I’ve come to one of those points in this story that I don’t like to talk about. We were two weeks away from the end of chemo. We had planned a big party to celebrate; my mind was at “the end” again. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. But life throws you curve balls all the time.
I don’t know why I don’t like to talk about this part, really, I just don’t. Probably because it happened when I was at work. I have taken an unknown number of 911 calls over the past 15 years. I have given CPR instructions to people who I know had no chance of saving their loved one, I have listened to people describe horrific car crashes and I have heard things that most people wouldn’t ever want to hear. These things don’t bother me. I know there are people reading this thinking that I’m repressing all sorts of things or whatever but I’ve learned over the years how to distance myself from the situation. That was great, until one day it didn’t work.
It was your average day at 911, car crashes, theft reports and an injured person or two. Then I got a 911 call from a mother who was sobbing so hard I could barely understand her. She wanted a police escort to the hospital – a lot of people still think that the police do that. So I started my usual line of questioning, where are you now, what kind of car do you have, and can you please pull over so I can get an ambulance to assist you instead of the police. She was reluctant to pull over, or more, her husband who was driving and yelling in the back ground was reluctant to pull over. Between sobs and trying to get her husband to stop she said they needed to get her 7-year-old daughter to Riley. So I asked the question, “What is wrong with your daughter?” It was a basic question – I had asked that same question hundreds of times in the past. “A few days ago she had an MRI that showed a brain tumor and she passed out.”
I opened my mouth but I couldn’t say anything. I quickly turned and faced my computer so the other dispatchers couldn’t see me. More specifically I turned my face, because the tears had already started rolling and I couldn’t stop them. I had to force myself to speak and I had never had that happened to me before. I finally managed to convince her to pull over citing all kinds of reasons like the ambulance having oxygen and medical supplies, the dangers of being in the car if she was seizing and the fact that her husband didn’t sound like he was in a state of mind to drive. The ambulance made it to them, but they were outside of my jurisdiction by then. I hung up. I tried to discreetly wipe tears away. Remember, I don’t cry in public. And I NEVER cry in dispatch. I don’t know if anyone knew I had started crying during the call and I’m guessing that if they did they would understand. But I was determined not to let anyone see.
When you start dispatching they teach you to be empathetic.
- 1. Identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives. See Synonyms at pity.
I didn’t have to be empathetic with that caller. I was that caller. The sobs and desperation in her voice ;that was me. The sound of sheer panic because she had no idea which way to go or what way her life was turning; that was me. She was me in September 2007 and those feelings were just as real in 2009 when I took the call. I remember wanting so badly on the phone to tell her that everything was going to be OK. But I knew that I couldn’t. Not just because as a dispatcher you never promise anything you can’t 100% guarantee, but because I also knew that not all brain tumors were as “good” as my daughters. And I really wanted things to be OK for her.
I don’t know how what happened to the lady and her family. I hope she is like me and celebrating her daughter being tumor free today, but I don’t know. Telling this part of the story still brings tears to my eyes. I’m not sure why. I think it was just hearing her heartache made me realize that mine ached too even though we were close to the “end.” It was yet another moment where I thought I had reached the light at the end of the tunnel only to realize that the tunnel just got longer.
I still take 911 calls. I have since taken others where people have informed me the person they were calling for had a brain tumor. None of the one’s since that one has been for a 7-year-old. Or any other age child for that matter. There is a little girl who lives in the housing addition across the street from me who has a very severe Stage 4 brain tumor. I don’t know the family personally but we know many of their friends and neighbors. Part of me feels I should knock on their door and introduce myself. But the part of me that knows getting to know this family means I have to re-live September 7th, 2007 all over again stops me. It’s selfish, I know. I know it would mean a lot to them, because I remember several brain-tumor-universe parents who contacted me and how much I appreciated their support.
So as I’m writing and happily realizing that I’m nearing completion of the 30 days of writing I’m trying to decide if I have learned anything or feel better having shared all of this. I’m not sure yet. I’ve got five days to figure it out though.