The 45th NYC Marathon was this past Sunday and I was lucky enough to work in the first medical tent after the finish. I had a great time, learned some medicine, and also learned that I really enjoy doing this kind of thing. Of course, helping fit, motivated runners who are not very sick and grateful to boot is pretty easy compared to most medicine (I imagine) – but I’d never complain about that!
They divided the tent by “boroughs” using colored tape on the floor – Manhattan was near the entrance, then Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. I was stationed in Staten Island which was right in the middle of the tent, directly across from the critical care area (which had curtains for privacy) and adjacent to the resupply station (convenient!). The tent itself was 60 feet by 160 feet, with soaring ceilings and huge industrial lights that were so bright I had no idea night had fallen by the end of my shift. I’d estimate that we had about 125 cots, give or take, plus an area with chairs for podiatric patients.
There were several hundred volunteers, enough so that when they asked for 100 people to work the finish line, you could barely tell anyone had left. I was initially bummed I was in the tent instead of at the finish, but by the end of the day I realized I had dodged a bullet, since those people had to transport well over 1,000 patients from the finish line area to the tent, wiping down the wheelchairs in-between transfers, and repeating the process all over again. Those people did their own marathon that day.
Upon check-in every volunteer picked up an identifying bib with their medical designation – e.g. Attending Physician, Resident Physician, RN, EMT, PT (Physical Therapist), LMT (Licensed Massage Therapist), DPM (Doctor of Podiatric Medicine), Student, Spotter (catching people at the finish), and others. I’d estimate about 30 to 40% of the volunteers were students of some sort (either med student, nursing, or PT). Oddly enough, I was the only EMT in the “Staten Island” section, and in general there weren’t many EMTs in the tent. Our team leader broke our “borough” down into smaller teams, with one or two people of each designation on each mini-team, so there would be someone of each speciality available. However, when the runners started pouring in, people seemed to just go where they were needed, although we did stay within our “borough.”
The worst part was the waiting. Our call time for the finish line tent was 9 am, and they claimed we’d see our first patients at 10 am, but that makes no sense considering the starting time for the wheelchair athletes was 8:30, professional women were 9:20, and professional men at 9:50 (the last wave started at 11 am!). We all actually ate our lunches (ham, tuna, or mozzarella sandwiches) before we saw any patients, since we didn’t see our first patient until almost noon. It did get incredibly busy from about 1 pm until about 4 pm. We had every cot filled with a waiting line in wheelchairs! Over the course of the day, our single tent saw about 1400 patients, 8 of whom went to the hospital for further treatment. We administered more IVs than any previous NYC Marathon (I think – don’t quote me on that), and I heard that in general we were a lot busier than recent years (possibly due to high temps – it reached 65 that day, which means it felt like 85 for the runners).
We saw a lot of Exercise-Associated Collapse (aka postural hypotension – basically running dilates the blood vessels in your legs, which temporarily remain dilated after you stop running, and when you stop you lose the “pumping action” of the muscles that help return blood to your heart, so your blood pools in your legs and you can faint – that’s why most races make you keep walking after the finish line). We also saw a lot of cramping and gave out a lot of salt (just poured from the packet right into their mouths, washed down with a bit of Gatorade). The magicians in the tent were the PTs, as I saw some of them stretch and massage away the most gnarly of muscle spasms. The most helpful item I would not have predicted turned out to be old race t-shirts – swapping out a runner’s wet shirt with a dry one helped tremendously.
I heard a lot of complaints about how disorganized the tent was during set up, although it didn’t strike me as particularly chaotic, but I’m not used to well-organized hospitals and such. We did run out of some materials, most notably the iStat stuff, which meant we couldn’t run some of the blood tests we wanted. Overall, though, it seemed to go pretty well, with most of the patients I saw visibly getting better in a matter of minutes. And everyone I worked with was really great – quite inspiring to see so many talented and friendly medical professionals!
I don’t know what it was like in the other tents, and we haven’t gotten any final emails from NYRR yet. I 100% want to do this again, and it made me more interested in running the NYC Marathon again, too (although I won’t be able to do both at the same time!). Next time I’d bring more snacks, especially snacks to share (one woman brought a big bag of homemade chocolate chip oatmeal cookies and a sack of apples – she was a saint!). I also wish I had gotten the info of one of the PTs on my team, as I’m still suffering from my tendonitis and am sure to suffer other injuries in the future. For more info about the NYC medical tents, you can check out this article. And if you want to volunteer for next year, sign ups are already available here.
How was your Sunday? Are you still eating endless Halloween candy like I am? Have you ever fainted after a race? Share in the comments!