To say that it was busy at work last night would be a major understatement - it was crazy. Some nights are like that - the hospitals decide that THIS is the day that they're going to discharge everyone either to their respective homes or skilled nursing facilities, the emergency room has transport after transport, 911 likes to ring constantly, and to throw some more fun into the mix, Foxwoods Casino (which American Ambulance covers) will also join in with patrons needing to go to the hospital for various and assorted reasons. All of that and more seemed to happen last night. From the time I walked in the door at 2:50 until, exhausted, I clocked out at 11:00 - it was nuts.
To make my night even more fun, the powers-that-be had somehow decided that it was just going to be myself and a part-timer working dispatch minus the benefit of a scheduler or even another dispatcher to help pick up the slack. Now, don't get me wrong, Frank is a very capable dispatcher and is one of the old veterans of American's early days but he's still not up-to-speed on the new emergency call-taking screens that we have, etc., etc. He seemed a bit overwhelmed by the whole notion that it was just he and I for the evening with piles of paperwork to complete and phones that wouldn't stop ringing and I'm pretty sure that at the end of the shift he didn't walk but ran from the room!
But it was overwhelming and even though I consider myself a professional and good at my job, last night was tough going and I have to admit to having lost said professionalism for awhile. I was too busy to give it a lot of thought last night but while debating the merits of staying in bed just a little longer this morning versus getting up and feeding the cat, my conscience decided that it was as good a time as any to kick in and remind me that I could have handled a situation much better than I did.
We have what are referred to as "frequent flyers" in Norwich, people that both ourselves and the Police Department are familiar with as they require services a lot more often than your average tax-paying citizen. Generally speaking, it's the same complaint each time and I suppose that it's very easy to come close to the danger of "crying wolf" because it generally IS the same thing time after time. Still - there may be that one time when it's not the same complaint and so each call should be handled on its own merits and not lumped into the "oh gee, it's so-and-so again with their same old complaint". Unfortunately, though, it's easy to hear an address, recognize the voice, and think "oh geez, not again".
I was guilty of that last night when one of our "usuals" called 911 in the midst of the mess that was yesterday evening and, when she said her address, I audibly sighed. I didn't mean to, it just came out. The caller, of course, took immediate offense and told me not to sigh as she hadn't called in a long time and it wasn't the usual problem (which I'm not at liberty to say due to patient confidentiality rules) but was something different for which she wanted to be seen at the hospital for. I apologized profusely, managed to dredge up my lost professionalism for the rest of the call, and dispatched an ambulance accordingly. And then because we were SO busy, I didn't give it any more thought until that niggling voice in my head started in on me this morning.
I could chalk this incident up to being overwhelmed, I could chalk this incident up to being sidetracked with everything else that was going, I could chalk this incident up to the very real possibility of dispatcher burn-out that exists for all of us in this profession but that doesn't excuse my lack of compassion for the person on the other end of the phone. People don't call 911 to be sighed at or chastised or made to feel unimportant - they call because they need help and just because it may not seem like an emergency to me doesn't mean it's not an emergency to them. Shame on me for forgetting that there was another human being with feelings on the other end of the phone.
My job isn't easy - my job can be horribly stressful at times - but if I want to say that I do it well then I need to remember today's quote and apply it accordingly whether it be a 911 caller, a discharge planner from a facility, or even a fellow employee. It's the least I can do.