This post was authored by Michael S. Emery, MD, FACC, co-chair of the ACC’s Sports and Exercise Cardiology Section Leadership Council.
On Monday, April 21, 2014, I returned for the 118th Boston Marathon to volunteer in the finish line medical tent. The previous year was my first experience volunteering in the medical tent, and unfortunately that day – April 15, 2013 – was shattered by the bombs placed at the finish line. I went from being a medical volunteer to a first responder at a terrorist attack (read my blog on last year’s experience here). It was a horrific scene and an experience that will be a part of me for a lifetime. I struggled after that day comprehending and processing what I saw and assisted with on that bloody sidewalk. I had my own post-traumatic stress disorder to deal with for several months after that day.
Needless to say I was quite apprehensive to return in 2014, but really felt like I needed to return to provide myself some closure and experience the marathon medicine that I intended to last year. With plenty of encouragement from close friends who had also experienced the horror with me last year and accompanied by my wife and children, I returned to Boston several days in advance of this year’s marathon. I wanted to experience the history of Boston and the excitement of the Marathon with my family.
After landing and checking into the hotel, I wanted to go to the finish line. I didn’t want to dwell on returning to the site where I last stood in blood and smoke filled air any longer than necessary. Last year I ran onto that bloody sidewalk and into the famous running store at the finish line that was filled with smoke and broken glass looking to assist injured survivors. This year I stepped onto that same sidewalk and entered the same shop much more apprehensively worried about how I would handle it emotionally. The remarkable thing about that spot, it was like being in a different world now compared to then. There was the hustle and bustle of people moving up and down the street and entering the running store. There were small, tasteful signs commemorating the victims, but otherwise it was a normal street with a normal sidewalk (that just so happens to be the finish line of the world’s oldest annual marathon). No more blood, no more smoke, no chaos – just peace!
My family and I enjoyed the next few days in Boston experiencing the history of this great city and basking in the palpable excitement for this year’s Marathon throughout the city. On Patriot’s Day 2014, Marathon Monday had arrived. It was an early morning that day reporting to the finish line medical tent for security checks and a briefing. I got to see many people whom I met at last year’s race and exchanged a few cathartic hugs. Then it was down to business, first prepping the tent in anticipation of the runners then caring for them as they arrived. I was in the intensive care unit section and we cared for your typical dehydration and muscle cramping, but also had some atrial fibrillation, a supraventricular tachycardia, hyponatremia and hyperthermia (one athlete had a core temperature of ~108°F). This is what I had set out to do last year – to experience marathon medicine! It was a fantastic experience; every athlete was gracious and appreciative, and the medical staff worked as a great team (physicians, nurses, athletic trainers, massage therapists, scribes, psychologists, etc.)
I have forged some fantastic friendships through this event and cannot thank these friends enough for all of the support they have provided me. To my wife and children, thank you for being so incredibly understanding and my emotional anchors this past year. I look forward to volunteering next year for the 119th Boston Marathon (and for many years to come). It has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had as a physician! #bostonstrong
This post is part of a series of posts from the ACC’s Sports and Exercise Cardiology Section. For more information about the Section, click here.