The damndest thing is that a generation ago on Patriots Day I wrote a column for the Portland Press Herald about the nurse who ran the medical tent at the Boston Marathon.
She was a local, born and bred in southern Maine before she headed to make a life in Massachusetts. I have no idea where she is now. But if I had a buck for every time I thought of Joanie Casey this Patriots Day, I’d be richer than Andre Smith and James Harrison combined.
Not just Joanie Casey. But anybody else who ever left their heart on Heartbreak Hill. Or got on their tiptoes to cheer and glimpse them down Boylston Street. Or put a notepad in front of a euphoric finisher still shivering in that aluminum foil shawl in the heart of Copley Square.
Like Boston Billy Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson, who shocked the Boston course in a much different way only because they had the audacity to come out of anonymity and win it.
Or like Charles Pierce, the once and always great Boston sports columnist who wrote so beautifully and well Monday from a war zone in a dispatch that surfaced just after 5 p.m. that centered on his conversation with an EMT amid the devastation. Which means from the time the bombs went off, incredibly, it took him about as long as a Boston Marathon winner to steady himself, reshuffle his thoughts, spill them into cyberspace, and post.
Just over two hours.
But mainly I thought of Nurse Casey.
That Patriots Day in the late ’80s, I called her the Hawkeye Pierce of the Boston Marathon. How could you know? How could you know that a generation later Copley Square would be turned into an honest to God MASH unit?
What was more horrific Monday? An ancient finish line sanctified as one of the most revered in sports with blood, sweat and tears, splattered with just blood? Or the agonizing words that crawled across the bottom of the killing zone?
Shrapnel. IEDs. Amputations.
Where did the runs, hits and errors go?
Joanie Casey’s medical tent brought limbs back to life. That’s what is supposed to happen at the end of marathons. Cramps not carnage. Blisters not bombs.
She had gallons of Gatorade at fingertips and wasn’t pleading for plasma. Her army pumped IVs into the most spent finishers, not taking blood from runners who had been transformed into donors once they reached the line. Muscle pulls were carefully kneaded out of calves instead of ball bearings and nails feverishly picked out of feet and thighs.
A marathon is supposed to be about the best of us, not the worst. Courage and competition, not cowardice. The purity of the clock and not the treachery of politics. Majesty, not madness.
The Revolutionary War ended with the British surrendering to the tune called “The World Turned Upside Down.” But didn’t the world turn upside down on this Patriots Day, the day we celebrate the start of the revolution?
Wasn’t there a kid about 13 years old taken to Boston Children’s Hospital on Monday and in ’72 didn’t you slump out of Fenway Park on Patriots Day after watching Cleveland’s Milt Wilcox two-hit the Red Sox? Duane Josephson got them both. Two moon shots off The Monster with the Marathon winner pulling into the finish about an hour later.
Wasn’t there a kid about 17 years old taken to Children’s on Monday and didn’t you make two errors at first base in a road game in the same inning when you couldn’t resist watching the hottest Marathon run by you on Route 9 in 1976 in Wellesley?
The medical tent this Patriots Day turned out to be the surprise winner of the Boston Marathon they’ll never forget. God knows how many more would have died if the doctors and nurses and their equipment hadn’t already been poised. Even if it was for cramps instead of carnage.
And as Monday bled into Tuesday and the news kept coming like the runners coming into Copley until the finish line clock read 4:09:43, I still hadn’t heard the name of the winner. If I did, I didn’t remember.
But I thought of Joanie Casey again and felt a little better.
The world may be terribly upside down this morning. But the medical tent has already begun the healing.
We’ll know the winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon.
Tags: 2013 Boston Marathon
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