BOSTON — Shortly after the Boston bombings I posted a note here about the mental health effects of mass violence, which often go on for years and even decades.
I had the wonderful opportunity last weekend to visit Boston to attend a Red Sox game. The journey took on incredible poignancy two weeks after the Boston bombings. I wanted to share a few thoughts, snapshots taken two weeks later.
It was a gorgeous weekend in Boston.
Clear blue sky, cool in the shade and warm in the sun. Tulips, magnolias, forsythias, cherry trees all in bloom. The type of days which broke us out of the chrysalis of crusted dirty snow, made us feel alive again, when I went there as an undergraduate.
So many of us went to college there, or have kids who go to college there.
Our hotel, the Westin Copley Place, overlooked the memorial where the finish line was two weeks ago. The Copley Plaza’s neighbors include Trinity Church, Old South Street Church, the Fairmont Copley Hotel, and the Boston Public Library.
The square also now has hundreds of running shoes, names of the wounded and dead, and Boston Strong signs everywhere.
Superficially everyone and everything looked great.
There is little sign of property damage. Of course, 80% of the population was in Boston Red Sox hats and t-shirts. There are still lots of news vans. Therapy dogs ambled around the sidewalk. A couple of girls held signs” I give hugs.” Few that I saw took them up on their offer.
Underneath the surface, anxiety, past and present, clearly lurked.
I asked everyone how the last two weeks were, half expecting to hear that the lockdown was an overreaction and was stupid. But by and large, of the maybe 30 folks I talked to, what I heard were comments like these:
“It was really scary.”
“I am glad they locked down. It was better that way, so that business owners themselves did not have to make the decision.”
“I have not really processed it yet.”
“I just cannot believe it happened here. At the Marathon.”
“I cannot believe that Dzhokhar went to school here. Or could do such a thing. He was too much of a stoner.”
My medical colleagues were proud of how well their system of triage and treatment worked. The streets were cleared of the approximately 170 wounded within 20 minutes. Many staff and bystanders learned such valuable skills during the wars in Iraq in Afghanistan — to apply tourniquets and get the wounded into surgery quickly.
Clearly far more would have died without the veterans in the crowd.
But they also worried about the cumulative effect of all those wounded on the doctors and nurses.
The many wounded and amputees still in the hospital will have a long road ahead.
They knew psychological scars will not go away for a long time
Fortunately,we have learned a lot about best practices in treatment for PTSD and amputees after 12 years of war.