Running towards danger

During Monday’s Marathon bombings, my friend Caitlin Rivet was working as a volunteer EMT at the Boston Marathon. I’ve known Caitlin since she was about 12. I taught her and her churchmates in Sunday School, youth group and confirmation. We’ve been close ever since, even as she moved into adulthood.

At church this morning, Caitlin was there. Her face has a strip of abrasions from shattered glass from the explosion, and she shies away from talking about her Monday. It’s too close, and too hard to put in words. But she wrote this narrative about her day, and gave me permission to share it.

When the marathon was just a fun sports event.
When the marathon was just a fun sports event.

4.15.13 – A Reflection

The Boston Marathon is one of the world’s premier sporting events. This year it was marred by two bombs that were detonated close to the finish line. During a time when most marathoners are finishing, the first bomb was set off in
front of a sports store along the spectator sidewalk. While hundreds of people were cheering on family and friends to the finish, they experienced a horrible act of terror. The first bomb went off feet from the finish line and only about 12 seconds later, the second went off less than one block away.

This is my reflection and memories of my day there.

It was a cool morning starting in the dark at 5am, my first major marathon volunteering experience about to begin. Despite having worked until 11pm the night before, I was a giddy person excited to see what the day would entail. With my clothes on that I had laid out the day before, I set off to the train station. Surprisingly, I could see my breath and I was happy to have my hot chocolate. As I waited for the commuter rail to pull in, I began to think how this marathon might be run compared to the Bay State Marathon, which had been my only experience in major sporting events. I was eager to get my directions, I was volunteering as medical staff, as an EMT. So as the train rolled into North Station, I followed my plan to the green line, ending at Arlington Station. From there I found my way to the Back Bay Event Center and my group meeting area. I was assigned to transport bus #5. I was the only EMT on my bus and surprised, it being my first time and all, but nonetheless, off I went. I gathered my volunteer jacket (score!) and supplies for the day, boarded the bus and so it began.

As the morning went on a few runners were unable to complete the race and we picked them up, making the trip to the finish line to drop them off. On our second run into the finish line, I realized I needed additional supplies. So after all the runners had made their way off the bus, I headed down the street to re-stock. On my way, things took a complete u-turn.

I was walking by the stands packed with friends and family cheering on their runners, when the first explosion occurred. It was a loud pop, suddenly my ears were ringing and I was off balance. As I re-gained my balance, saw the smoke and debris flying through the air, I knew instantaneously this was not normal. What I didn’t know was that it was a bomb not an accidental explosion of some sort. I later found that I had been scraped in the face by some of the glass flying- nothing major. As I began to run to the sidewalk, the second explosion occurred less than a block away. I stopped, saw it was similar and proceeded to the injured people.

From flying glass - she's not included in the count of injured.
From flying glass – she’s not included in the count of injured.

As I looked around, people were running with me towards the smokey, debris- filled sidewalk to assist those injured. What we found was beyond imagination. Blood stained the sidewalk, ran down the curb and sprayed against store windows. Glass flew through the air from windows blown out. In an attempt to gain access to the injured, everyone began to rip the staging apart; through metal scaffolding, marathon tape, the nation’s flags, wooden fencing: all with haste to reach those in critical condition. Suddenly, those of us who began the day volunteering to help with hypothermia and dehydration found ourselves making tourniquets of belts, tablecloths, clothes from the stores and marathon tape. Using clothes to cover wounds and many other makeshift items we found solutions. We entered a scene of horror, trepidation, mangled bodies and cries for help. Moving as quickly as possible for fear of additional attacks, we evacuated the injured over our shoulders, carried them by the extremities that were still intact and eventually stretchers and wheelchairs. As the police cleared the scene, the remnants of a nightmare were visible: an event of great personal achievement turned into a mission of many.

I found a few moments to txt people close to me and post on facebook that I was ok since cell towers were shut down.

This was such a relief to hear
This was such a relief to hear

The medical tents quickly filled, the grassy areas used for the less critical and ambulances began lining up to take patients to every available hospital. Police and volunteers began to stop runners, asking if they were medical staff and worked in Boston area hospitals; those who answered yes were quickly transported to begin the hard work extending the need to use their previously exhausted bodies.

We continued clearing the area, treating and transporting people until 7:30pm, only a total of 4 ½ hours after the explosion. Around 170 people were treated and transported, in the biggest MCI (mass casualty incident) Boston and
most medical staff had ever seen.

Around 8pm, it began to wind down. I gathered my belongings once I had been cleared to leave and took a look at the medical tent, the scene was one of peace and serenity. There was plenty of proof of the day’s events, but instead of chaos, screams and debris, it was filled with used supplies, sweat poured out from everyone’s best efforts and hope.

