“I’m extremely scared:” From Dr. Zhang’s Perspective

I found Dr. Yanjun Zhang in one of the biology labs on Thursday, November 2. Despite being the only person from Stuyvesant directly harmed in...

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I found Dr. Yanjun Zhang in one of the biology labs on Thursday, November 2. Despite being the only person from Stuyvesant directly harmed in Tuesday’s attacks, he had only missed one full school day. Dr. Zhang, a lab specialist for the biology department, seemed to be doing well. He was shuffling around the labs with another teacher, cleaning things up, and arranging for the next lab. His right pinky and ring finger were both bandaged, and his right hand was noticeably swollen—a battered rainbow of yellows, greens, purples and blues—but it didn’t seem to bother him at all. He even asked me to come back during his free period because he didn’t want to leave the other teacher alone with the work.

During the attacks on Tuesday, Dr. Zhang was one of the Citi Bike riders hit by the truck. He was only injured in a minor way, but the person in front of and behind him were both killed. When I finally did get to talk to him, he told me his story.

Tell me what happened from your perspective.

My working hours are from eight to three, so on that day, I left a few minutes past three. And then I went downstairs as usual and picked up one Citi Bike. You know there’s a yard in front of the building and the bike path. I had just entered the bike path. I saw a truck driving in my direction, southbound, very fast, so I got very scared. I immediately stopped my bike. My position was about half in the path. The truck was very fast. Actually, the truck was on the other side of the path, so if the truck kept going in that direction, it wouldn’t hit me. I think the truck intentionally turned in my direction to hit me, and it hit my front wheel. Because the truck was so fast, the bike was hit, and then it tumbled, so I was also flipped backward.

It happened so fast—I don’t even remember what happened. I remember I tumbled backwards and stood up. I remembered that there were some instructions from my old instructors for emergencies, that I was supposed to talk to people right away, so I immediately asked people, “Am I bleeding? Am I bleeding?” and then they responded saying, “You’re okay, you’re okay.” But I was actually bleeding. And at that time, I heard somebody say, “He’s got a gun!” So I hid behind something solid. I ran behind a building, and I heard something similar to gunshots—I had no idea if they were gunshots because I was on the other side of the building.

Later on, I came out. I saw a lot of policemen, and I went to look at the bike I was riding. The front wheel was distorted. At that time, I was bleeding, so I told the policeman that that was my bike, and he told me to sit down and that he was going to get an ambulance for me. A few detectives also came to me to get information and take pictures of my driver’s license. I was put in an ambulance, and after some time, it brought me to the hospital, very close to the Brooklyn Bridge. I think it’s the Brooklyn Bridge, but I don’t really know.

At the hospital, they made me go through a lot of tests to make sure that my body was not damaged. One of the EMT guys said that I probably had my hand broken, because it was deformed so badly, but after all the x-rays, they found out that it wasn’t broken—it was just tissue damage.

There’s a lot of bruising and swelling. The whole body—there are lots of minor damages.

How long were you at the hospital?

I think they brought me to the hospital at about six. I was released at about 11. I remember I arrived at home sometime around 11 or 12, so I would say about five hours. Two of my colleagues actually came. They somehow got information from detectives. Detectives usually don’t give out information like that, but they came to visit me. It was very moving. The FBI has some kind of victim counseling agents, and there was a lady there to provide some kind of comforting effort, and my two colleagues came, so we were talking about it. At that time, I was very disoriented and very confused, and with them talking to me, it began to clear my mind a little bit. It has been very helpful.

How come you only stayed at home for one day?

Yesterday, I felt that there were too many wounds, and I shouldn’t come. But today, I felt that I should come, mostly to be with my colleagues and talk to them in a stable environment. It’s psychologically better to be communicating in an environment where people can talk to each other.

Do you feel okay?

Um, not okay, but not really that painful. I just can’t get the swelling off. But I asked some people, and they gave me all sorts of suggestions.

So how do you feel about it?

I don’t really have a lot of general opinions about it yet, but I’m deeply moved by the support that I’ve gotten from my colleagues. There are times where in normal situations we might have conflicts, but when bad things happen, the true natures of my colleagues show up. They are very, very decent people. They care about me very much. I believe that I care about them just as much.

How has the attack affected you?

Yes, I feel I have been very fortunate.

Were you here for 9/11?

I was in a different high school. At that time, I worked in Jamaica High School in Queens, so I saw it from the other side of a river.

Did that experience change your experience of this at all?

It’s difficult to say. I should say yes, because since then, we’ve gotten all sorts of trainings. Our whole society is more alert. At that time, we weren’t informed that easily.

Has the administration contacted you?

The principal called me! And even after that, he gave me his personal phone number and asked me to call him anytime. They are very concerned, and they are very supportive. Also, my colleagues are very supportive too. I am here and they always ask me not to do anything and whatever I want to be done, they will do it for me (He chuckles). It’s very moving.

Have you been emotionally affected by this?

Yes. I’m extremely scared. I have never been in such a situation where two people have died right in front of me. I still can’t comprehend the situation. Two bicycle riders were, just a moment ago, alive people, and now they’re lying there, lifeless. It’s very difficult to deal with. That’s part of the reason I want to be with people. To be stabilized by people. After all, we are social animals.