1996 San Francisco Bay to Breakers (page 2)

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1996 San Francisco Bay to Breakers (page 2)

Once we're deployed we have time to collect our thoughts and inspect our equipment one last time. With a slight mist coming off the ocean I disassemble both of my radios. (I wrote a piece about how I modified my radio to receive all the frequencies with which I work.) I check my medical questions checklist (on a laminated wallet-sized card). The other medics and I go over our kits, which includes a oversized metal clipboard with incident reports hidden inside. This is too big to fit into the fanny packs we're issued, and so it's a chore to drag it around all day. I wear a backpack, which makes short work of storing lunch, cold-weather clothes, extra batteries, and the monster clipboard. Nobody mentions this to the medics, and so each year they trade off holding the clipboard. Tradition.runners appear
setting up the finish lineThis year - as most years - I volunteer to work in "cardaic alley", the area around the finish line. It's where I have the greatest chance to put my medical training to use. The location is my favorite too, right on the Pacific Ocean, foggy in the morning and hot by midday. (I've also worked the start line, where there have been a surprizing number of injuries, but it's not where I like to be on race day.) These years the volunteers no longer ask; when the preliminary paperwork is sent out my assignment and location are already marked: Communicator and Medic, leader of MAT Mike. MATs Kilo, Lima, and Mike cover the areas before, at, and immediately following the finish line.
There are so many good folks who volunteer. Teams of teens and pre-teens are here to set up and operate the twenty-two or so finish line chutes. (We need no know exactly when each runner finishes the race and we have so many runners....) Others hand out much-needed bottled water to the runners. Each group has been given their own color-coded rain slicker: there's the green team, the orange team, the blue team. More perhaps. Their enthusiasm is infectious, as they roll out line and tape and become a finish area. They form under the finish line scaffold, set up the night before by professionals. The banners that span the streets and mark the miles have been up for days, perhaps a week, teasing all who drive under them. volunteers
looking at the finish lineThis is my view looking north from a vantage point smack dab in the middle of the parking lot between the Great Highway and the Pacific Ocean, which lies just off Ocean Beach, to the left of the truck. Golden Gate Park stretches eastward to my right. That's just a small bit of the finish line you see in front of me. (You'll get a closer look later.)

By now both our ham radios and our Red Cross medical dispatch radios have come to life. We participate in a roll call on the former, a greeting from the Chief Medical Officer on the latter. The race has started, and regular radio traffic begins. A MAT is dispatched to a runner who has run into a fire hydrant or parking meter. A minute later they report GOA; the subject is gone on arrival.

We can track the position of the front-runners not by explicit declaration but rather by watching each fixed station and MAT come to life.

My team walks up and down the Great Highway, being mindful of everything going on. We're loaded with medical supplies and paperwork. In the case of any medical interaction, no matter how trivial, we're to note the runner's number. We live in a litiginous culture, and the lives of medical care-givers are made more complicated as a result.

Soon the repeated thump-thump of helicopter rotor blades intrudes on my thoughts. I look up and see a half-dozen 'copters, several sporting huge televison cameras, doubtlessly focussed on the front-runners. Then the first male runner crosses the finish line. Several more men. A few moments later the first female runner crosses the finish line, and as are all the front-runners, is channeled into a special area to be tended to by the powers that be. There's a cynical old saw that says the front-runners have taken off from San Francisco International Airport before the last runners have crossed the finish line. It might be true.

first female
my MATHere are my teammates, two Emergency Medical Technicians. They're standing in front of two Red Cross emergency care vehicles a few hundred feet south of the finish line. The vehicle on the right is a Chevy Suburban outfitted with a variety of radios. The vehicle on the left is a self-contained emergency care shelter, complete with army cots, blankets, medical supplies, radios, food, and a coffee pot or two. (On many a cold evening have my spirits been lifted when the Red Cross "meal-mobile" has driven into a wilderness rescue base camp.)
Now the lead women reach the finish line. Perhaps you've heard the old saw about the lead runners crossing the finish line before those in the back of the pack cross the start line? Well, it's true. Hard to believe, but true. An articulated line of runners crosses our fair city from east to west, seven miles long. One of my favorite team of runners are the Salmon. Attired to look like their namesalkes, these adventureres run the race backwards, "upstream", starting from the finish line and running to the start line against the flood of 100,000 runners.

There are other interesting groups of runners; the caterpiller teams.

lead women
caterpiller teamsCaterpiller teams are groups of runners who tie themselves together and run as one. Their motion is something like that of a caterpiller making its way along a branch. In recent years caterpiller teams have become the darlings of corporate sponsorship. Ever eaten at the chain of Chevy's mexican food restaurants? This is their caterpillar team.

The PowerBar folks run as a huge nutrition bar, gold foil and all.

Here I am, following my team. We're at the south end of the Great Highway, apparently heading back up to the finish line. The runners walking towards us are on their way to the Polo Field to enjoy a well-deserved rest, good food, music, and tee-shirts for those who registered.

As we walk against the stream of runners we keep an eye out for anyone who isn't "alert and oriented". Folks who are confused, pale, stumbling, or otherwise seemingly in trouble get our undivided attention. Many atheletes push themselves to the limit; we worry about those who have slipped over the edge.

This has been a quiet day. We get a lot of requests for directions ("just follow the rest of the runners and you'll get there in a few minutes") but thankfully not much in the way of emergency care.

my team
masses queueHere we are nearing the finish line. You can see the masses of runners being funneled through the chutes. You can see the mess of construction horses and flagging tape through which we have to navigate on the run when we're dispatched. At the top left of the finish line you may be able to make out the cherry picker from which one of the spotters dispatches us. The chute volunteers have orange flags which they wave when they're confronted by a runner in distress. The spotter notices the commotion and directs us via the radio.
Here's the result of some flag-waving. My team was at this patient's side before he went from a sitting to supine position. In the next minute we were joined by paramedics equipped with medication and a portable defibrillator. We worked on this gentleman for three-quarters of an hour, but to no avail.

Not all medical emergencies are so sad. A relative of an acquaintance suffered a myocardial infarction (a "heart attack") and dropped to the pavement in front of Dr. Dean Ornish (a well-known author and cardiologist) and another UCSF physician. He got world-class care and thrived.


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