Boston Doctors Compare Marathon Bomb Injuries To War Wounds | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Boston Doctors Compare Marathon Bomb Injuries To War Wounds

Play associated audio

Boston hospitals always staff up their emergency rooms on Marathon Day to care for runners with cramps, dehydration and the occasional heart attack.

But Monday, those hospitals suddenly found themselves with more than 100 traumatized patients — many of them with the kinds of injuries seen more often on a battlefield than a marathon.

Like most big-city hospitals these days, Tufts Medical Center runs regular disaster drills, featuring simulated patients smeared with fake blood.

So when word came Monday afternoon that there'd been an explosion at the Boston Marathon finish line, staffers weren't sure what was happening.

Robert Osgood, the hospital's emergency management chief, recalls those first moments.

'Is This Another One Of Your Crazy Drills?'

"There was sort of this beat where everybody in the emergency department sort of stopped for a second. And it was almost like you could hear each other breathing. And everybody looked at me and said, 'Is this another one of your crazy drills?' and the first thing I said was, 'No, this is not a drill. This is for real. We need to huddle up.' "

At first they thought it was something accidental, like a manhole cover explosion.

"But once we actually found out that this was a man-made event, there's a certain mental toll that sort of hits a switch in some of the staff. And they say, 'Why would somebody do this?' " Osgood said.

But soon there was no time for such thoughts. Terribly injured patients began coming through the emergency room doors of every big hospital in the city.

'A Lot Of Very Horrific Injuries'

Across town at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, emergency room specialist Steven Epstein described the carnage:

"Limbs that were severed, limbs that, you know, we hope we can save and some that we might not be able to save. A lot of very horrific injuries that we saw here today."

He said some patients near the blasts had soot around their mouths and noses. That's a sign they'd breathed in scorching air. They needed to be put on ventilators right away, because that kind of burn causes rapid swelling that can shut down people's airways and suffocate them.

Many had pieces of glass and metal embedded in their chests and necks. Ruptured eardrums from the blast were common.

"The device that went off today, for lack of a better term, was an improvised explosive device. And that's exactly what a number of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have had to deal with," Epstein said.

Just The Beginning For Many Victims

And like those wounded troops, doctors say, many of those injured in the Marathon blasts will require a lot of rehabilitation — both physical and mental.

"These were very disabling injuries in that the blast caused a lot of soft tissue injury. But also the shrapnel just rips through the tissues," said Dr. William Mackey, chief of surgery at Tufts Medical Center.

Mackey said his hospital quickly canceled all elective surgery as his colleagues tried to repair the damage as well as they could.

Patients needed hours of surgery, but Mackey said it was just the beginning for many victims.

"They will definitely need repeated operations," he said.

It wasn't until 9 p.m. that Mackey could sit down in his office and try to absorb the events. He said it'd been a very discouraging day.

"Because you don't associate the Boston Marathon with anything but a great sense of pride in the city, pride in the athletes that trained so hard to a run the marathon. And to have this happen ... yeah, it's very disorienting. It's been a very upsetting day in many, many ways," Mackey said.

But jittery as this city is today, Mackey doesn't think the Marathon bombings are going to intimidate Boston in the long haul.

"I don't think Bostonians are going to be terrorized by this. I think they're gonna be motivated by this. I sure hope more people than ever turn out for next year's marathon," Mackey said.

If they do, it's a safe bet all of them will be thinking about what happened at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit


Full Of Complexity And Ambivalence, 'American Sniper' Shows The Cost Of War

The film about a Navy SEAL whose service in Iraq made him a mythic figure has become a cultural lightning rod. But the squabbles are too simple for a low-key movie striking in its lack of stridency.

Why Dump Treated Wastewater When You Could Make Beer With It?

An Oregon company has developed a high-tech process for turning sewage into pure drinking water. Now it's asking the state for permission to give its recycled water to a group of home brewers.

White House Won't Seek To End 529 College Tax Break

All 50 states and the District of Columbia sponsor 529 plans. Critics had called the proposal to limit them a tax hike on the middle class.

Yahoo Plans To Spin Off Remaining Stake In Alibaba

Yahoo has announced it will spin off its 15 percent stake in the Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba. Shareholders had been waiting for that decision. The move needs regulatory approval.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.