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Terror at the Boston Marathon Finish Line - Jessica Kensky's Tale of Survival and Hope

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The morning of April 15, 2013, began as a normal day. The third Monday in April has been celebrated as Patriots Day and the day for the running of the world’s oldest annual marathon for 117 years - the Boston Marathon. But this day would soon be known forever as a very dark day in American history. Jessica Kensky shares in an interview memories of that day and how she and her husband’s lives were forever changed.

Terror at the Boston Marathon Finish Line - Jessica Kensky's Tale of Survival and Hope

Jessica Kensky and her husband of 7 months, Patrick Downes had both run in the marathon in 2005, before they even knew each other. On this Patriots Day, they were going to be onlookers. They found a spot on Boylston Street near the finish line.

They were watching runners cross the finish line and were about to leave, when at approximately 2:49 PM, with more than 5,600 runners still in the race, the first bomb went off. Twelve seconds later, a second bomb exploded. All around them, windows were shattered and people were battered by flying debris from the explosions. In an instant, the explosions turned what had been a sun-filled afternoon into a gruesome scene of bloodshed, destruction, and chaos, killing three spectators and injuring more than 264 others, including 16 who lost limbs. Many lives were forever changed that day.

Jessica and Patrick were among the victims of the senseless act of terror, losing 3 limbs between them.

As part of the allnurses team, I was honored and inspired to be able to sit down and talk with Jessica at the 2018 AACN-NTI Chapter Presidents Luncheon sponsored by Medtronic. Jessica shared painful memories of that day as well as the days and months to follow.

Immediately after the blasts, Jessica instinctively switched into nurse mode trying to fashion a tourniquet out of her purse strap to attach to Patrick's lower leg. As they lay there on the sidewalk, she noticed his nearly detached foot, alerting her to the seriousness of the situation as he was losing a dangerous amount of blood. She did not even realize the extent of her own injuries.

She and Patrick were separated and sent to different hospitals. While she was fully alert when she arrived in the ER, Patrick was unconscious and without any form of identification other than his wedding ring with PB&J inscribed on the inside.

Upon arrival in the ER, the sounds, smells, terminology that rolled around her were all known yet jarring at the same time. She had to go from calling out orders regarding lab values, medications, to being a patient on the other side of the bedrails. She realized that she would not be playing the role of the nurse in this situation.

Her devastating injuries caused by burns and bomb debris had to be attended to promptly with expertise. While she is very thankful for how she was treated, what she remembers most is the human side of nursing care that she received - the way that her ICU nurses continually cared for her mental health with their acts of gentleness, kindness and compassionate care. Rubbing a cool cloth on her back. They brought lightness while also acknowledging how sad this was and what a difficult situation she was in.

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"Once we as nurses address the medical stability and overall safety of our patients, there is always room for moments of tenderness and genuine concern for the human being entered into the equation.

Our patients are often unfamiliar with their surroundings and filled with fear.

Once we have completed mastering the science of nursing, we must never fail to remember our role to help them navigate, nurture and heal."

 

A few things she learned as an ICU patient as opposed to an ICU nurse, many of which drew laughter from the nursing audience.

  1. It is really scary to leave the ICU and go to the floor. It is a world away from the people you have grown to love and trust.
  2. You can have a foley and still have the sensation to urinate.
  3. PICC line insertions are NOT painless.
  4. Sometimes we just need to see the daylight.
  5. Pain management is not a joke
  6. It's possible to be delirious and embarrassed at the same time
  7. Multiple surgeries, plus narcotics, plus immobility equals excruciating constipation.
  8. Once someone sees you needing a cervical collar, it's really hard to find someone else who will take it off.
  9. Out of all the pain drugs she was given, her drug of choice was Benadryl
  10. Never let a member of the surgical team touch the patient without a nurse being in the room

Jessica received a very special gift that has become an integral part of her life. A black Labrador, so aptly named Rescue, has indeed rescued Jessica and allowed her not only survive but to live life with a purpose.

Jessica and Patrick realized how important it is for children to be able to comfortably talk about their injuries when they spotted them out in public. They wrote a book which was very therapeutic for them and also informative for children and parents alike. They used their therapy dog who has been a very important addition to their family, Rescue, as a gateway in their book, Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship. I treasure the copy I received that was "pawtographed" by Rescue.

Jessica and Patrick did not succumb to their devastating injuries physically or mentally. After hundreds of extensive surgeries and many long and grueling hours of physical therapy and rehabilitation, Jessica has survived and become a beacon of hope for others. Her determination, strength, optimism and knowlege have allowed hers to be a story of triumph over tragedy.

What she learned on the other side of the bedside has allowed her to move beyond the bedside and share many important lessons she learned. She has become a shining example and reminder to nurses of the important things that lie at the heart of nursing. We should never forget the important part that humanness plays in the care we provide.

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"While our shifts can be long, grueling, and sometimes thankless, it is those small acts of human kindness that make all the difference in the patient and unlock the unique power of our profession" - Jessica Kensky

I hope you are as inspired by Jessica's story as I am.

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249 Likes, 12 Followers, 107 Articles, 191,537 Visitors, and 5,264 Posts.

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I was there that day. Running the marathon for American Liver Foundation. I was one mile away. This story brought tears to my eyes. What an amazing couple and (dog) to share such a story. My family was across the street sitting in the bleachers after the finish line in front of the medic tents waiting for me.

If you are able - listen to her video story. It's so powerful.

Ps. I am a CNA. Studying for my LPN.

This is a new career for me.

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I was there that day. Running the marathon for American Liver Foundation. I was one mile away. This story brought tears to my eyes. What an amazing couple and (dog) to share such a story. My family was across the street sitting in the bleachers after the finish line in front of the medic tents waiting for me.

If you are able - listen to her video story. It's so powerful.

Ps. I am a CNA. Studying for my LPN.

This is a new career for me.

Thank you for sharing.

I am sure it was a very frightening experience being there that day. I'm glad neither you nor your family were injured.

Jessica is an amazingly strong lady. I was honored to meet her.

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2013 was the first year I ever watched the marathon from the finish line. I'd gone to it every year since 2001 (grew up not far from the start) but I'd always either watched it at the start, or at miles 21, 23 or 25. 2 of my friends had volunteered with the wheelchair division that year and were watching from the finish line so I went down to join them. We were standing directly across the street from where the 2nd bomb exploded only 20 minutes earlier. Because they'd been up since before 6am they were hungry so I reluctantly left with them to get lunch.

At the time, I was a visiting nurse in the city of Boston. I took care of children afterwards who had been injured and also had several patients who lived in the neighborhood where they caught the surviving bomber 4 days later.

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