Monday, May 13, 2013

Bensalem doctor who treated Boston Marathon wounded: "It's my 9/11 I guess"

Posted: Wednesday, April 17, 2013


The foot traffic was nearing its peak in the main medical tent four hours into the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon when everything suddenly shook.
The deafening sound caught everyone inside off guard, including Bensalem resident Dr. Howard Palamarchuk, a podiatrist and professor at the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine. It wasn’t a pop, he said. It was an explosion.
Palamarchuk, 59, was making small talk with runners who stopped in seeking relief for blisters, dehydration and shin splints one block past the finish line at the world’s oldest road race. He was also keeping an eye on nine of his senior sports medicine students who were tending to runners.
Did a gas tank explode? That was his first thought. The second explosion — even closer to the medical tent and followed by a lingering smell of gunpowder — confirmed for Palamarchuk what was happening.
Dr. Howard Palamarchuk
“It was like the second tower getting hit,” he said. “You knew this isn’t an accident.”
For 28 years, Palamarchuk, a former competitive race walker, has been volunteering as part of the Boston Marathon medical staff to care for the feet of marathoners. The trip is the highlight of the sports medical course for Temple students picked to accompany him. They typically treat thousands of runners each year with sports-related complaints.
For all those years, the worst injuries he’d seen were a bad ankle fracture or the woman who last year fractured her hip. More typical are the sore arches and heels, blisters, a stress fracture or dehydration. One year the race was held during a Nor’easter. Another year it was a summer-like 87 degrees.
But on Monday, most of the injuries that Palamarchuk treated involved shrapnel, he said.
Like the woman, maybe 30 years old, with metal scraps embedded in the back of her legs like birdshot, or the young boy, about 13, separated from his parents with an arm injury.
“Can you hear me?” he asked people with suspected ruptured ear drums.
Most shook their heads no, he said.
After the second explosion, as the walking wounded made their way into the medical tent, the rumors swirled like a tornado, Palamarchuk said. Was there another bomb? Did another bomb go off?
“I can only imagine this is what 9/11 was like,” he said.
But inside the medical tent, calm amid chaos prevailed as first responders brought in the wounded while others made their way there, he said. Immediately, the Boston Athletic Association medical team leaders took command turning the city-block-long tent into a trauma triage unit, Palamarchuk said.
Some medical personnel were ordered to the finish line — where the two bombs exploded — to help those with the most severe wounds. Palamarchuk was among those volunteers directed to stay because patients were headed their way to be stabilized and loaded into ambulances.
He and his Temple students happened to be stationed at the tent entrance. They started cleaning the bloody patients, evaluating them for additional signs of trauma, and bandaging them.
“It’s lucky we had all the bandages and materials right there,” he said. “It was fortunate we had the materials.”
While hundreds of injured poured into the main medical tent, hundreds of medical staffers were ready to help. Palamarchuk says he didn’t treat any more than a handful of patients during the 40 minutes he and the students were inside the tent before it was evacuated.
He doesn’t want to discuss in detail what he saw.
“It was as bad as they said,” he added. “It was nothing like I’ve ever seen. I’m sorry for those people.”
A father of two children, ages 10 and 12, Palamarchuk says he feared for his life, but for only a moment.
“You didn’t know if there was going to be another explosion. Would the next one be at the intersection we’re at,” he said. “Then, you put that away when the wounded started coming into the tent.”
On Tuesday morning as he checked out of his hotel at the epicenter of the explosions, the streets looked like a war zone with security checkpoints and armed guards dressed in combat gear and carrying rifles.
At the train station waiting to head back to Philadelphia, his bags were checked. He expected more checks before boarding. At the station, people traded stories about where they were, what they were doing when the bombs exploded.
“It’s my 9/11, I guess. You wonder what it was like in New York that day, now I know what it was like here,” Palamarchuk said, adding he and his Temple students will return next year. “We were glad to be of service. I hope we never have to do it again.”

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