Celebrating Patriot's Day by Volunteering in the Boston Marathon Medical Tent
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The Boston Marathon is one of the world's oldest annual marathons and ranks as one of the world's best-known running events. It is 1 of 6 World Marathon Majors.
Having lived in Boston for the past 5 years, I can say with certainty that Patriot's Day, also known as Marathon Monday, is one of best days of the year. It is truly one of those events that brings the entire city together.
The weekend before Marathon Monday runners from across the world are buzzing around town attending expos and preparing to take on the 26.2 mile race. From the weekend warrior running to support a charity to the elite athlete gaining experience on a notoriously challenging course, all runners share a common goal of finishing the marathon.
Thousands of supporters, including the general public, family, and friends, line the entire route from the beginning of the race in Hopkinton to the finish line at Copley Square to cheer on the athletes every step of the way.
One of my professors, David Nolan, has been a part of the Boston Marathon medical team for the past 17 years. He is responsible for organizing the team of physical therapists (PTs) and student PTs in the medical tents. This year I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to volunteer in the medical tent, working alongside a team of athletic trainers, PTs, nurses, and physicians.
The teamwork demonstrated in the medical tent was unbelievable. Everything was incredibly organized and well planned, and there were preparations for many different potential scenarios.
The best way to describe the atmosphere inside the medical tent is organized chaos. It is very busy, but everything works out. It's all hands on deck when the runners come in with a variety of needs.
Runners would arrive to the tent in all shapes and forms. Some were able to walk, while others had severe cramps and were brought in by wheelchairs. Runners finish the course with intense muscle cramps, dehydration, blisters, hypo/hyperthermia and/or wet clothes, to name a few issues. It is absolutely unbelievable to see the condition of some of these runners who have just pushed themselves to their physical limits for 26.2 miles. It gives you an appreciation for how incredible the human body is and its capabilities.
As a physical therapy student, I was supporting the team in any way that I could, including helping with transfers, performing massage and doing gentle stretching to prevent cramps, taking vitals, and retrieving blankets to warm up runners. This year the weather was not the Marathon's friend. In fact, this year started with thunderstorms and a downpour of rain. Difficult weather conditions present unique challenges to the athletes and the medical teams caring for them. You really begin to appreciate the importance of the foil-covered Mylar blankets provided to all runners at the end of the race to help them keep warm.
One of my personal highlights was helping to create a makeshift dressing room with Mylar blankets, so runners could change out of their wet clothes after they had completed their run.
Besides temperature regulation challenges, another common issue among the runners was hyponatremia, which is due to prolonged sweating combined with excessive fluid consumption, depleting sodium levels, leading to dehydration. When the question was asked, "How many times did you stop to drink water?" and the answer was "Every station," you knew that they were about to be given something salty to eat or drink. Hyponatremia can be a significant contributing factor to muscle cramps, so providing something salty can facilitate quicker sodium repletion and cramp relief. There were tables lined up with Gatorade, bags of chips, and cups of broth ready to be given out to athletes as they entered the tent. If electrolyte imbalance or dehydration was severe enough, IV fluids were available to rehydrate athletes more quickly.
By far, the best feeling was getting to escort a runner to the exit of the tent after their medical treatment, so they could meet up with friends and family to celebrate their accomplishment.
It was incredible to see so many individuals come together from around the world with the common objective of finishing the marathon. It was amazing to see how humbled some of these individuals were after going through grueling conditions to finish the race.
I am beyond grateful for this opportunity and for the chance to meet and help so many determined and courageous runners. It was a wonderful learning experience, especially in regard to the management of the endurance athlete. All I can say is never underestimate the power of a bouillon cube.
Congratulations to everyone who participated in the marathon this year!
Mahin Rahman, SPT, is a student at Northeastern University. You can connect with Mahin on Twitter at @mahinrSPT.