Monday, October 08, 2007

As promised...

Well, I did work the marathon, and it was the craziest, spookiest one ever. For those of you who don't follow it, they called it yesterday at about 3 1/2 hours due to the excessive heat and humidity (it was 88 degrees and so humid my eyeballs were sweaty). There's a ton of debate going around right now on message boards and in the press about whether the city fell short, whether LaSalle Bank shortchanged everyone on water and Gatorade, whether it should be an individual's choice to finish an event they've trained for for half a year or more, or whether canceling the race was a good idea that saved lives. Something most people don't know, it seems, is that most years someone dies at the marathon. I remember last year it was a big deal that no one died. So far one man, a 35 year old Michigan police officer, has died from this one, and the last I heard several additional people are still in the ICU. I saw some of the people in the ICU part of the medical tent, and they really didn't look so good. In my tent we called for medics more times than we ever had in the past. We had our own EMT, a sweet guy on a bike named Elvis, who we kept hopping around for 4 straight hours. Short story short, it was a mess.

I can definitely understand the argument that individuals should be responsible for themselves. I've gone through training with several marathon runners who are also my patients, and I know how much they stake on race day. No one wants to train for something for months and months -- some for years and years -- and then not be allowed to see it through. But I also can tell the detractors that there were wheelchairs of people lined up double-thick outside the med tent waiting to be triaged because there wasn't enough room inside. The medics ran out of IVs. There weren't enough doctors. We had people in our tent both packed in ice and waiting wrapped in blankets with blue lips for 40 minutes because there weren't enough personnel to come get them. I agree that responsibility lies with the individual -- no matter how devout a runner you are, you make the decision with every step you take on a hot day that you can finish that step and you won't endanger yourself. But the city and the event can't deny that they also have a responsibility: when you invite 45,000 -- up this year from 30,000 -- people to come run in your streets, you make a pledge that you will be able to supply them with water and medical attention when they need it. There came a point yesterday when the city couldn't make that pledge anymore, and they called the marathon. I believe it was absolutely the right decision. The people running who swore they could have made it couldn't see the reality: that at the end of the run was a medical team stretched beyond its staff capabilities. We had so many people coming to us for cramp relief they were waiting more than an hour. Even with the race called at 11:30am, we were in the tent stretching cramps until 3:00. We couldn't have coped with any more finishers, much less any more injured and in pain. The heat was too much for some people, and that was sadly inevitable. I think that in deciding to cut its losses and stop things before they got worse the marathon officials had to make a tough, unpopular call, but unfortunately there weren't a multitude of great possible outcomes on a day that hot. There are even rumors going around now that Bank of America's buyout of LaSalle means there won't be any more Chicago marathon, but I think that's totally premature. One bad year won't stop this tradition. Someone will sponsor if B of A won't. But I think this year will be a cautionary tale to everyone involved in the future -- runners may think twice about running here, and next year I hope the water stations are over-supplied and the med tents over-staffed.


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