UMass doctor Pierre Rouzier at ground zero of attack



Last modified: Monday, July 08, 2013

AMHERST — As he worked to create a makeshift splint for the woman in front of him, Pierre Rouzier felt her hand on his arm.

“You know, I’m going to die right here and right now and nobody is going to know where I am,” she said, sitting on the Boylston Street sidewalk among scores of injured at the scene of the explosions at Monday’s Boston Marathon.

Rouzier, a 56-year-old doctor from Amherst who is a team physician for the athletic department and primary care provider at the University of Massachusetts, paused as he worked on her leg, which was fractured below the knee with bones breaking through the skin.

“I stopped what I was doing and held her hand and said ‘You’re not going to die. You’re going to be OK,’ ” Rouzier said.

This was the fifth Boston Marathon Rouzier has volunteered at, and on Monday he was working triage outside the main medical tent, 25 yards from the finish line. Most runners arrive suffering from dehydration and other heat- and fatigue-related injuries.

When he heard the first blast, Rouzier thought it was a celebratory sound.

“My first thought was that it was one of those obnoxious touchdown cannons that you hear going off at a football game,” he said. “I thought somebody’s best friend finished the marathon and they brought in one of those little cannons. But it was way too loud for that. I was standing next to a tech guy who said, ‘I wonder if one of our pieces of equipment just exploded.’ ”

But they saw the smoke billowing from the first blast and then heard the second.

Rouzier turned to fellow doctor Chad Beattie, and together they wondered whether they should stay put or head toward the blast. Not knowing if more explosions awaited them, the two ran toward the smoke.

Rouzier texted his wife and sons: “I’m going to where the bomb went off. Say a prayer.”

In a Gazette interview in Amherst Tuesday afternoon, Rouzier recalled Monday’s dramatic events.

“I was basically texting them a goodbye message in case I needed to,” he said. “As I’m running I was thinking, ‘I’m a full, alive guy, not really ready to die. But I love Chad like a son. He just had a baby and he’s got a 2-year-old. If one of us has to die, let it be me.”

The scene was gruesome. Two weeks before, NCAA Tournament viewers turned their heads to avoid seeing Louisville guard Kevin Ware’s broken leg protruding through the skin.

“Picture Kevin Ware from Louisville with his bone sticking out. Now picture running to a scene and seeing 20 of those. You can’t imagine what that looks like,” he said. “The image of the guy whose legs were blown off is burned in my mind.”

Rouzier pointed just below his knee, and said: “He’s sitting on the ground with his legs cut off from here with pieces of bone sticking out.”

Rouzier guessed that only 90 seconds passed between the first detonation and his arrival on the scene, but already people had acted quickly to help the victims. Belts became tourniquets and anything available was turned into medical equipment.

To create a splint for a girl he guessed was 12, Rouzier used a broken portion of wooden crowd barrier and a piece of purple construction paper that someone had used to make a sign encouraging runners.

“It kind of worked,” he said.

As the injured were evacuated in ambulances, police told the first responders to clear the area.

“Then they say everyone has to evacuate because there’s another device,” Rouzier said. “Now there’s nobody to help. The scene was empty. That was the part that probably frightened me the most. It’s one thing to get blown up while you’re helping. It’s another to get blown up on an empty street.”

Rouzier, Beattie and other medical personnel retreated to the tent only to be told that the tent needed to be searched for bombs as well.

“Nobody knew where to go,” he said. “There’s nothing on the instructions to tell people if there’s a bomb and you don’t finish the race, the bus with all of your belongings will go here, or meet your loved ones there. Nobody knew were anybody was.”

The growing concern became the health of runners still on the course, now four hours from the start of the race.

“Between three and a half and five hours into the race is generally when we see the sickest people. So the sickest people are finishing and we don’t know where they are,? he said. “We were told they got diverted to the Boston Common. So we went there to look for them, but we couldn’t find anybody.”

They walked around Boston in search of anyone needing medical attention, feeling helpless.

“I wish I could have done more,” Rouzier said.

He didn’t make it back to Amherst until after 11 p.m. His car couldn’t be removed from the Prudential Center parking garage, so he got a ride to the Riverside stop on MBTA’s Green Line. From there another friend drove him to Ludlow, where his wife, Arlene, picked him up. He left Tuesday for a medical conference in San Diego.

But before he left, he said the woman who thought she was dying remained in his thoughts. After splinting her leg as best he could, he helped her first to a wheelchair and then to a gurney. He hurriedly grabbed her shopping bag, purse and cell phone before the ambulance took her to a nearby hospital.

“I wish I got her name. I wish I got her phone number. I wish I got someone to call for her. But all of a sudden, she was in an ambulance and gone, which is what she needed,” he said. “Imagine you were from Seattle or Tokyo and you’re staying at one of the Prudential or Copley hotels. Nobody is allowed in. It’s roped off. You can’t get to your clothes or your phone, you can’t get to your family. You can’t meet at the hotel. I wish I could have done more.”

Despite the horror he witnessed, Rouzier was glad he was there.

“I always say if something bad is going to happen, I want to be the one that’s working,” he said. He plans to be back at the marathon next year.

“I’d go back today,” he said. “If they called me and said they needed me to drive back to Boston, I’d go back right now.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com.


 

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