“Every year since, I remember the birthday of the young girl who drowned.”
It was a beautiful sunny day. A day like any other. Early in the afternoon, a new lateral transfer and I were checking the neighborhoods and businesses in our assigned patrol area. This was typically the enjoyable part of the day; making contact with citizens, business owners and employees through conversation, or a friendly wave and a smile. A call on the radio to respond to an injury accident in a business parking lot “code 3” abruptly ended the tranquility of the afternoon. Confused, as we only respond to the worst of accidents with lights and sirens, my partner and I looked at each other in perplexity. A check with the dispatcher verified, we were to respond code 3.
We arrived at an unimaginable scene...a scene that would forever be etched in my mind. A 7-year-old girl lay on the ground, her mother holding her in anguish. From afar, it was evident this fragile young soul had passed. Her friends, young and innocent, with whom she had spent a wonderful day swimming and playing, sat in a car looking upon the scene with fear. Unfamiliar with the obvious signs of death, they waited in hope that their friend would awaken. But this innocent young girl never awoke. In the investigation that followed, it was discovered that the girl’s mother was the driver of the vehicle that struck her.
A few days later, on a similarly-beautiful day, a call to respond to a drowning came. It was just around the corner from my location. I arrived and ran to the backyard to find children playing in a pool and a yard decorated for a birthday party. The scene appeared tranquil, as if I had arrived at the wrong house. Immediately, a mother handed me her young daughter and anxiously uttered the words, “Save her!” Two days from her second birthday, she was so tiny – fragile – her arms fell limp as I held her. Water dripping from her swimsuit, her legs did not bend or drape as one would expect. As she was so small, she completely fit in my arms. As I turned to lay her on the ground, arriving officers began CPR. Upon EMS arrival, they quickly scooped the young girl up and ran to the ambulance. I jumped into the driver’s seat and drove to the hospital where I watched emergency room staff attempt everything to save her. Though they revived her temporarily, she soon lost her life.
After each incident, no one called or checked on my welfare. There was no one to talk with and the department had no support structure. Yes, the city had a generic employee assistance program, but nothing in place to provide the unique services needed by emergency personnel. Besides the lack of immediate support, there was also nothing long-term. Even to this day there is no long-term support provided by professionals, or through the support of peers with similar experiences.
The following few years I had nightmares. Every year since, I remember the birthday of the young girl who drowned. Twenty years later, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of these two young girls. I frequently see vivid images of those scenes and can recall every small detail. One would think over time these thoughts and visions would dissipate, and though they occurred less often for several years, they now occur on a daily basis.
After the incidents, my once-strong desire to have children disappeared. I now live with the guilt of knowing my father’s name will end with me, and I will never hold a child of mine in my arms. Though I’ve never contemplated suicide, I know the answer to ending my pain is carried on my hip. Unfortunately, I’ve had friends who found this to be a viable option.
Over the years, the culmination of mental and physical scars from events have taken their toll. Those once close to me have referred to me as an empty shell, incapable of experiencing feelings of closeness. I would much rather stay home than be in public.
I’ve had friends killed in the line of duty and others commit suicide; I’ve been injured and had people try to kill me. I’ve purposely been struck by cars; witnessed horrific accidents, crime scenes and dead bodies – young and old. I’ve seen people at their worst. I’ve witnessed stabbings, shootings and suicides. I am all-too familiar with the smell of death, the sound of a last breath, the screams of a parent whose child has lost their life and the cries of a child who has lost a parent. I consistently watch those who would not choose my career, could not perform my career and who do not understand my career continue to degrade my career. The list goes on. Through all of this, the recurring theme – no one cares.