Some first responders at the scene were trained police officers, firefighters, paramedics and EMTs.
Some were race staff and volunteers.
Many more were spectators just waiting for their friends, family and loved ones to cross the finish line in a life affirming event.
Some runners, perhaps having dreamed of this day, this chance to cross the finish line at the Boston Marathon their entire adult lives stopped their forward progress abandoning their dream, the goal they had worked so hard to achieve, in order to help others.
Regardless of title, training or lack thereof, they were all “first responders”.
They will never be able to unsee what they have seen. No matter how tough or experienced some of them may be, they will be haunted to varying degrees by some of the images for the rest of their lives.
To those who were there, who responded, who selflessly gave of yourselves,
Please avail yourselves (if you have not already) of any critical incident stress debriefing offered. If you were a spectator, a participant or anyone else who does not regularly have that offered to you, seek it out through your local EMS agencies.
While some of you who do this professionally already understand the impact and how long it is going to take to process the events of March 15th, 2013, it’s going to be even more challenging than you know to get past what you saw, heard and felt.
As a paramedic for 13 years, I can’t count the number of mass casualty incidents I responded to; to say they are shocking and overwhelming is a gross understatement.
Many years ago at a base station meeting, an emergency room doctor who sees the worst of the worst (in a controlled environment and only one or two at a time) when telling the story of one such event when he was a ride along couldn’t describe the feeling of helplessness he felt when confronted with so much critical trauma, death, dying and chaos. “I don’t know how you people do this day in and day out; I had no idea where to start.” he said.
The helplessness… knowing you can’t help everyone, knowing you can only do so much for so few and that it’s never enough, is a truly devastating feeling.
What makes this even worse for everyone involved in an event such as this, is that these were “your people” your peers, perhaps even someone you knew personally.
That is the worst of the worst, parents responding to calls where children the same age as their own were critically injured; I lost it after a call where a “man” (if you could call him that) beat his 60-something year old mother viciously when she would not give him drug money (I had him bodily removed from the room so that I could work on his mother because I was honestly afraid of what I might do to him); she was the same age and looked like my mother, I had to call her immediately after I got back to the station.
Even worse when it’s someone you know… I responded to a dangerous and accidental drug overdose of one of my friend’s young children. On an even more personal note, my paramedic instructor had a serious heart attack (that required a quadruple bypass) and I was on the unit that responded.
There is more, so much more… I can’t count the number of times (after, always after a call) where I (the allegedly tough as nails medic and incident commander who’d been through it and toughed it out so many times before and always held it together on the call) sat sobbing uncontrollably on the floor of the emergency room bathroom.
I am very damaged from all of this. I have seen things, things that people do to others, to innocents, to children… that are so horrible I can not tell another person because it would quite literally scar them for life. So those things must live inside me, and I must manage them on my own as best I can. (it is never good enough)
How damaged you might ask? Most of my close friends have never seen me hold a baby other than in the process of delivering one in an emergency situation. Most people see a baby and want to hold/cuddle it. I, instinctively check it’s color, make certain that it has a pulse and is breathing and that it has not been abused or injured. I’ll spare you the stories of why I’m that way… you don’t want to know and I would never inflict that on you.
My hope is that all who were there that terrible day are able to seek out whatever help is available to them so that they can process what they experienced and not let it permanently damage their heart and soul.
No matter how old, experienced or tough you are, we all need help processing such things. It is OK to cry, it is OK to lean on others, it is OK, no, it is vital to seek help.
You can only be available to help others, if you are taking good care of yourself.