A great sense of accomplishment preceded a large feeling of the unknown. What’s next? Is there anything else I can do? Has everyone gotten what he or she needed? Did I miss someone? Did everything we do work? Do I go home now? Can I get home?- the MBTA had been shut down. What do I do when I go home? I’m exhausted – will I sleep? As much of the unknown crowded my mind, a sense of disbelief and numbness settled in. I proceeded to the nearest open station guided by troopers since most of Boston was still shut down. I took the train home, calling my Aunt on the way home and stopping for a burger – my first meal since breakfast.

I sat on the train and couldn’t think about what happened, how does one process an event of such magnitude? I am very good at compartmentalizing and focusing on the job, will that carry over to today? I texted a few friends who had been trying to get my status, knowing I lived in the area but not that I was actually at the marathon. As I responded to them, I was in awe of how many people had heard and thought of me- some people I hadn’t heard from in a while. Then a thought crept in: what will I tell people when they ask? Do I give details? Can my friends and family handle the details of my experience? What does my Mom know/think- she’s in Spain? Should I give a summary, if you will? Will I be ok talking about it? How will I be at work now? And what the heck will I say to my Dad? In conclusion: I needed space to see how this will play out.

The next day I woke up feeling well rested, then my memory was jogged and I remembered what had happened. Should this effect my day? Let’s see how it goes. I got more info, though I felt no need to look at the pictures since I had plenty in my head. I heard the number of official fatalities and injured. Amazingly much to the tribute of a city’s teamwork, the fatalities were extremely low for an attack of this caliber and most survivors will have the opportunity to overcome their injuries and flourish in spite of the attackers intentions.

I did go to work the next day; things went fairly well. Besides being a bit jumpy and nervous at doors shutting, sirens blaring, basically any loud noise, I was able to do my job and finish my shift. When I brought patients to the hospital, my friends offered their support and checked to see how I was. Staff that had never really interacted with me, suddenly knew me and were interested in my well-being. I was shocked at the span of knowledge that I was there. Wednesday, work went well, somber and numb still, but well. Thursday I had a non-violence interventions training, I attended with a few friends and the class was better than expected. Somewhere in the first portion of the training, we were instructed to shut our eyes and picture our happy place- I did not do this, then out of nowhere, the instructor
screamed. I was overwhelmed and had to leave the class to gather myself. This was really my first time not able to keep it in control. I realized that things were starting to become less numb. My boss asked me to take the evening off, though I did not want to and call the crisis team. I did and got a counselor, basically my thinking was – dude, this is normal, it’s going to take a little while to re-adjust and comprehend. I got a few good tips and went to work Friday. Friday the hospital chaplain approached me also, and the rest of the shift went well.

What I have realized is, the effects are probably going to take a while to subside. I am sleeping through the night, I wake up sweaty in the morning, but it’s a complete night sleep. I get startled easily by noises such as car doors, things being dropped and the lock on the hospital stretchers. When I know they are coming, I can brace myself. I keep cough drops in my pocket because the crisis counselor suggested that when I get trapped in a moment, sucking on a strong flavor stimulates the senses and brings you back to the present. Very true, whoever figured that out is genius!

I cry occasionally without warning. I am not totally in my usual easygoing personality, but it peeks through sometimes.

The only thing that has truly saddened me is that while thinking of those I needed to notify immediately that I was ok, I thought of my grandparents. My grandparents passed this fall. I feel it speaks to our strong connection and the love that still exists. I know that they would have been so proud and enjoyed my story.

Time will go on, people will ask, things will scare me: flashbacks or whatever you want to call them; will occur, but overall, I am comforted by the fact that I did everything in my power to improve the circumstances for many. I will most likely never have the opportunity to make such a large difference/ impact in my lifetime. I am grateful that I was there. Although I struggle at this time, it is nothing compared to others and my struggle is warranted by the actions I took.

It has been a truly profound experience and when I have trouble, I picture the tent at 8pm; quiet, serene and peaceful: the perfect ending to a tragedy and the best display of humanity in its essence.

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Brenda currently lives in Stoneham MA, but grew up in Mineral WA. She is surrounded by men, with two sons, one husband and two boy cats. She plays trumpet at church, cans farmshare produce and works in software.

4 thoughts on “Running towards danger”

  1. Thank you Brenda for posting this and thank you Caitlin for your strength and compassion and service at the marathon…and your courage in sharing your reflections of your experiences in the face of the unexpected horror that unfolded.


  2. I’m very grateful to see this collaboration between two wonderful people. Caitlin, thank you for inviting us in to this much of your experience; though it is still beyond what many can imagine, it is tragically a part of our world. You know that your many friends are here for you as you continue your journey.
    Brenda, thank you for encouraging Caitlin to offer story. Both of you are involved in ministry in the deepest sense.


  3. Reblogged this on My Truant Pen and commented:

    I rarely repost old posts, but as we come up to Marathon weekend again, I can’t help but think of that day five years ago. Sometimes you may not guess who around you is a hero. Caitlin is to me, many times over.


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