That Dreaded Question
By: Neva Squires-Rodriguez
When people find out what I do for a living the first question they usually ask is what the most difficult call I’ve ever taken was. It doesn’t seem to matter what setting I am in, it happens at family barbeques, while out at a bar with non-dispatcher friends, or even at the family Thanksgiving table. Does anyone else cringe when they think about answering this question?
I often lie to them, telling them what they want to hear. I tell them about my first homicide call, where a father was shot in front of his young daughter, or about the wife that I convinced to do CPR on her husband with agonal breathing and sometimes I don’t tell them a thing and disappoint them by changing the subject. Sometimes I think, it would probably sound weird to them, if I told them how my most difficult call was actually a 7-year-old little girl that a nurse from an elementary school called about. A little girl who had started seizing while at recess. It would be hard to make them realize that out of all the calls I’ve taken, this was the one that made my voice tremble as I toned out rescue.
Why was that call so hard for me? It started off with a phone call from a local school, a school that my children attend, on an unusually warm afternoon in April. I soon found out that a 7-year-old little girl had started seizing while at recess. The school nurse calmly informed me that she was in second grade and at that moment I remember thinking, “My son is in second grade. I hope it’s not someone from his class.” As I pulled out my EMD cards to ask the appropriate medical questions, I heard another staff member tell the nurse that she was moving the other students to a different classroom because they were scared. For some reason the school nurse answered my EMD questions using the little girls first name, instead of just saying she. With the girl’s name being as unique as it is, I immediately realized that this was one of my son’s good friends. I had heard her name nearly every day since school started that year and that my friends, is where I lost it internally.
While I was able to get through the call and secure the help she needed, I felt like I was dying inside. While I was talking with the nurse, I was thinking about my son. I wondered what was going through his mind, knowing that he must be scared to death. Damn, my dispatcher ability to multitask within my mind-as a mother, I wanted to leave. I wanted to run right out of dispatch and go and hold him.
I was working overtime on the afternoon shift, my normal shift being nights, so my day had only just begun and for some reason at that very moment, every officer we had working wanted to run a traffic stop. I couldn’t blame them, they didn’t know that inside I felt like my heart was breaking. I needed to calm myself and I needed to do it quick, but the only thing that I could do to relax my mind was to breathe and who would've thought that breathing would become something so difficult to do. Every time I inhaled, I felt like my chest was about to collapse. My partner noticed my change in demeanor, but she didn’t have a chance to ask me if I was okay. The Comm center I worked for, which served a community of just under 30,000, had only two dispatchers to handle a shift and we handled police, fire and rescue. Unlike the movie “The Call,” we never seemed to have the ability after a difficult call to simply step away, even for a minute or two.
I later sent my husband a text message explaining what happened and asked that he talk to my son that evening, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to talk to him until the next morning when he woke up for school. My shift seemed to last for eternity, but once it was over I hurried home and waited anxiously until it was time to wake him up, thinking carefully about what to ask him, not wanting him to relive that terrible moment and definitely not wanting to push it under the rug, forgetting that it ever happened. The minute I was able to hug him and talk to him, I realized that he was okay, and I felt some of the tightness in my chest leave my body. Even with it gone and well after he had left for school, I found it was difficult to fall asleep that morning. Key words of the phone call replayed in my mind, as I struggled to figure out if there was anything that I could have done differently in order to handle it better.
While I did see the girl a few times after that call during the school year, I don’t know where she is now, if this has been an ongoing problem, or anything else about her. All that I have as far as information on her, is her unique first name and that call, forever etched in my heart and mind. That call makes me realize how strong each and every one of us dispatchers are on a daily basis. Sometimes we doubt our efficiency, even when we’ve done a fabulous job taking and giving out information. I’ve found for me that it helps talking about those calls with other dispatchers. I mean we are a family, right? While our most difficult calls may not be the same, those calls can affect us with that same level of intensity and it’s important to talk them out with people who understand.
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