FALMOUTH — Sarah Girouard looks down at her right leg, which is encased in a white bandage and stabilized by a black foot-to-knee brace. A pair of crutches are propped on the couch cushion next to her.

The bandage covers fresh scars, where doctors at Tufts Medical Center cut her leg open to remove pieces of metal that lodged in her flesh. The crutches will stay with her for up to eight weeks.

Still, when Girouard, a 2010 Falmouth High School graduate and junior at Northeastern University, thinks about the three victims who died and the many others who suffered injuries much worse than hers during Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon, she feels lucky.

“It’s weird. It hasn’t been that emotionally difficult,” Girouard, 20, said from her parents’ home in Falmouth on Thursday, one day after she was released from the hospital. “I was lucky I didn’t actually see any of the horrific things that happened that you heard about. If I had, I probably would have been affected more. Watching now, it’s like ‘Wow, that’s what I avoided’?”

Like so many who call Boston home, Girouard and her two roommates decided to spend the Patriots Day holiday downtown.

“The marathon is just a huge event and it was gorgeous out, so we figured why not walk around?” she said. “We got lunch on Newbury Street and just kind of meandered over to the finish line to see the (runners).

“We were standing there and started to move closer to the finish line to find another friend in the crowd. I don’t know why, but I was looking down and I just kind of felt this hot pop kind of hit my leg, and everything went blurry. Not blurry, but just kind of foggy from all the dust and smoke and my ears were ringing — that high-pitched white noise — and then people started screaming.”

Girouard had been hit by shrapnel from the first of two bombs that went off Monday afternoon. One piece of metal entered her leg below the knee and exited the other side, fracturing her tibia. Another piece, the size of a thumb, lodged in her ankle.

“I grabbed my roommate and tried to find the closest building that we could get cover under because we didn’t know what was going on at that point,” she said. “I think the first thing that registered was fireworks because it would never occur to me that it could have been an actual bomb. We made it to a building nearby. That’s when I realized my leg was bleeding, and I couldn’t really walk that well.”

The next 20 minutes, from the time Girouard was wounded until she was taken by ambulance to the hospital, were a blur. Two strangers carried her to a triage tent nearby, where she was laid on a cot. Emergency personnel labeled the injured who were pouring in. Red for those with the worst injuries. Girouard was labeled a yellow — not critical but still wounded.

“I didn’t know if I was cold or scared, but I just tried to not look down,” she said.

At the hospital, Girouard underwent surgery to remove any foreign objects or debris still lodged in her leg. Her father, Christopher, asked the doctors later if the family could keep the thumb-sized piece of shrapnel that had been in her ankle. They told him they were sorry, but the piece had to be turned over to the FBI.

Police officers visited Girouard in the hospital later to ask if she saw anything. She didn’t.

“Everyone is cheering on the runners and there are so many people,” she said. “The only thing I remember seeing before was this little girl on her dad’s shoulders wearing a bright pink shirt.”

Girouard’s mother, Sue, first heard about the bombings from a close friend who texted her “I hope Sarah’s not at the marathon.”

“I pulled over and said, ‘Why?’ She said there were two explosions,” Sue Girouard, 52, said Thursday. “So I flew home and immediately tried to call her and couldn’t get through. That freaked me out because she has her phone attached to her, like most kids do. Then I tried reaching my husband and couldn’t reach him, so of course the worst thoughts fill your head.

“Then her older sister, Lauren (who is 23 and lives in Portland), called and said ‘I’ve heard from Sarah, she’s fine. She’s going to the hospital, but she wants you there.”

The parents headed south on Interstate 95 within minutes, staying until Wednesday, when Girouard was discharged.

Girouard said the whole ordeal still hasn’t sunk in fully.

“I kind of felt like I was in a movie. The whole smoke and dust and pieces of clothing falling that were on fire, and the white noise,” she said. “I couldn’t really hear anything, but I knew people were screaming. It was strange. I was more confused.”

Girouard is expected to recover from her injuries. She had been registered to participate in the American Lung Association’s Trek Across Maine in June with her sister, but will have to wait until next year. She had been interning as a Geographical Information Systems analyst assistant at Boston City Hall, but likely won’t be able to return to that job for at least a month.

As for next year’s Boston Marathon, she said she wouldn’t hesitate to attend again.

“I was watching the interfaith event with President Obama, and it just amazed me at how united and strong Boston is,” she said. “It’s just a really cool city to be a part of.

“I wouldn’t want it to deter me from watching again. I mean, I might choose a different location, but I don’t know if I’d want to miss out.”

Staff Writer Eric Russell
791-6344 – [email protected]
Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

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