Mary Solomon, a second-year nursing major, was volunteering in zone 10, about a block from the finish line and a straight shot to medical tents A and B. For most of the day, her tasks were lighthearted and basic -- helping people put on their pants, tending to blisters, and transporting to medical tents.
The twin cracks of the explosions were dismissed as celebratory cannons.
Until all of a sudden, ambulances were blaring and people were scattering. Someone ordered her to go to medical tent A.
“You’re needed,” she heard.
“So I started running with my wheelchair thinking I’m a student nurse, what am I going to do?” Solomon said.
The scene when she arrived was chaos. She started wiping down bloody wheelchairs, and shuttling victims into the medical tent.
“I couldn’t treat them at all, but I could push the wheelchair and that’s all I could do,” she said between sniffles, her voice rising.
“All I could see in front of me was this person’s bleeding, I don’t know what’s going on, but I know that.”
She was still unaware of the explosions.
“At that point you didn’t ask those questions, you were just going, going, going.”
She recalled seeing a little boy, with a tourniqueted leg, in the arms of his father, a badge labeling him “priority No. 1.”
“He was so tiny. That was the point when it started to hit,” Solomon said.
“There was man, and it was just top,” she choked. “There was no bottom to him.”
When she finally looked at her phone, inundated with messages and missed calls, everything started to click. But the following day was the worst day, she said, pulling her blue and white volunteer jacket tighter around her.
“Yesterday you had your adrenaline going, whereas today you can think back,” she said.
And as she reflects, Solomon, who wants to do drama and triage nursing, said she is solidified in her calling.
“After seeing that, it makes me want to do it even more,” she said.
Allison Gould, a third-year nursing major, volunteered with the medical team’s tent B on Berkeley and St. James streets. When she heard the explosions, she assumed they were from a manhole or transformer.
“You don’t think the worst,” she said. “It didn’t really kick in that something had occurred until I saw some police officers hop the guard rail and take off. We just went along our business,” which was triaging and assessing runners after they finished.
Then the runners who had just finished -- and soon, those that were diverted -- started stampeding down the street.
“Our job isn’t to run with them, it’s to tell them where to go. I just kept telling people to keep running, I didn’t even know what had happened,” Gould said. “But we’re the first responders and I didn’t even think about going with them.”
She began to realize the gravity of the situation when ripping metal guard rails blocking off one of the streets to make way for an EMS truck.
But it wasn’t until a cousin in Connecticut messaged her that she learned of the explosions.
“We found out because people who were wondering if we were OK were telling us what the news was reporting,” she said.
Gould didn’t think to flee.
“I just wanted to help. It sounds crazy because you think that when you go through something like this most people would think about themselves, but maybe that’s why I chose nursing -- I just wanted to help.”
She stayed into the evening tending to runners
“Our tent was still up and running,” she said. “we had to take care of the people who needed us.”
Despite the horrific circumstances, Gould is glad she was there.
“And I’ll be there next year. And the year after that,” she said. “If anything, it just makes me more determined.”
Anne M. Steele can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AnneMarieSteele.