Dr. Jean Marmoreo is a Toronto family-practice physician with a specialty in MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying).
By rights, I should be sore, salty, dog-tired and triumphant. I’m one of the 28,000 runners from around the world who had trained to run the Boston Marathon on Monday.
The marathon also marks Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts, and on this third Monday in April, the entire city normally flocks to the streets of Boston to cheer the runners on.
In response to COVID-19, the 124th edition of the race will now take place on Sept. 14, giving us runners a year and a half from the last marathon to train for the next one. Ugh.
The pandemic has created an uncertain and trying time, which brings to mind the Boston Marathon I completed on April 15, 2013.
I’d just crossed the finish line at Copley Square 10 minutes earlier, funnelled through the chutes to meet my husband at the family waiting area, when I heard a muffled boom. Minutes later, a second boom. We all went silent, looking about quizzically.
I moved on, caught up in the crush of runners.
The Boston bombings were shocking – designed, like all terror attacks, to wreak havoc.
That did not happen.
Instead, the response is something we can all learn from today – lessons that offer hope in the time of COVID-19, a far more stealthy and deadly terrorist than the Tsarnaev brothers, who killed three bystanders and injured at least 260 others.
On that awful day in 2013, a friend of mine from Toronto, Dr. Emily Aaronson, was working as an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. She treated victims of the bombings, many of whom were stricken by terrible injuries.
But stories of resilience emerged from the bombings as well. One victim treated at Boston Medical Center was a dancer by the name of Adrianne Haslet, who would lose her lower leg. Miraculously, less than a year later, the world was treated to the sight of Haslet dancing on her new prosthetic leg, an example of the outstanding medical and engineering expertise in robotic limbs at MIT.
A year after the bombings, Boston and the world rose up to run the 2014 marathon under the banner of Boston Strong. Never was the cheering so loud and the crowds so large, driven by the sense that we pushed back chaos and evil just by being out on the street. For all its vulnerability – an hours-long, 42.2-kilometre event that anyone can get close to – the 2014 marathon triumphed precisely because it was so public, open and death-defying.
Last month, Dr. Aaronson came to mind again when she made a sombre appeal to Americans victimized by a new terror in the form of the deadly COVID-19 virus. Still an ER doctor in Boston, she begged families to think through what they would wish for themselves and their families should they become very ill with the disease.
She is once again in the trenches. She can see the carnage. She can track the brutal speed at which the virus turns a seemingly healthy person into a desperately ill one. Again, Bostonians and the world are being asked to rise up in response to a deadly threat, but this time of an entirely different nature.
My friend wants families to “have the conversation” about their values and what matters most to them in the event of being kept apart and seriously ill. She also wants to assure patients and their families that there will be dignity, respect and continued care by physicians if they are dying.
I spend a lot of time in my own practice talking to patients about their values and wishes in order to assure them a dignified death. And yet in this crisis, we have seen untold families suffer the death of their relatives with the same isolation and inability to comfort, to hold or to be present.
So, I urge you, please have that conversation. Today – when you’re healthy.
These days, I’m training for Boston by running far on the empty roads. Just being outside is liberating. But I also worry that Boston, like any marathon, is the ultimate “moist” event. Picture 28,000 sweating runners who fly in from all over the world, packed into corrals at the start and finish lines, splashing through water stations at every mile; the portable toilets; the high-fives from cheering strangers for a 42-kilometre stretch.
It doesn’t take long to convince anyone that a marathon, for now, is absolutely the least safe place to be. Especially when you’re 78, as I will be.
But I have faith that Boston Strong can work its way to becoming Earth Strong, and that the same spirit of resilience and ingenuity will save us now, as it did after that challenging day in 2013.
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