Dr. Hale was not involved in the treatment of bombing victims as the attending of record, but he said that he had a “bird’s-eye view” of the response in the pediatric ED. One child had shrapnel injuries and a ruptured tympanic membrane and was worked on by the team “professionally and efficiently,” Dr. Hale said.
When reports of a possible third bomb blast, at a library, came in, he saw the physician leaders go from team to team, making sure they were prepared.
“There were clear leaders communicating what to do,” said Dr. Hale, a firefighter in his hometown of Kittery in southern Maine. “As patients came in, it was extremely orderly. I saw very few clinical staff who were rattled.”
For his own part, in addition to his medical training, his training as a firefighter helped keep him calm, he said.
At Boston Medical Center, about a mile and a half from the blasts, the admissions that had been worked up over the course of the afternoon were essentially taken all at once so that there was room in the ED, said Dr. Hudspeth, who also does medical work in Haiti and was in New York on 9/11, though not as a doctor.
Focusing, he said, was “definitely a challenge.” Even though he had faith in hospital security, there was still “some notion of ‘You never know exactly what’s going to happen.’”
“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,” he said. “By and large, just put your nose to the grindstone.”
The doctors said that hospitalists had an unclear role in the response effort and hope to have their roles clarified so that they can better put to use their expertise in internal medicine. If hospitalists are monitoring general medical issues, that will help take some of the pressure off the trauma team.
“We know the [general] medicine stuff very well—that is our bread and butter,” said Dr. Hudspeth, who added that steps are being taken as part of Boston Medical Center’s post-response analysis to determine hospitalists’ role in future disaster responses.
They also said they felt fortunate that the bombings had occurred where they did, with so many hospitals close to the scene. It kept the system from becoming overwhelmed. Even so, “at some point, a disaster is so large that it would overwhelm any system, no matter how many resources were available,” Dr. Hale added.
Dr. Jangi said that he thinks his residency training helped him when he found himself having to provide care in a high-pressure situation in the medical tent.
“During residency, there are a lot of situations where you’re responsible for making a decision on your feet,” he said. “That’s a skill that you’re not really exposed to until you do it and that type of fast decision-making. I felt myself drawing on that. Not that I resuscitated anyone in the tent, but I felt more comfortable with uncertainty, with doing your duty in a situation of uncertainty. And I don’t know—maybe if I hadn’t gone through that, I would have just run out of there.”
He said the experience has helped make him more committed as a doctor.
“It makes it easier to remember what my duty is more, and it just gives me more empathy for suffering in general—I feel that very strongly,” he said. “It’s possible that this experience could have numbed me, but it didn’t. It’s made me more acute to the idea of people suffering.”