“You focus on the patient that’s in front of you. You focus on trying to solve the issues that are at hand. You deal with the logistical questions that come up between patients.”
—James Hudspeth, MD, Boston Medical Center
“At some point, a disaster is so large that it would overwhelm any system, no matter how many resources were available. ”
—Dan Hale, MD, Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center, Boston
Dan Hale, MD, a pediatric hospitalist at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, was doing discharge paperwork when he started getting text messages he couldn’t quite interpret.
“Are you OK?” “Do you need anything?” friends were asking him. Then he heard a page for all anesthesiologists to report to the OR. Immediately, he knew something terrible must have happened. He soon learned about the bombings at the Boston Marathon. He rushed to the pediatric ED to see how he could help.
James Hudspeth, MD, a hospitalist at Boston Medical Center, was meeting with the program director for internal medicine when he read a text message that bombs had just gone off near the finish line. They went online for local news coverage; soon thereafter, a cap on admissions was lifted. Dr. Hudspeth started expediting discharges to make room for what might be coming the hospital’s way.
Sushrut Jangi, MD, a hospitalist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, was in a medical tent gathering information for an article on treating the health problems of marathoners that he was writing for The Boston Globe when he heard the blasts. Doctors and medical staff there worried about the possibility of a bomb in the tent, he said, but they were instructed to stay with their patients. Dr. Jangi had expected to work as a journalist for the day, but his doctoring skills were needed.
Hospitalists who were working in downtown Boston on April 15, when two bombs exploded 17 seconds apart, all experienced the tragedy in their own ways. But their accounts also resonate within some of the same themes.
They found themselves unsure of their roles, as most of the work inevitably fell to surgeons and trauma specialists. They described the importance of good leadership in times of crisis. And they say that hospitalists should be incorporated to a greater extent into disaster plans.
Dr. Jangi said that before the bombs went off, the medical tent was almost filled with runners who were “quite ill”—hypothermic and shaking, high sodium levels, disoriented. When the blasts occurred, the main instruction was, “Don’t leave your patients behind.” Those who were well enough were released from the tent, and the bomb-blast victims were essentially “whisked through.”
“We just kind of cleared the way and got them into ambulances as soon as possible. We just didn’t have the capacity to take care of such severe injury,” he said. “Why should we? We weren’t expecting a war zone.”
In the tent, Dr. Jangi wrote in an essay for the New England Journal of Medicine, “Many of us barely laid our hands on anyone. We had no trauma surgeons or supplies of blood products; tourniquets had already been applied; CPR had already been performed. Though some patients required bandages, sutures, and dressings, many of us watched these passing victims in a kind of idle horror, with no idea how to help.”