June 2013

Danielle Chicano, Editorial Associate

DPM Recalls The Terror At The Boston Marathon

By Danielle Chicano, Editorial Associate

“Just as we were peaking, when the bulk of the runners were coming in (the medical tent), that’s when all hell broke loose,” explains Howard Palamarchuk, DPM, as he recalls the moments surrounding the first blast at this year’s Boston Marathon.

   Having attended the Boston Marathon as a medical volunteer for the past 28 years, Dr. Palamarchuk expected to see your run-of-the-mill, sports medicine injuries at this year’s marathon.

   “(I expected) a lot of blisters — draining blisters — different skin injuries to the feet, sock abrasions, plantar fasciitis and possible stress fractures,” notes Dr. Palamarchuk, the Director of Sports Medicine at Temple University’s School of Podiatric Medicine.

   However, at 2:50 pm, the unexpected occurred.

   When the first bomb went off near the finish line, Dr. Palamarchuk assumed a propane tank had exploded or that it was a howitzer blast “like they fire at Army-Navy games.”

   “It had that kind of boom but it was a lot louder. You could feel the concussion, you could feel the shake—the ripple effect,” recalls Dr. Palamarchuk. “Shortly after, you heard the second (blast). Then you knew, ‘Oh my God, this is something bad.’”

   Dr. Palamarchuk and 10 students from Temple University’s Sports Medicine Club had been inside the medical tent approximately 30 yards from the finish line during the blasts. Through monitors inside the tent, Dr. Palamarchuk and his students saw the finish line “area torn up with people on the ground and the crowd barriers knocked down into the course.

   “First, you fear for your own safety,” he recalls. “You don’t know if you’re under attack or not. Is the next one coming? Will there be a third bomb?”

   Despite the fear and uncertainty, emergency responders, medical professionals and volunteers sprung to action offering help in any way they could, explains Dr. Palamarchuk.

   Doctors, emergency medical personnel and trauma nurses rushed to the finish line to triage those wounded while Dr. Palamarchuk and his students remained in the tent tending to the “walking wounded,” those who were transported in wheelchairs or carried to the medical tent, and those who were allowed to walk to the treatment tables nearby.

   The supply cart near the podiatric section of the tent was vital to their wound care efforts as most of what Dr. Palamarchuk and his students encountered were shrapnel wounds.

   “We would do a quick cleaning and assessment. A lot of it was assessment to see if (the injured) were wounded anywhere else,” explains Dr. Palamarchuk. “The idea was that we were able to assist while the critically wounded were loaded (onto ambulances).”

   Dr. Palamarchuk notes EMS personnel promptly brought the most critically wounded through the medical tent and to the ICU area for transport to the hospital while police and SWAT teams surrounded the tent.

   “What you saw in photos is what we saw in person,” Dr. Palamarchuk explains, recalling some of the more serious and traumatic injuries. “You’re wondering how that person could still be conscious. There was no crying, no hysterics, just complete shock.”

   Dr. Palamarchuk notes he and his students worked for 30 to 40 minutes before police evacuated the area. He is proud of the students. “We assisted the EMS (personnel). My students were all involved. Nobody stood around. Everyone was involved,” recalls Dr. Palamarchuk.

   Following the evacuation of the area, he recalls a very somber and surreal mood. Once a day of pride and elation, there was an aura of fear and distress for those involved with the marathon.

   “No one can ever tell you who won the race or what their time was,” says Dr. Palamarchuk. “That will all be forgotten. The joy of the race was lost.”

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