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Dehydration finished off many a competitor

No dry spell for volunteer staff

By John Vellante, Globe Staff, 04/20/99

t was 2:30 on an afternoon warmer than she would have liked and Joan Casey was enjoying the calm before the storm.

This was her 24th year in charge of the finish-line medical tent at the Boston Marathon, and she knew it was just a matter of minutes before it would erupt into a beehive of activity. When it did, Casey and her 1,200-member volunteer staff of nurses, physical therapists, cardiologists, podiatrists, and athletic trainers were ready.

Casey knew what to expect because the weather, perfect for running at the start, got warmer.

''We'll have more dehydration than anything else,'' she said. ''The runners will think they're fine, will feel good, and many of them will pass the water stations along the way. But they'll be fooling themselves because it's a lot warmer out there than they think.''

At 2:35 p.m., Casey looked like a prophet when 29-year-old Alden Hall of Washington, D.C., wobbled into the tent draped over the arms of medical personnel.

He was the first. An hour later, all but a handful of the 240 cots were occupied. Although many were there because of blisters and cramps, the majority, as Casey predicted, were treated for dehydration.

Some more so than others. Many just replaced their fluids with water and orange juice while others were given fresh fluids intravenously.

''I feel oozy,'' said Hall, a second-year medical student at Georgetown who finished his seventh Boston Marathon. ''My body is telling me to watch out. I'm flat-out exhausted.''

About 15 minutes later, Hall insisted he was OK and began to leave the tent. He got to the far end, felt his legs buckle, and in an instant was being treated again and having fluids pumped into his body.

Texan Cindy Connolly ran most of the route with a cramp in her ankle but willed herself to the finish line, where she collapsed into a wheelchair. Was it worth it?

''Absolutely,'' she said. ''Absolutely. This is Boston. You give it everything you have.''

At 5:30, Casey, a critical-care nurse at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, said, ''The worst is over.'' When she closes up shop, about 400 runners will have been treated.

''At the beginning of the race, I told you I knew what to expect,'' she said, ''and that's what we got. I just didn't expect as much of it. I would say that we got more than double the number of dehydration cases than we usually get.

''The runners tell us that they just didn't drink enough water along the way, that they thought they were stronger. They tell us it was a lot warmer than they thought it was. We've also had a runner with GI bleed [vomiting of blood] and another with chest pain.''

Four runners in the medical tent were transported to area hospitals for further treatment.

Boston Emergency Medical Services superintendent James Hooley said he and his staff saw more medical emergencies on the course than at the finish line.

''We treated a lot of people along the route for asthma and dehydration,'' he said. ''We took about a half-dozen runners to area hospitals. The most serious was for chest pains. For the most part, though, it's been a pretty normal year.''

This story ran on page F07 of the Boston Globe on 04/20/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

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