Five Years After the Boston Marathon Bombing, Two Lahey Health Nurses Recall Their Experiences

Today is the 5th anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, and at least two of our Lahey Health nurses had up-close and intimate experiences with the trauma that unfolded.

One was at the finish line, while the other worked at a downtown hospital where many of the victims were transported.

Julie Christopher, an IV nurse at Winchester Hospital, has volunteered in the finish-line medical tent for 15 years.

“There are about 100 volunteers in the medical tent,” Julie said. “We used to be able to leave the tent to walk around or take pictures, but since the bombings you pretty much stay in the tent the whole time.”

She was right there when the bombs went off.

“It felt like a gas explosion, and that’s what everyone thought it was at first,” she said. “Then the first victim wheeled across the line without any legs.”

The response teams were on point that day, Julie recalled.

“You heard sirens coming from every direction,” she said. “The EMS teams were amazing. They cleared the tent in half an hour.”

Julie wasn’t deterred by the Boston Marathon bombing because this year is her 15th year volunteering in the tent.

Another one of our nurses was off work that day. But, like many medical professionals that day, when she found out what happened, she drove straight to the hospital.

Patty Covelle is the Director of Acute Care Services for Nursing at Beverly Hospital. Five years ago, she oversaw the ICUs for one of the busiest trauma centers in Boston.

On the day of the marathon, Patty was hiking in the Middlesex Fells Reservation with her son, brother, and a few others.

Patty’s brother received the first call alerting him of potential manhole explosions and quickly confirmed that those explosions were suspicious of being intentional and that there were lots of injuries because of it. Patty called work and was asked to come in to help with the large influx of patients they were receiving.

“I drove straight there, knowing that my first task was going to be to assure that there were enough resources to care for the patients and families and to also facilitate the movement of the more stable patients out of the trauma SICU so that those patients coming from the scene could be cared for by the trauma team. There was no traffic on the roads,” she said. “It was surreal; and was then greeted with the strong heavily armed military presence at the hospital entrances.”

The ICU started getting its first patients right around the time shifts were changing. But instead of staff leaving, they stayed on to help, “that’s what nurses do when crises hit, we stay until it’s over.”

“It was by the grace of God it happened when it did,” Patty said. “Because we needed everyone there to help and the timing of the explosions gave us the edge we needed with our staffing resources— there were so many victims coming in. Every department stepped up and went above and beyond to support the needs of the patients, families and staff.”

Although it was chaotic and scary, “it was all handled so well. The care teams knew exactly what they had to do and knew exactly how to do it. As healthcare providers, when things get hectic and crises arise, we don’t have time to think about why something won’t work because we are too busy implementing plans and strategies to make it work. That’s probably what I think back on the most, we just did it and I’m still incredibly grateful for the teamwork on that day and the days and weeks that followed.”

Patty said the experience taught her an important lesson, one she already knew: there are no limits to what a highly functioning team can accomplish when everyone is working towards a common goal. That common goal that day was to save lives, provide swift high quality care, and to finally reunite the patients with their families so that they could all start to heal together.

For Patty, the experience reiterated the importance of managers in protecting the needs of individual staff members.

“As leaders, we have a responsibility to be sensitive to the emotional toll traumatic events like the Marathon bombing take on our care teams,” she said. “This requires leaders, to always be on the lookout for signs of fatigue both emotionally and physically so that we can offer support.”

*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

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