"This stupid thing I got," Beall calls the cough for now. "I'm not trying to make a big deal of it," he said, though he remembers the hours he spent hauling shoring material into the debris-littered Pentagon. He wore protective gear, but in between many shifts he often was within 200 feet of the building, with whatever exposure that meant.
His mind already has turned over such words as emphysema, chronic pulmonary disease and cancer. "I'm anxious to find out what it is," he said.
Given worries that some health issues could take years to surface, the department hopes to push a bill in the Virginia legislature next year that would extend workers' statute of limitations for 9/11-related claims. "We're just concerned about the long-term effects," Staples said.
April Gallop looks only to the here and now.
In January 2003, she left the Army. She lives with her son, Elisha, who survived with head injuries that have caused developmental delays. She walks with a cane because of a spinal misalignment, but her third-floor Woodbridge apartment cannot be retrofitted for a mechanized lift. Every step, she said, is slow and painful. At 33, she takes cortisone shots and swallows up to 10 tablets a day.
But no drug wards off her flashbacks, when she sees herself at her Pentagon desk three years ago, on her first day back from maternity leave.
Little Elisha was in the stroller beside her. Gallop had just pushed the button to start her computer when the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon, blowing her across the room.
For a moment, Gallop said, she thought she had died and gone to hell. Then she heard her son crying. She couldn't imagine babies condemned to hell, so she realized they were alive.
When Elisha cries these days the same way he did when he was trapped under the debris, it all comes back. If she drives past an airport and smells jet fuel, it all comes back. She hears her injured co-workers calling for help. She sees the shards of metal, the broken furniture and shattered lights jutting dangerously every which way. It feels . . . so real.
"You live with it, almost every day," Gallop said. "You carry it with you."