Dr. Eric Lew describes his personal and surreal experience as a medical volunteer in the medical tent following the Boston Marathon bombings.

April 30, 2013

This was my second year volunteering at the Boston Marathon Med Tent. I am a second year resident at the Cleveland Clinic/Kaiser Permanente program (Cleveland, OH). My mom ran the marathon last year as well (this was her 6th Boston race) and I went out to provide dual support for her and for the runners needing medical attention as part of the Podicatric Medical Volunteer team.  


My experience this year as you can imagine was surreal. None of us would ever think we would be treating victims and injuries of this nature in such a setting as a marathon med tent. As soon as we heard and felt the bombs go off, we knew something very bad just happened. A short moment later, they sent out all the attending physicians immediately to the finish line and held the rest of us (PA's, residents, students, physical therapists and some nurses) to continue attending to the runners that needed care still in the tent.  Shortly thereafter, the injured/victims were rapidly wheeled in and we went to work. The Med tent instantly transformed into a triage area. Some of the victims brought through the tent were severely injured and in obvious critical condition- they were put straight on to the ambulances waiting at the back of the tent. The remaining injured were placed into the tent and that's where we as volunteers were able to provide most of our assistance.  Just about every patient we saw was covered in blood, debris, with "shrapnel" in their wounds and smelled of explosive material.  Taking the lead from an ER volunteer physician, I helped with performing physical exams, checking vitals, applying pressure to actively bleeding wounds, bandaging, etc.  We were working steadfastly to keep these victims stable until their turn came up to leave on the ambulances. Comfort measures and reassurance was provided to the victims as they waited their turn.  Amidst all the chaos, the BAA (Boston Athletic Association) Medical team leaders did a fantastic job at keeping everyone calm, on task, and organized. My rotations and experiences through emergency medicine, both as a student and resident as well as CPR and ACLS training were most helpful for this situation.  Since most of these injuries involved lower extremities, our physical exam skills proved beneficial in evaluating these patients.  It was amazing to see all health care professionals band together and work to help these victims in these most dire moments. It was a great privilege to be able to participate in the care of these patients with this great group of medical volunteers. 


After every patient was attended to, I then realized my Mom was still out there and I got worried because she usually finishes the race at the time the bombs went off.  In the back of my head, I knew she and her running friends had to be ok, since I didn't recognize any of the faces that came through the med tent.  My Dad and sister were also about 50 yards away from the second blast.  It was more agonizing for my mom who knew we were all very close to the finish line and not knowing if we were ok. (All that she heard as a runner in the field was that 2 bombs went off at the finish line). We eventually found out that everyone was ok once the phone lines were reopened.

I found that many of us left the med tent wondering "what more can we do to help?"  I've had a few days to reflect on this question, and I realize that perhaps the best way that we can honor these victims, the fallen and their families is to bring our very best to every patient we treat.   It is truly a privilege to be apart of this great profession. We have an incredible opportunity to continue to demonstrate that we are a vital and necessary force within the greater medical community.


Dr. Eric Lew - PGY3