Dr. David Schoenfeld was reading on his couch when a fierce gunfight and explosions broke out near his Watertown home early Friday morning. Expecting massive casualties, he told his wife goodbye and bolted out the door to work at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Less than 10 minutes after arriving in the emergency department, he witnessed the aftermath of that battle.
At about 1:20 a.m., emergency medical personnel wheeled in Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, handcuffed, unconscious, and near death. His tattered clothes had already been cut away. More than a dozen police officers surrounded him.
Emergency crews were performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Tsarnaev, who had massive injuries, including burns on his right shoulder, bullet wounds, and a gaping slash on his torso.
Trauma teams had been alerted that one or more people injured in the gun battle, possibly a suspect or a police officer or both, were on the way, and they wore protective gowns and gloves. They checked Tsarnaev for radioactivity with a Geiger counter; none was detected.
"I don't think people were worried for their safety,'' Schoenfeld said. But "we knew this was not a normal night for trauma . . . we were waiting for the other shoe to drop.''
Schoenfeld said doctors placed a breathing tube in Tsarnaev's throat and tubes in his chest to release pressure from his lungs. Schoenfeld helped coordinate and grabbed a tray with instruments for the team to use to cut open his chest and check for heart damage.
But Tsarnaev had lost massive amounts of blood from his wounds and was suffering massive cardiac and respiratory arrest. Doctors could not revive him and declared the suspect dead about 1:35 a.m. — about 15 minutes after he was brought in.
Schoenfeld and Dr. Richard Wolfe, chairman of emergency medicine, said doctors and nurses treated Tsarnaev like any other patient. "You have to put their interest first during that period," Wolfe said. "It doesn't matter if it's a perpetrator or the president. . . . You work equally hard to save everyone.''
That may seem unfathomable to the public, but it's an ethos emergency physicians pride themselves on. "We take care of any person who walks in off the street," said Dr. Maura Kennedy,who took charge of about 20 other patients in the emergency department at the time. Caregivers made sure these patients were shielded from the evolving drama, closing doors to the trauma area.
One patient asked Kennedy what was unfolding, but she simply told her she could not discuss another patient's care.
After Tsarnaev died, medical staff stripped off their gloves and gowns and turned the room over to law enforcement, Schoenfeld said.
They returned to treating other patients, including a half-dozen with chest pains, another with a wrist fracture, and two who were suicidal, Wolfe said.
As of early last evening, Schoenfeld was still at the hospital. Amid the police search for Tsarnaev's younger brother, the second bombing suspect, Schoenfeld had not yet been allowed to return to Watertown.