The Voice on the Line
Guest Blog Post Author: Rachael Brain Massachusetts EMT & Emergency Dispatcher
What did you do today?
Today I told a young man he had to stop crying so I could help him perform CPR on his mother. The mother who overdosed in the middle of his cartoons. I had to talk to a soldier suffering from severe post traumatic stress disorder and try to keep him on the line and convince him not to jump down onto the highway to stop the voices in his head. I had to listen to the graphic details of a sexual assault. I had to ask a mentally handicapped boy to stay away from the gun beside his fathers body as he described a horrific "brain painting" on the wall. Finally, I had to listen to the last raspy, agonal respirations of a two month old baby, because I wasn't able to calm his terrified, distraught father enough to begin infant CPR.
I'm a 911 Dispatcher, which basically means I'm your gateway to help in an emergency. I don't get weekends off and I miss almost every major holiday with my family so that I can be there to help protect and serve yours.
You almost never think about me until the moment you require my services, but believe me when I say that I am always thinking about you. Even if we've never met.
I'm the voice on the line during some of the worst moments of your life. You may think I'm cold and clinical and unfeeling. You may believe I'm a robot asking the same questions over and over again. You may call me names and curse me and believe I'm heartless. Trust me, I feel.
I feel every gasp and gurgle. I feel every scream of pain. Every heart wrenching cry of every mother of every lost child. I feel every second of fear with you. After the white knights have arrived to save the day, armed with the answers to those unfeeling questions, I feel them. When you have been brought to the hospital, treated and are back safe and warm in your bed, I feel them. Long after you thank the hero in uniform and you forget I was ever involved at all, I feel them.
I almost never know how the story ends for you. For me, it is an endless ellipsis...
Sometimes the sound of your voice replays in my head while I'm driving home. The sun will be shining and my face may be smiling as I'm surprised by the gas station attendant asking why I'm crying. Sometimes I don't even feel the tears that just seem to leak. Sometimes it takes me a second or two before I realize they are leaking for you.
Sometimes I get frustrated and I don't know why. I lash out at the people I love in my life for no especially important reason. I hold on to the guilt when I feel helpless. Sometimes I want to talk to people about the things that I'm feeling, but that's hard too. I can't tell anybody much. And my stories aren't really the kind of stories most people want to hear. So most of the time, I just keep you in my head.
Sometimes, people ask me if I love what I do. I don't believe anyone really loves it. I think when you first start out in EMS, you love the idea of it. Helping people. You love the feeling of brotherhood. You love being entrusted with the guardianship of your fellow man. But you don't love what you do. Not in the depths of your soul. Because this job chips away at you, little by little. We have all lost brothers and sisters in this field. Killed in action, or the bottle, or their own hand when the voices get too loud. But we don't do this job because we love it.
So why do we do this job?
We do it because it needs to be done. We do it because for whatever reason, those of us called to it, can. It's as simple and as complex as that. I have friends and family who could never stomach the burden of the things I've seen working on the ambulance or the things I've said and heard on the 911 line. They could never carry the weight of those voices. So I CHOOSE to stand by for those moments when you need me. I commit to being there, staying calm and taking a little bit of your suffering into myself.
Do I love what I do? The truth is, No. Sometimes I wish I could just walk away and leave all the voices behind. The truth is, I know I never will. I will carry the voices with me, your voices, until they are all that's left in the dark. There is another truth though. A deeper, truth. We have never met and will probably never meet. I will never hold your hand or hug you in an embrace. I will never wrap a present and fix it with a bow with your name on it. I will never get a birthday card or be invited to your wedding. You probably forgot my name the second you hung up the phone. But I love you. Deeply and profoundly, as sister or brother, I love you. Whoever you are.
Today, I answered the phone, "911, What is the location of your emergency?" and I held my breath...
What did you do today?
-Rachael, A 911 Dispatcher