COMFORTING CONNECTION: From left, Lux, Pyrek, Erhardt, Mendonza, McGinn and Salony
For nearly a year, the Boston Marathon bombings and their aftermath have haunted Chelsey McGinn, RN, of the Blake 12 Intensive Care Unit (ICU). In December the MGH gave McGinn an opportunity to honor the victims – and begin her own healing process – by running this year’s marathon as part of its Emergency Response Fund team.
“I feel like it’s been almost a year now, and I haven’t really done anything therapeutic since it happened,” McGinn says. “I felt like other people who I worked with found ways to kind of cope with it, but I hadn’t really found that. When this came up, I thought this was a perfect way to celebrate how far the victims have come and recognize my co-workers.”
McGinn is one of six nurses on her unit who are planning to run the 2014 Boston Marathon – five for charity teams and one as a qualified runner. Most are first-time runners, and all say they are running in honor of the three bombing victims who were treated on the unit.
“I had a really hard time afterward, and it lasted longer than I expected,” says Laura Lux, RN, who is running for the American Red Cross. “I’m running because I don’t want to be defeated. I know if he could, my patient would be running just to prove a point. Because he can’t, I feel like I need to do this for him. After watching what he and his family went through, I feel like it’s the least I could do for them.”
Lux says she felt an immediate connection with her patient and his family. “Despite everything they were just so determined and so strong,” she says. “Everyone was angry, but there was good coming from it too. We got to know each other because of it. I felt like he was a family member. It’s the most personal experience of my career.”
Lux’s experience is similar to that of the other nurses who are running, including Emily Erhardt, RN, a trauma ICU nurse and member of the MGH Emergency Response Fund Team, who has stayed in touch with her patient and his family since they left the hospital. “This event affected everyone, so it was one of the few times in my career that I felt like all I could do with the family was cry with them. It’s such a terrible thing that happened that there aren’t words to comfort them. You just have to be there for them,” she says. “A year ago they were strangers to me, but now they’re the most inspiring people in my life. I’m not much of an athlete, but I was really affected by the whole thing, and I wanted to do something more.”
Blake 12 runners receive a boost of support from the Harvard University Employees Credit Union. Included in the photo with members of the ICU are Paul Conners, MGH branch manager; Eugene Foley, president and CEO; and Guillermo Banchiere, MGH director of Environmental Services, who serves as a member of the credit union's board of directors.
Allyson Mendonza, RN, who is running for the Mass General Marathon Team “Fighting Kids Cancer … One Step At a Time,” recalls the moment she knew she too wanted to do something more. Mendonza says her patient had just returned from surgery when she was told President Barack Obama was coming to visit. The woman was excited but was distraught about her appearance, so Mendonza and her colleague soaked her nails and helped shampoo and condition her hair to wash out the cement and clumps of dried blood.
“We just tried our best to make her feel better about herself and feel good for the day ahead. She actually fell asleep. When she awoke, she said, ‘This is the most relaxed I have felt in days.’ It was just so emotional for us and for her,” Mendonza says.
Caring for the marathon victims brought the unit closer together, and staff once again have come together to support and encourage their fellow colleagues.
“The teamwork and the camaraderie were amazing,” says Katherine Pyrek, RN, who was the charge nurse during the week of the bombing. “Every one of the nurses was affected by what was going on, but they stayed strong and carried on. The bonds the nurses made with the patients and their families were incredible and really went above and beyond.”
Pyrek, who is running for the Mass General Marathon Team, says the Blake 12 runners offer each other advice and encouragement to help in the training process. “We remind why we’re doing this – for our patients and their families,” she says. “I think about the patients when they were in pain and how scared they were. I think that if they get through it then I can get through however many miles I need to run.”
The runners all say they look to Meredith Salony, RN, a veteran marathoner who qualified for the marathon, for guidance. “I’m so proud to be in this unit where there’s so much enthusiasm. Even the people who aren’t running are trying to help out and organize events and find ways for people to contribute,” Salony says.
Each of the nurses says they are overwhelmed when they imagine how they will feel on Marathon Monday.
“I think it’ll be really therapeutic and empowering,” McGinn says. “I’m honored to be a part of it. If I’m ever going to run a marathon, this is the one I want to run. I’ll always remember the way I felt at work that night, and it’s going to be a really nice thing to be able to remember this feeling for the rest of my life too.”
For more information or to support the teams visit www.runformgh.org.
This is the first in a series of articles that MGH Hotline will publish about staff running in this year’s Boston Marathon.
Read more articles from the 02/28/14 Hotline issue.