EMS Poem: ‘But it wouldn't end that way’

A true story of a child drowning and the interruption, pain, loss, and grief that doesn't go away for the would be rescuers


Editor's Note: Fire chief and paramedic Michael Roxbury writes poetry as a means to understand the stress he has experienced as a paramedic for more than two decades. Chief Roxbury's hope is that others don't ignore the warning signs of PTSD, as he did for far too long, and seek out help or resources they may need.  

By Michael Roxbury           


But it wouldn’t end that way


It started like most any day

A Monday it was, and late in May

The weather promised lots of sun

With not a care to mar the fun

But it wouldn’t end that way

 

This holiday weekend was nearly done

With one last day to have some fun

So to the river a small group went

To swim and play was their intent

But it wouldn’t end that way

 

I was home, doing who knows what

The grass I think, was needing cut

And that anchor I carried, in my hand

Was mostly silent as the channels scanned

But it wouldn’t end that way

 

The tones rang out, the silence shattered

My ears pricked up in case this mattered

And it was our call, so I had to go

Probably nothing and I hoped it so

But it wouldn’t end that way

 

A drowning call at the swimming hole

An icy finger stabbed my soul

I heard the chatter of my crew

And I hoped and prayed this wasn’t true

But it wouldn’t end that way

 

The sirens wailed as I headed out

With my brain still reeling and full of doubt

And two miles to go or thereabout

The freakin’ traffic makes me shout

Why don’t these idiots have a clue

That I have an important job to do

And they are causing me to go

A speed I know is way too slow

But I hope and hope and even pray

That speed won’t matter on this day

But it wouldn’t end that way

 

My crew and I we made our way

To the place where someone drowned they say

We beat a track thru heavy brush

And tried to move in such a rush

That it wasn’t long before we spied

A boy who stood and simply cried

And my heart just stopped within my chest

And instantly I was over-stressed

Because I knew that young boy's face

And his look suggested we’d lost the race

“Is it your brother,” I want to know

His head shook no so very slow

While pointing down the river's shore

Another hundred yards or more

And “Oh my God” this just can’t be

I don’t believe what I can see

A set of twins so much the same

To each I couldn’t put a name

But one alive and one a ghost

And I knew this day would be the most

Awful of my life

And yes, it would end that way

 

There he lay, in the shoreline mud

Deposited there by the springtime flood

And his brother sat close by his side

And rocked and rocked and cried and cried

I dove into my bag of tricks

Looking for that thing that would help me fix

The nightmare that this had become

Instead of a day of sun and fun

But it wouldn’t end that way

 

Crazy fast we head, into E.R.

Tubes and drugs and CPR

But the monitor is stuck on a flatline trace

And I’m getting it now, we lost this race

But he’s young and strong and very cold

So we keep it up until were told

That his temp has reached that magic spot

Where further efforts are all for naught

And his mom is here and I cannot fail

To note she sounds like the sirens wail

And just like that, it’s said and done

No more swimming, no more fun

And he’ll forever dwell in some other place

But we’re doomed to ever see his face

On the twin who still remains.

And yes, it would end that way

 

It’s been 10 long years, or nearly so

Since that day in May when I had to go

Take care of a boy who met his end

In a way this medic could not mend

But time I thought, would heal the rip

Into my soul this call let slip

But no, it wouldn’t end that way

 

About the Author

Michael Roxbury has served as the Fire Chief and Paramedic for the Umatilla Rural Fire Protection District since 1997. In his 18 years as Chief of District he has served as the only Paramedic for that population and has instructed many EMT students. With a career spanning over 25 years Chief Roxbury is intimately familiar with the challenges of rural EMS delivery with a volunteer force. He lives in Umatilla, Oregon with his girlfriend and has two adult children.  

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