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Victims’ voices: Boston bombing survivor tells of emotional trauma

This report is part of AOAV’s research on the bombing at the Boston Marathon in 2013. The full report, ‘Blood on the Streets of Boston’, can be read here. The main findings and summary can be seen here. The report considered the mental health support offered to survivors and witnesses, for more on this see here, as well as the services that were offered, see here. As part of the report it AOAV also researched the medical care and financial support provided to survivors – this report can be read here – and the health impacts the bombing had – here. It was also important to consider the ‘Victims’ Voices’, from those who survived the attack. To read these please go here, and here.

One survivor was watching the 2013 Boston marathon with her brother when the first of two IEDs exploded near them. She was physically injured, requiring a two-day hospital stay and surgery on her abdomen. She lives in Minnesota, and returned there five days after the attack. She felt that more should have been done to ensure that those survivors who do not live in Boston were supported emotionally, and to connect them with the survivor community within Boston. She told AOAV her story:

“My niece was running the marathon for the first time so I decided to go for the weekend and spend time with my brother and his family and see my niece run the marathon. In the end it was just my brother and I at the finish line.

We got there probably two minutes before the first explosion, he was not injured but I had shrapnel in my abdomen. I remember looking down at my stomach and going ‘ugh…that’s not good,’ but I didn’t think it required medical attention, I just thought ‘well, we’ll get a Band-Aid on that when we get home.’ It wasn’t until they said ‘we’re going to have to admit you.’

I hear different people’s stories and I feel like, looking back, I think I sort of went back to my life a little too quickly before dealing with what I had been through. I was pretty lucky in terms of severity of injuries. I just thought since I wasn’t that injured I had to go back. You know I just felt like there was no need for me not to go back to work straight away.

I just thought I would figure this out for myself. As far as I know, I was the only victim from Minnesota. And I didn’t talk to the media so I wasn’t advertised out there as someone who would need specialized therapy. So I just figured out…I had friends and co-workers who obviously knew what was going on with me. My husband and I ended up having to go to couple’s therapy, which was fine, she was great, but she certainly hadn’t been through any experience or dealt with other clients who have been through anything like I’ve been through.

I didn’t hear from anyone in Boston until about six months after the events, when a social worker from the One Fund (the charity which was established in the aftermath of the bombings) just called me up out of the blue. And that was great, that’s what I needed. I just needed to talk to someone from Boston, who was experiencing the same thing or at least exposed to what other people are experiencing.

She connected me with a support group in Boston where eventually they set up a videotape so that I could observe. But by the time that happened, that group had formed a very strong bond with each other, so it was worse. I mean it wasn’t helpful at all, it was the opposite of helpful for me to video feed into those meetings and see all these other people connecting with each other. I tried it two or three times and it just…it was…I would say that it did more damage than it did good. It made me kind of angry and bitter, which is not who I am or how I want to be.

I was trying to reach out to them for a long time and really trying to connect to these people and they were all, they had such friendships so I was just an outsider. It makes me feel bad, and angry. I mean it’s all pretty irrational, but it’s like trying to be friends with someone who doesn’t want to be friends with you.

I know that theoretically it’s impossible to stay connected like the people in the immediate area but I feel like something needs to be done, to make it a lot better than it has been. And I don’t know what that would be, I just know that I was struggling.

Now things are about 90% normal. We still certainly think about it quite a bit, but things aren’t messed up like they were for a while. I want to stress that some things do need to improve with how those who are not from the immediate area are helped, emotionally. That was my personal issue.”

To read AOAV’s full report on the support provided to the victims of the 2013 Boston bombing, please read Blood on the Streets of Boston.’ 

(Told to Jane Hunter)


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