Doctor holds memory of finish-line horror
AMHERST — For months, any time Pierre Rouzier was in a department store, he’d find himself gravitating toward the belts.
His quest wasn’t based in fashion or what would best hold up pants on his slender frame.
Rouzier, a team physician for the athletic department and primary care provider at the University of Massachusetts, looks at belts differently than he did before working as a volunteer in the medical tent of the 2013 Boston Marathon. Belts became tourniquets that day as doctors rushed to the scene to treat the victims of the two bombs that exploded at the scene.
Rouzier chose a gray and burgundy canvas belt with a double ring buckle, at the American Eagle store in Rye, N.Y. It’ll do a fine job holding up his cargo pants — with the big pockets for carrying medical supplies. But more importantly if called upon, it’s perfect to stop bleeding.
Rouzier, 57, will be back in the medical tent near the finish line of Monday’s Boston Marathon. He believes a repeat of last year’s tragic events is “hopefully unlikely,” but he wants to be prepared. Last year, he was one of many medical professionals that rushed to the scene.
Amid a gruesome scene where some victims were missing limbs and others had bones breaking through skin, Rouzier worked quickly, fashioning a splint for a preteen girl with a badly injured leg and helping people into ambulances.
Since that day when he hears a loud, unexpected noise, his body almost instantly switches to help mode.
“I hear noises. I don’t want to flee, I want to see who needs help,” he said.
On May 3, 18 days after the marathon, Rouzier returned to Boston.
“I told my wife, I need to be around Boston sports fans tonight and I need to buy a ‘Boston Strong’ shirt,” Rouzier said.
They brought tickets to Game 6 of the Celtics-Knicks playoff series. Like anyone at a sporting event in Massachusetts over the past decade, Rouzier had heard the Dropkick Murphys’ song “Shipping Up to Boston” many times. But for obvious reasons the opening lyrics struck him like never before:
I’m a sailor peg
And I’ve lost my leg
Climbing up the top sails
I lost my leg
“I started to shake and cry. Everyone was standing and dancing and I’m like this — shaking,” he said, recreating his body recoiling into his seat.
After the Knicks defeated the Celtics, he headed to Boylston Street where he and his wife Arlene made the long walk to the Marathon finish line, still covered with shoes, notes and other mementos left there to honor the three people slain and dozens injured at the scene.
“I was trying to figure out where the medical tent would have been,” said Rouzier, who retraced his steps with his wife.
Close to the area where he helped victims, a single red rose lay on the ground. “I knelt down in a spot where there had been a pool of blood where I’d been kneeling. I stayed kneeling for a while.”
While his feelings aren’t always that intense, over the past year, there have been many different triggers to the memories of that day. While another doctor he met avoids speaking of that day at all, Rouzier has found discussing his experiences therapeutic.
“I’m willing to tell my story over and over again,” said Rouzier. “I don’t think he ever wants to tell his story at all — to him, it’s putting it in a box and shutting it away.”
That’s not Rouzier’s way.
“For me it’s talking about it as much as I can,” he said.
He met several times with Northampton psychotherapist Amy Kahn, who used Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, known as EMDR, a technique now commonly used to treat people who suffer from PTSD or have experienced or witnessed trauma.
He said he never considered not returning to volunteer at the marathon this year. He’ll even be back in Boston early. After riding the length of the marathon course on his bike Saturday, he and his wife plan to see the Broadway touring production of “Book of Mormon” Sunday.
On Monday he’ll be back on Boylston Street, offering his skills in the medical tent. From his post at the triage station he’ll evaluate runners as they come in to determine the severity of each runners’ need. Being in front he’ll have a good view of the finish line and the site of last year’s tragedies.
He’s hoping to potentially meet some of the victims he helped, but isn’t counting on it.
“If I meet one of the people I’ll be ecstatic,” said Rouzier.
Mostly he’s hoping for a return to normalcy — and that his new belt can stay around his waist.
“Mostly I hope I’m feeling as tired as I was two years ago from working so hard and feeling good about how many people volunteer,” he said. “So many people work hard. It’s great camaraderie.”