Somewhere high above the clouds over Africa, in seat number 17K, Laura Sherburne learned the awful news of the Boston bombings.
She was supposed to have been there, right at the finish line, captain of a team of volunteer nurses who triage exhausted runners in medical tents. She'd done it last year and signed up again.
But shortly before the race, Sherburne learned she had won an international fellowship and would have to be on a plane the day of the marathon. She cajoled her friend Jane Keefe Chiang to take over the nurses team.
Panic set in on that never-ending Emirates flight from New York after she caught a news flash on an in-flight channel. "Deadly explosion at Boston Marathon finish line."
There was so little information at first. She imagined the worst.
The ache turned to guilt that she wasn't there to help -- guilt squared because she was a nurse.
As her plane landed, Sherburne's head was an emotional cocktail: grief, anger and anxiety, mixed with excitement of being in a foreign land.
It was all about to magnify.
She'd arrived in Bangladesh, one week before that nation's worst industrial tragedy. She did not have to witness the horror in her hometown. But 8,653 miles away, she would not be spared.
A medical mission half a world away
Sherburne, 25, made the journey to Bangladesh with Maryanne Meadows, a neurosurgery nurse she'd befriended at Simmons College in Boston. After nursing school, the two women went to work at Massachusetts General Hospital, where many of the bombing victims were treated.
The pair were part of a rotating team the hospital has been sending to Dhaka to help set up the first bone marrow transplant unit in Bangladesh. Massachusetts General has 60 health projects in 40 countries. The Bangladesh government had approached the hospital to help set up the facility, scheduled to open around August.
Sherburne had never traveled to South Asia before. She experienced the shock that almost every Westerner does after leaving the airport. The assault of hot, heavy, damp air. The unsightly piles of garbage tossed in heaps in open lots, their stench mingling with the heady smells of mustard oil and onion from cooking on the streets.
At her apartment, palmetto bugs scurried across the living room floor and geckos shuttled along the walls.
She might have been reeling from it all had Boston not filled her mind.
After she saw the news on the plane, she'd woken up Meadows, and the two immediately purchased in-flight Wi-Fi so they could get on e-mail and Facebook and check on their friends and family.
Luckily, everyone seemed to be fine.
"It was really hard. I was just trying to focus, but it just kept getting worse," she said. Her brother lives in Watertown, where police finally caught up with bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Through it all, Sherburne was so immersed in the news that she almost forgot she was not actually in Boston. That she hadn't just had a Dunkin' Donuts coffee or gone for a jog along the Charles River.
In her first post on her new blog, "What Would Flo Do?" (named after Florence Nightingale), Sherburne wrote this:
"Given the horrific scenes of Monday, followed by the conclusive events on Friday, my head and heart are still somewhere lost over the Atlantic," she wrote. "I hope, however, to slowly drift back to the Bay of Bengal shores and the work at hand."
Welcome to Bangladesh
She and Meadows settled into their apartment in the neighborhood of Baridhara, which Sherburne described as the Beacon Hill of Bangladesh. It lacks the swank of blue-blood Boston but for Dhaka, it is a luxury. She even has remote-controlled air conditioning and a maid, Shilipi, who cleans and cooks for the two Americans.
Her father had worried so much about his daughter traveling to Bangladesh. The worries heightened after deadly riots erupted over a war crimes tribunal trying Islamist leaders for crimes committed during the nation's 1971 war for independence, when it was known as East Pakistan. Still, he'd been glad to hear his daughter's voice from the other side of the world. Thank God she wasn't on the finish line that day in Boston.
On some days, Sherburne and Meadows found themselves in lockdown in their new home because of security concerns. The opposition party, allied with Islamists, has been calling for nationwide strikes, and tensions have led to violent clashes on the streets. But the nurses were eager to get started with the work at hand.