Once upon a time, I was an ambulance dispatcher.
Not the kind of job people think of when they get tired of their old one, or kicked out the door because the economy has forced the company to do cut backs.
I lived in Québec City back then, and I was a teleconferencing agent at a poor salary. I did enjoy my job, but it was far from exciting, and the wedding dress story (see “The perfect wedding dress” post for more info) had just ended, so I needed a fresh start…
I sent my résumé to the ambulance dispatch company in Trois-Rivières, having heard that they were hiring. As much as I fail to appeal to the opposite sex in general, I seem to appeal to bosses. I am good at selling myself, job-wise. About 2 weeks later I was in the training room, ready to prove myself worthy of the paramedical world.
After A long training, and an even longer period being exclusively “on call”, I finally got my permanence, and got myself a stable graveyard shift. Some would send me a bag full of pitiness, but I loved it. Sure, working nights meant having a life slightly different than the rest of the world, but I was pretty much one of the “not normal” people already, so the schedule fit me well. I am a night girl, I like staying up really late, and sleeping in the morning (when neighbours allow it), so I had no problem adjusting to the weird sleeping hours.
And I have to say, working nights (although we sometimes had VERY quiet shifts) get all the really interesting stuff! Well, that is ambulance-dispatcher-interesting, of course, such as hmmm… Yeah, you know the heavy stuff. Not that it was more fun, but when you work at helping people, it is much more rewarding to help someone who has been run over by a car, than someone who has mild bellyaches but no way to get to the hospital… You get the point, right?
Doing that job required 3 main things:
- Having empathy and strong nerves.
- Being good at taking quick decisions.
- Having a questionable mental health.
The last point possibly being the most important. You cannot deal with suffering and dying people on a daily basis and have a normal, healthy brain. Just planin impossible! You have to have a valve, like on a pressure cooker, otherwise you are just shopping for a burnout!
But don’t misunderstand me here… We weren’t a bunch of rapists, and killers, and cannibals, and such brain-unhealthy wackos. We just developed a weird sense of humour necessary to fit the stress we had to deal with every day.
Because you know all those work situations when your boss asks you to rush on something really not that important, and you just felt like telling him “calm down, nobody’s dying here…” Well, for us, every once in a while, somebody WAS dying.
I just read the beginning of my post and noticed two things…
- I doubt I could be hired to recruit new dispatchers with that kind of pitch.
- Where have the ambulance catching gone?? I was supposed to quickly talk about the job first (“mise en context”, you know?) and then get to the point. Point, obviously left out of the equation by my crazy-brain again.
And now that I thought of #1, I kind of want to make up for the “could seem negative” sides of the job, I talked about… But if I get into that, I will have to write a marathon post before I get to the point again, and then develop a bit about it… Because, it was the idea at the beginning…
Well, I really want to say that it was a great job, because even if we were cursed at most every call because of our never ending rounds of questions, it was incredibly rewarding to be looking after all those people walking around in my region. It was a privilege to help a woman get ready to give birth, and some of my colleagues even had the chance to support women all the way and be on the line when the newborns took their first breath…
And I can’t go passed the call that made it all worthwhile. One summer, I had a call for a 5 years old kid chocking on strawberries. The parents were on speaker-phone (yeah, because that is THE time people choose to use that otherwise useless function… Making it even harder to help. Seriously, if you ever need to call 911, forget the speaker-phone option!), and I guided them into doing the Heimlich maneuver while waiting for the paramedics… There was a lot of screaming, crying (on their side, I kept that for after the call… Crying I mean), I kept my calm, and we did our best until I could hear the ambulance pulling in the driveway and the two guys take over the situation. Later that night, I got a call from one of the teammates. He wanted to let me know that if the parents had not done what they had, their son would have been dead at their arrival. For sure. Paramedics don’t do that. Or at least, they never did back when I worked at the dispatch. So I knew it had been a close call…
It’s been over 10 years, and I still get teary eyes, thinking I helped save at least one life during mine. I still remember the adress where that little boy lived. It is amazing to know that now, a teenager is out there somewhere, making his parents’ lives miserable a little because of me… See? I said there were really really good sides to that job.
And writing about it brings back a lot of dusty souvenirs…
I spent 8 years of my life taking calls from people in distress and sending them help… And I loved every single night.
But I guess you’ll have to wait for the ambulance-catching part…