’m a terrible tinkerer. I can’t write anything without playing with it a little bit. But it’s probably 95% of what I have. I haven’t looked at it in. Gosh, I don’t know. 1718 years? Well. You know, it was a good exercise for me.

Ari: I would have to imagine what it must have been very therapeutic. Yeah, I know. I know, when when I started speaking, you know, telling my story. And the more I told it, the better I felt. And I know that was very therapeutic. And when, when a friend of mine convinced me to actually write a book, which was nine years later. Okay. And I didn’t know the first thing about writing a book and I wanted to get a ghostwriter. And they wanted, like, I remember the first Ghost Rider I touched. I called, wanted $65,000 to write the book. And I was like, No, I don’t think so. But ultimately, I wrote it myself and, you know, for better or worse. But that also was very, very therapeutic. You know, I used to come home from work and I just sat myself down my computer and just start typing away, you know, of any free hours of free time that I had. It just started typing away. And it was it was very therapeutic. Did you ever seek? You know, Jeff, or go to therapy and I’m talking about physical therapy. I’m talking about, you know, seeing a psychiatrist or seeing you know, you know, I’m saying

Harry: yeah, Well, first, I’m going to give you an unsolicited Park, because I have your book also. And if anybody listening doesn’t have it, get it. So wonderful book. Story. Thank you. And the answer is yes, you know, I came out of this, and a lot of physical therapy. And by my main Doctor encouraged me, I was areas, as I said, I was at the hospital, I went to a rehab center, I had to go back to the hospital, I had a bit of a relapse, back to the rehab center. It was five months before I came home. And I stayed in touch with my doctor at the rehab center. And he encouraged me to see a psychiatrist. He said, I know you don’t have nightmares and flashbacks. And but you’ve been through a an experience that by any reasonable definition is traumatic. Why don’t you just go and see he recommended someone he knew, right? Why don’t you just go and see a psychiatrist. And if you have a session or two, and then decide that you don’t need to see anybody, at least you’re making an informed decision. And sounded reasonable to me. So I did. And I went in with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder because this is a conceit. I think that I think, you know, I find, I don’t need this.

Been there done that.

And she was excellent. I mean, she did not push me. And when towards the end of our session, we’re talking. And I said to her, you know, I, I’m here because Dr. novedge thought it was a good idea. I really don’t think this necessary. What do you think? And she said, I, I’m not going to give you an opinion. So I will tell you, it’s clear to me that you don’t have PTSD.

That was gonna be my next question. But that’s good.

Ari: That doesn’t mean that this can’t be helpful. So that’s step one question for you. Is there anything that about your experience that you think about? That troubles you that you can’t share with anybody? Because you’re afraid it will hurt them?

Harry:  And I never thought about it in those terms. But as soon as she asked the question, yeah, there were things that were going through my head that I did not talk to Karen about because Karen had taken on so much. During five months as a single mother, I think she is becoming a caretaker. And and there were things that I just said, you know, I don’t need to bother with this. It will it will. I knew it would bother her if I spoke about it. And I said, Yeah. And she said, You don’t know me. We’re not friends. Other than in this room. I’m a stranger. You can tell me anything without worrying about how it affects anybody else. If you think that would be helpful, I would encourage you to come. Boy, she was so right.

Ari: Wow.

Harry: I will tell you one of the things that I didn’t even know at that time. Karen loves to travel. And I’m not enthusiastic, glad fine with it. She had wanted to take a trip about a year and a half. After 911 I was physically able. And I was so reluctant. And I think had I not been seeing a therapist. It would have been a much longer term, perhaps a permitted term before she was able to get me on their plate. Wow. That was a couple of months of talking it through. And, and it wasn’t anything I could put into words, all I realized was that every time this subject came up, I got anxious. So yeah, and the lesson for me, and the lesson I’ve, I’ve shared with others is that

and in, in some communities, and some professional and personal communities, seeing a therapist is viewed as a weakness, as a, there’s something wrong with you.

And, you know, it’s seeing a doctor if you have a pain, you don’t say, there’s something wrong about me. You see, I have a pain, I want to do what I can to make the pain get better. And that’s what this was.

Ari: You know that that’s so amazing, because my wife, Joyce, who you’ve met, is, is in the education field. And she’s got a master’s in special ed. And that’s her forte. And, you know, when when they take she works in a in a, any Shiva girls, yeshiva, and very often, you know, incoming students or whatever, you know, they test them to see if they’re okay, and if they need help, etc. And, you know, oftentimes they’ll say, you know, the child needs to see, you know, a therapist or something like that. And my wife always said, you know, and when the parents you know, kind of kind of, you know, go like, what, my child is nothing. Well, my job, my wife, my wife, we turned him and said, rough model, son, God forbid, alright, if your child had a bad you know, uh, let’s put it that let’s make it even better. If your child had pimples. Right? Would you take it to the dermatologist to get it fixed? Well, sure, of course, while this is no different, your child has an issue. And this is what can help her. Okay, this doctor can help her. So don’t shy away from it don’t don’t it’s not a stigma. And I think today, today, certainly today, it’s not a stigma. All right. Most of I know, in the, in the, in the Orthodox, the Jewish Orthodox world, even the even the achievers, even the right wing achievers, they all have, you know, if a child needs therapy, they’re all for it. Because they know that that’s what’s going to help the child and I think it’s, you know, it’s a major step than it was what it was, you know, 2030 years ago. Alright. And so, you are absolutely right. And, you know, I applaud you for letting my audience know that, you know, if they need help, they should seek help, and there is no shame and there is no stigma. hairy man, I love you to death. I really do. I miss you. Okay, I miss our talks. I miss you, too, that we used to have. I just have one last question for you. Sure. People that have that my audience that will be watching this. If they wish to reach out to you, is that something you would you would do mind if they wanted to talk to you? Maybe fair because they’re going through their own situations? Or they want some advice or whatever? Would you be if you would you be open to that first? If not, then we call it a day. If you would, then you know, maybe you have an email address or something where they can get in touch with you to you know, to form some sort of a tie to you.

Harry: Oh, absolutely. If there’s any way that I can help somebody who is going through anything similar or anything at all, I’d be happy to be helpful.

Ari: Great, and what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Harry: My email, it’s harrywaizer@gmail.com.

Ari: Okay, so that is Harry dot Weiser at Gmail, Harry h a r y dot Weiser W A izr@gmail.com. Wonderful. Okay, Harry, thanks so much for sharing your story. I know it couldn’t have been easy. But it was so, so important. I know that, you know, it took a lot of courage, and I really appreciate it and I know my audience really appreciates it. So, good luck going forward. Please send my best to your wife.

Harry: I will do my best to yours as well. And thank you. It’s just this is a wonderful excuse for getting together with you.