911 Operators Break Down The One Call That Still Keeps Them Up At Night
Image by Gundula Vogel from Pixabay

*The following article contains discussion of suicide/self-harm.

When we think of life-saving medical maneuvers, surgeons and paramedics usually come to mind. We picture frantic CPR, 14-hour surgeries, and those electric things that pulse people back to life.

But 911 operators are massively important to the life-saving equation too.

They're the first ones we talk to in the midst of emergency. They're tasked with retrieving information, calming us down, and arranging the appropriate logistics to allow those more traditional first aid images to occur at all.

And on top of all of that, those operators go through so much. They have to hear some of the most depressing, alarming, gruesome details and maintian composure in the face of it all.

Then, hours, days, or even years later, they process all they heard.

According to a recent Reddit thread, all that processing can take a toll.

layyschipss06 asked, "911 operators of Reddit, what is a call that keeps you up at night?"

Many heard the intimate details surrounding someone's decision to take their own life. These operators were on the phone when those tragic discoveries were first made by a loved one.

That Scream

"I'm a firefighter and I overheard a call on the radio from another unit. They were dispatched to a possible suicide. The information given while the crews were en route was 'patient's wife came home and found a note on the the door saying 'honey I'm already gone if your reading this please do not come in and see me like this' ' "

"The crews arrived and the next thing you hear on the radio was the paramedic telling dispatch 'code 4' (meaning patient is deceased) and in the background you can hear the wife screaming bloody murder as loud as she could. It was chilling"

-- 09inchmales

No Words

"1 am and the phone rings and I pick up to hear a man screaming on the other end. No words. Just screaming."

"Finally get him to tell me what happened and he told me he heard a gun shot in his house and went to see what happened and found his brother in his room. He had shot himself."

-- New-Key-9377

Christmas, Forever Associated

"Worst call I got was when I worked overtime on Christmas Day and got a call from a father who returned from a business trip and found his 19 year old son hanging in the bedroom."

"Haunts me until today."

-- Ambient_Berlin

Other people struggled most with the calls that involved the deaths of young children or the tragic futures of kids just as young. Whether by accident or on purpose, some times the tragedy of a life cut short is a reality we have to encounter.

Just Trying to Help

"I had a witness to a fatal motorcycle collision on the phone with me and he goes 'someone's crossing the road to help OH MY GOD SHE JUST GOT HIT BY A CAR, SHE'S DEAD TOO!' And he just screamed and screamed and hung up."

"An off-duty nurse who stopped to help the motorcycle rider was hit by another car and killed. It was on the news later and I found out she had a husband and two very young kids. I was on worker's comp for about 3 weeks while I recovered from that one."

-- CarryOnClementine

Nothing For Her to See

"I got a 911 call about a vehicle that ran off the road. The caller told me that the female driver was unconscious but had a pulse. He then proceeded to tell me that the passenger was a fatal. I asked if he had checked for a pulse at which point he told me no."

"It was a young child that had been decapitated. I asked him to find anything he could to cover the child because I didn't want the mother to regain consciousness and have that be the last image she had of her child."

-- Ok-Enthusiasm-4918

Imagine Hearing That

"My aunt listened to a 12-year old girl and her friend get murdered by her dad. She hasn't been the same since."

"The girl's mother killed him that night. She was just recently let off with no charges--they were gonna charge her for murder."

-- umbrellawand

Sudden and Unknown

"Dispatched about 20 years ago. My last 911 call was. Mom coming home from work at 11 am and couldn't wake baby."

"Baby died from SIDS."

-- Undertakeress

Others talked about when logistics got screwed up for some reason or another. The guilt they felt in those moments was unbearable.

A Fatal Oversight

"It was 9:30am. I'd been on shift since 7am. All the ambulances had checked in for morning mileage and radio checks. All was good."

"Call comes in on the emergency line. 'MY SON IS NOT BREATHING.' "

"Ok, we got this. Start going through the steps of checking for a pulse/breath while dispatching the closest ambulance."

"I'm almost to the part where we start CPR when the ambulance calls back 'Dispatch, our rig is dead.' YOU GOT TO BE FU**ING KIDDING ME. YOU CALLED IN THIS MORNING WITH A RADIO CHECK. DID YOU NOT CHECK YOUR GOD DAMN AMBULANCE?"

"Nearest ambulance is ONE WHOLE COUNTY OVER. 30 minutes. 30 minutes for a situation that needs IMMEDIATE medical intervention."

"The mother is screaming on the phone, crying. The sister comes in and starts screaming the name of her brother."

"I have to tell them the ETA for an ambulance is 30 minutes."

"It's been almost 10 years since I was in EMS Dispatch and I occasionally wake up in a cold sweat thinking about that call."

-- Khryn_Tzu-TTV

Time to Go

"About 9 at night a woman calls calmly asking for an ambulance as her husband had passed out. After 10+ minutes of trying to get London Ambulance to answer the phone, she hangs up. I stay on the line and another 10 minutes later they answer, I relay the situation and address and they confirm they'll do a drive-by (basically get the nearest available unit to visit the property - see what's happening)."

"Half an hour later the same woman calls back, exact same reason for calling, once again I'm on hold for London ambulance to answer for 10+ minutes, out of the blue she comes onto the phone and calmly says 'don't bother, he's just died' and puts the phone down again, this time it doesn't disconnect and I hear the most heart-wrenching wail of despair from the same woman, she then goes into a teary rant about how useless everything is and how London Ambulance killed her husband, before the line cuts off again."

"Get through to the ambulance service, explain everything and the operator confirms the drive-by got cancelled because the ambulance it was assigned to had finished their shift."

"I didn't sleep that night and cried more tears than I ever had done previously. Next day I went into the office an hour before my shift was set to start, emptied my locker, gave all my work stuff to my boss and quit on the spot."

-- UncleSeph

Felt Like Eternity

"Doesn't keep me up at night but I do think about it time to time. Had a daughter call in for her elderly mother experiencing chest pains. 10 minutes pass and I call for an eta. They tell me they're there. The daughter gave me the wrong address they had recently moved and she gave the old address."

"The chest pains turned to trouble breathing. Eta 10 minutes. Mother isn't responding. Daughter is crying over the line. Paramedics arrive perform cpr and even use the defibrillator. Sadly she didn't make it. I heard all this over the phone at the time it hit me a bit hard but you get over it."

-- Judge_Open

In response to a list like this, all we can say is thank you. Thank you to all those involved in life-saving responses to the emergencies that strike us.

And a special thanks to the 911 operators who hear it all and still do what they need to help us stay safe.

If you or someone you know is struggling, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

To find help outside the United States, the International Association for Suicide Prevention has resources available at https://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/
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