“Today the road all runners come,
Shoulder high we bring you home
And set you at your threshold down
Townsman of a stiller town.”
As this afternoon’s events unfolded, I sat glued to my computer screen between patients. My life has really been a tale of three cities—Houston, Boston and San Diego. Boston was where I did my residency training, met my husband, had my three children and my first “real” jobs. I wrote to my best friend, a physician and lifelong resident of Brockton and Boston—I was worried, since her two kids, now in their late 20’s are active, athletic and in a waking nightmare, I pictured them at the scene. I received this reply from her: “Fortunately, we are all safe. Boston is quite crazy right now. The hospitals are in lock down, and there are amputations going on in every OR. Thank goodness we have so many fine institutions in the area. Everyone is stunned. So very, very sad.”
Every year since we met, in 1982, until the time I left Boston in 1993, she and I would watch the Boston Marathon together. But we didn’t go downtown—we always went exactly to the halfway mark, thirteen miles in, where the route goes directly in front of Wellesley College. My friend had gone to Wellesley, and in fact had married one of her professors and they lived close by on the appropriately named Lovewell Road, a block from the marathon course. I have happy photos from the time—I did not have children yet, but she had a beautiful little girl, blonde and blue eyed, who would sit perched on her Daddy’s shoulders to get a good vantage point. Tuppence, their stubby little rescued pound pup was in attendance also, and all together we would cheer as the runners went by, and the Wellesley girls, dressed like Greek goddesses in their togas would flash their beautiful smiles, and occasionally their beautiful breasts at the runners. The guys always picked up their pace a little when they made their way through Wellesley. Thoughts of terrorism had never entered our minds.
That all changed on September 11, 2001, when our nation and people collectively lost their last thread of insular optimism and belief in the goodness of mankind. But what happened in the world of medicine—specifically in the world of hospital based emergency medicine—in the wake of 9-11 has doubtless saved many lives in Boston today. The ER and surgery residents and attendings of Massachusetts General Hospital, The Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston University Hospital and Tufts New England Medical Center earned their keep today and are still earning it as I write tonight. They are treating shock, and abrasions, and contusions, and head trauma, and learning to triage under real disaster conditions. And sadly, many of them are learning to perform amputations for the first time. On video footage I watched physicians wearing yellow coats who thought they were there for the fun of it– to administer fluids to dehydrated runners and wrap them in thermal blankets and congratulate them—jump the barriers with EMTs and National Guardsmen to staunch bleeding and administer CPR. I know that the survivors are in the best of all possible hands tonight.
Boston, like New York City, will overcome this tragedy. But I don’t think anyone will watch the Marathon with the same innocent enthusiasm that we had so many years ago ever again.