EMS poem: 'Down so long it feels like up'

After holding it in for 20 years, a paramedic begins to talk and realizes the cycle of strife can be broken

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         


Down so long it feels like up 

So there I sat, like many days

Thinking of the obvious ways

I would once again derail my life

The clear result of years of strife

And the ideas just kept coming


This is a cycle I’ve done before

What’s one more time, be it less or more

Twenty years I’ve played this game

The end result always the same

I don’t know why I do it


So I resolve one day to see a man

“Clean this up,” he says we can

I chuckle with a bemused smile

He doesn’t know it's been awhile

Since I heard a taller tale


Oh, he has a pretty papered wall

Certificates and diplomas all

And he doesn’t lack an easy style

A joke, a story, a casual smile

But can he really fix me?


Well back I go, week after week

The answer we’re supposed to seek

I take my girl, and this is new

I play the game, and she does too

But we don’t know where it’s going


And then one day we’re sitting there

He drops a quote from who knows where

I drink it down, straight from his cup 

As he says, “You’ve been down so long, it feels like up”

And I know I’ve found the guy!


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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