Doctor at Marathon Finish Line: “It Was Like a War”

Doctor's "field trip" with students turns into war-like triage at Boston Marathon

For 28 years, Dr. Howard Palamarchuk has taken his Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine students to the Boston Marathon.

"This is a field trip for them, kind of a graduation trip to come up and take care of the runners," he said just a few hours after the deadly explosions.

"Usually, we take care of problems -- ankle problems, blister control. That's about as bad as it ever gets."

Until today.

"And suddenly, there were just two -- one large explosion followed by another. You could feel the concussion of it. And then it smelled like gunpowder. Then, all of the sudden, the medical tent suddenly became a mass casualty tent."

Palamarchuk and his students were set up inside a medical tent just half a block past the finish line, which was the site of the first explosion and a little more than a block away from the second explosion. Nobody was expecting what came through that tent.

"There were horrendous injuries. I've never seen anything like it in my life. I mean, it was like war."

Palamarchuk said they were fortunate that a lot of wheelchairs and other medical equipment was already in place. That helped everyone work faster and they were dealing with life-threatening injuries.

"It was just obscene, I mean to do this to families. It was just a day of celebration for families. So seeing kids injured, seeing children peppered with shrapnel, and adults, and grandmothers. I don't know much about ordnance, but this was meant to kill and maim, absolutely."

Although no one expected to go from blister patrol to triage, Dr. Palamarchuk said he was proud of his students.

"Everyone treated. It's just quick, grab whatever you can. They reacted quickly and took the lead of the medical doctors. It was a good effort. I was proud of them."

When the injured had been moved out to local hospitals, the team had time to do a head count. "And we accounted for everyone. Then I got my students home, I wanted them to get home."

The students drove back tonight.

"It's just surreal," Palamarchuk said from his hotel room in Copley Place, 30 floors above it all, where he could look down and see "just a huge crime scene. They're down there, I guess, just sweeping every inch of this course."

On Tuesday, he'll take the train home to Bensalem, Bucks County tomorrow, anxious to hug his wife and children.

"Who ever dreamed it would end this way? We've seen Nor'easters and the hottest days you could expect, but never, never would dream of this."

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