A psychiatric colleague once told me that the incidence of anxiety disorders went down drastically during the Blitz, when London was under constant siege by German bombs in 1940-1941. I don't know whether this is true, or even how you could measure such a thing under those conditions--but it makes sense to me. The patients I saw at Massachusetts General Hospital the day after the terrorist attacks just two miles away, near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, were very calm. And more interested in talking about others than themselves.
My first patient had red-rimmed eyes, which I knew hadn't been caused by the sore neck that had prompted her appointment. She's from Dorchester and, without asking, I was sure she must know the family of Martin Richard, the eight year-old from her neighborhood who died in the blasts. Of course she did. She went on and on about Martin's parents, about their community work, about their kids. I had to remind my patient that her neck hurt.
My next patient needed follow up of a nasty infection on her leg. I could scarcely interest her in it. Her adult kids all work on Boylston Street, the site of the explosions. One had taken the day off. Another had watched the horrific scene unfold from her office window. The infection? "Oh, you want to see it?" she asked, hitching up her skirt. An afterthought.
My colleague, a nurse practitioner, told me that a woman who'd called several times, worried she'd contracted a particular rare disease, called back to say "never mind."
So it went all day. The usually nervous were composed. The usually self-absorbed were expansive. Roles and boundaries blurred. Again and again, patients asked if the nurses and doctors taking care of the wounded in our hospital were doing okay. Again and again staff checked in with one another.
I walked out into the spring evening feeling peaceful, and especially full of love for my colleagues and patients.
I'm pretty sure others in Boston had similar feelings today.
I'm very sure that's not what whoever planted those bombs intended.
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