The view from Martha Galvis’s room at Spaulding Rehab sweeps from the Tobin Bridge to the Prudential Building. Below the rooftops, the panorama includes the finish line of the Boston Marathon, where Martha and her husband, Alvaro, were wounded, and the Theatre District ballroom where they met, in 1974.
It was a Latin party at the old Bradford Hotel, on Tremont Street, two young Colombians united in the city where they had come to study. The outgoing Alvaro was drawn by Martha’s raven-haired beauty, her down-to-earth warmth. “We started talking,” he recalled, “and then Cupid did the work.”
Now Alvaro Galvis, 62, is trying to visualize the joyous moments that so often occurred within that vista, in the years when he and Martha were raising their young family in Boston, and on their many return visits after moving to New Hampshire in 1986. Not what happened that Monday.
“The view is breathtaking, and I do find solace,” said Galvis, who has hours each day to stare out those wraparound windows at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, in the downtime when his wife drifts in and out on heavy painkillers, between rigorous physical and occupational therapy sessions. “It’s not easy. Time heals, but it’s a slow-moving wheel.”
Galvis, a sales account manager for Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, suffered deep wounds, a metal shard the size of a matchbook ripping into the back of his right leg, smaller bits of shrapnel piercing his left leg and buttocks.
Martha may never return to teaching preschool; Alvaro may never go back to work, wanting to comfort and care for his wife, unable to endure the pain of sitting two hours a day in a car.
Martha Galvis, 60, a preschool assistant teacher, was even more badly hurt. Shrapnel severed nerves in her left leg, seared the skin off her left hand, and shattered three fingers; a fourth, her ring finger, needed to be amputated, though doctors saved the bones to strengthen the other fingers, the family said. Her fifth hand surgery is scheduled for next Wednesday.
“She’s wonderful, a very strong character, very resolute,” Alvaro Galvis said. “Her wish to overcome this is incredible.”
Galvis attended his first Boston Marathon in 1971, soon after arriving in the city, and witnessed Alvaro Mejia — a countryman who shared his first name — win one of the closest marathons ever. Through mutual acquaintances, Galvis ended up in the victor’s hotel room afterward, marveling at the blisters on his feet.
Later, he and Martha brought their children — Erika, now 33; Leonardo, 31; and Marthica, 29. They were drawn to Kenmore, where little Marthica would entertain everyone by crossing an imaginary finish and where the kids would rib Alvaro Galvis for saying the same thing over and over: “One more mile to go, one more mile to go!” But the lesson took.
“My parents taught us how important it was to promote other people and cheer them on,” said Erika, a physician recruiter in Miami who has been flying back and forth the past month.
This year, the Galvises went to the finish around the 4-hour mark, wanting to cheer on baby boomers in particular. After the ground shook, after the dust cleared, Alvaro tried to remove his belt to make a tourniquet for Martha, but he was too weak, bleeding himself, unable to stand. He watched as emergency medical technicians rushed her away — ambulance P40, he memorized, in case they were separated — and others cut away his clothing to apply pressure to his wounds.
That evening, they were reunited at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, beds wheeled side by side. “It was like the first time I met her,” said Alvaro, who reached out to clasp Martha’s good hand. “I love her so much.”
Doctors cleared him to leave the Brigham within days but allowed him to remain in the hospital bed, by his wife’s side, for the two weeks until she transferred to Spaulding. In the gift shop, Erika bought her father a book, “60 Things to Do When You turn 60,” with advice from writers like Gloria Steinem and Garrison Keillor. He opened to a random page and found an essay titled “Let it go,” a psychiatrist offering tips for overcoming trauma. He has read it, over and over.
A sudden bang, the sight of a young man with a backpack — these reminders rocket Alvaro Galvis back to the finish line, stealing his breath. And that view from Spaulding, the source of so much joy, can tug his thoughts back to the horror of that day. “It’s like having your head in a vise, a huge grip behind your neck,” he said.
That is when he returns to the tips in the book, to rate his bad feeling, pat his thighs, tap his feet, and repeat an affirmation, trying to manage the memory and the tears.
Martha, who will spend the next year relearning to walk, may never return to the preschool; Alvaro may never go back to work, wanting to comfort and care for his wife, unable to endure the pain of sitting two hours a day in a car. Their expenses are considerable — “elective” surgery to address heavy scarring, retrofitting for their raised ranch in Nashua — and a cousin has organized a GiveForward.com fund-raiser. Friends and family have planned events in Boston and New Hampshire.
Eventually, they will leave the Spaulding and the view.
The Galvis home sits empty. Alvaro and Martha, who is known for her fragrant garden, last month left behind newly purchased herbs and annuals, waiting to be planted. But neighbors have tended them in their absence, so the garden will be in bloom when they come home.