Yesterday, the last individual who was still hospitalized as a result of the Boston Marathon Bombing was discharged from Massachusetts General Hospital and sent to a rehabilitative facility to complete his recovery and await his prosthesis. He lost his leg in the bombing. Massachusetts General Hospital’s social work department has an over 100 year history and is very closely connected with my university Simmons College School of Social Work. Another reminder that the events that occurred here in Boston on April 15th when explosions near the finish line at the Boston Marathon killed three people and wounded more than 260 continue to have an impact on my city and on the local social work profession.
Since the Boston Marathon Bombings I have witnessed firsthand the social work profession in action. From those individuals who were trained as first responders who ran into the chaos and attempted to help those who had been injured; there were numbers individuals, especially veterans, who suffered from post traumatic shock disorder, and who were “triggered” by the events of the week especially when the city was on virtual martial law , outpatient clinics and other counseling services have been at capacity; and social workers have worked tirelessly in schools and other community settings to help young children try to cope with the events that unfolded.
There were countless numbers of social workers featured in the media and at press conferences discussing the work that was going on inside some of the country’s best trauma units. I do not recall social work ever being so “front and center” especially when it came to the national media; watching my social work colleagues play such important roles during this time of crisis filled me with an enormous sense of pride!
I have spoken with numbers of my social work colleagues who work in the surrounding hospitals and who are dealing with the injured and their families: many of those injured required multiple operations to remove shrapnel, as well as help in preparing for lives that would be vastly different as they began the process of coming to terms with the loss of a loved one or a limb, or in some instances limbs, and needed social work and social workers to be a part of their rehabilitation.
I watched with enormous pride as my social workers colleagues worked around the clock for days on end to ensure that people received the best care possible and began the task of helping people to conceive of and plan for very different futures. Personally, I came to better understand than I ever had before the impact that trauma, the physical, emotional and environmental kind has on a community and the toll that it takes.
On Saturday 25th May 2013, thousands of athletes joined victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and ran and walked the last mile of the race, in part to reclaim the triumph of crossing the finish line. About 3,000 runners and bombing victims gathered in a light rain to run the final mile of the world’s oldest annual marathon in an event known as OneRun. The 1-mile run ended at the official finish line where participants hugged and were cheered on by onlookers and supporters, where only a few weeks ago bombs had exploded.
The recent tragic events in my beloved Boston have caused me to consider if the problems we face are too large and if the people are too small? I have had to wrestle with a sense of hopelessness in the world that has caused me to go deeper and to think more broadly about cause and effect. What I have arrived at is that we need you, professional social workers now more than ever.
The Swiss philosopher Henri Frederic Amiel , wrote:
Everything depends upon the presence or absence of the single element in the soul…HOPE.
The historian Howard Zinn said:
To be hopeful in bad times is not foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, and kindness…” History is full of instances where people, against enormous odds, have come together to struggle for liberty and justice, and have won–not often enough of course— but enough to suggest how much more is possible.
I came to understand through this experience that, in a way that was beyond anything that I might have learned in a class or in a textbook, that there are times when one must complete the race, finish the task at hand before one can truly begin the process of healing and recovery and moving to a place of hopefulness.
Ironically I have never been more proud of being a social worker than I have been over these past few difficult weeks. Bostonians are a sturdy stock… but trauma is trauma … and it will take time for the city, its citizens to heal … but I have no doubt that heal we shall!
Thank you to all who have reached out to me and others in our city… it truly has made a difference.
Gary Bailey, L.H. D (h.c.), MSW, ACSW
President , IFSW