Understand how we got here — and how to move forward.


May 20, 2013

Boston Globe: The nine nurses who cared for the bombing suspect

Daily Briefing

The Boston Globe on Sunday told the story of the nine trauma nurses who spent "an extraordinarily draining six days" treating Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings.

As Boston residents breathed a sigh of relief at Tsarnaev's capture after a prolonged manhunt and citywide lockdown, nine Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center nurses were faced with "the ultimate test of Florence Nightingale's founding ideals," the Globe reports. They were asked to treat the suspected Boston Marathon bomber after spending a week caring for 24 of his victims.

According to the hospital, all the nurses asked to participate in Tsarnaev's care agreed to do so. One supervisor told a nurse, "You don't have to do this." She told the Globe, "I did it because I'm a nurse and I don't get to pick and choose my patients."

Seven of Tsarnaev's nurses agreed to be interviewed by the Boston Globe's Liz Kowalczyk, although they did not discuss any specifics of Tsarnaev's treatment.

Tsarnaev was treated alongside bombing victims

Tsarnaev was captured at about 8:45 p.m. on April 19 and taken to Beth Israel because it was the closest Level 1 trauma center and he was bleeding heavily from gunshot wounds. Just hours before, Beth Israel ED physicians had tried but failed to save the life of Tsarnaev's elder brother, also a suspect in the bombings that left three dead and more than 280 wounded.

Some of the families of bombing victims expressed unease that Tsarnaev would be treated on the same floor as some of his alleged victims. The family of Paul Norden—who lost his right leg in the bombing—initially was upset and asked to have Paul moved to a different floor. "I thought, why does he have to come here, where so many of the people who were hurt are," Paul's mother Liz Norden told Kowalczyk.

One of Paul's physicians discussed the Hippocratic Oath with Liz Norden. Although Liz Norden acknowledged that passing the guarded ICU where Tsarnaev was being treated to visit her son was unsettling, she said that hospital staff members were considerate and that she had no concerns about the medical care her son received.

'An extraordinarily draining six days'

To enter the guarded ICU, the nine nurses involved in his care were required to show identification and were searched by FBI at four checkpoints.

The patient's room was guarded by FBI agents, while Boston and State Police guarded the area. Despite being surrounded by guards at all times, a few nurses said they sometimes forgot they were treating the bombing suspect.

Some nurses said that the time between shifts were difficult. "When you're in the room, it's just a patient. You're here to … make sure they're feeling better," said a 29-year-old nurse treating Tsarvnaev. "When you step away, you take it in. I am compassionate, that's what we do. But should I be? The rest of the world hates him right now. The emotions are like one big salad, all tossed around."

Another nurse said she wondered whether if people knew what she had done, "would they hate me, or would they thank me?"

To address the stress and emotional toll of treating Tsarnaev, the hospital brought in social workers to counsel all nine of the trauma nurses, according to Barbara Sarnoff Lee, the hospital's director of social work.

"They heard messages from law enforcement and the world: You need to keep this person alive. We need information. We need justice," Lee told the Globe.

After six days at Beth Israel, Tsarnaev was moved to the Federal Medical Center Devens at Fort Devens (Kowalczyk, Globe, 5/19).

More from today's Daily Briefing
  1. Current ArticleBoston Globe: The nine nurses who cared for the bombing suspect

Have a Question?


Ask our experts a question on any topic in health care by visiting our member portal, AskAdvisory.