I must have upset management this week, because I found myself taking calls for the first time in ages. When you’re not used to taking calls it can be a bit of a culture shock to find yourself confronted with the entire spectrum of 999 callers – the rude, the polite, the stupid, the helpful, the suspicious, the infuriating and the plain bizarre. You start the day with your best “polite voice” on keep reciting things to yourself like “there are no inappropriate calls, only inappropriate responses” and “don’t take it personally, they are only shouting because they are upset” but after 12 hours the smile starts to slip. You realise that “I’ve picked my spot and it is bleeding” IS an inappropriate call, whichever way you look at it, and that the only appropriate response is unprintable and will have you on Advice and Guidance – and in fact, Spot Man is going to get an ambulance on blue lights within 14 minutes because he insists that the blood is spurting up in the air, as if from an artery. (It wasn’t. I checked the log afterward to make sure – the crew were on scene for ten minutes, “treated but not conveyed”. Just long enough to put a plaster on.) And the reason he’s shouting at me isn’t because he’s upset about his bleeding spot, it’s because he is rude and selfish and doesn’t care how many people die when he ties up the only available ambulance bringing him a plaster and AAARGH!
The job of the call taker is the most frustrating job ever. I know crews are always calling up and saying “Why have YOU made this a Cat A?” but it’s not us and it annoys us just as much as it does them.
Recently, I went on a call taking refresher course and there was a lot of discussion about how some call takers (not me, of course!) are less polite than they ought to be. The thing is that people (the training department, allocators, management, crews) forget the sheer frustration of being confronted with these awful calls and being effectively gagged and bound by the rules and script of AMPDS. I think if you were able to say, politely, “no, that’s not what we’re here for, so you can’t have an ambulance – but here’s what you should do instead” there would be far less instances of call takers losing their rag and speaking inappropriately to callers. Of course, I’m not saying that it is EVER okay for a call taker, who is being paid to be professional, to be rude, just that it is understandable. Unless you are taking calls 12 hours a day, 4 days a week, you cannot understand the pressure and frustration the call takers are under. And I think it’s good that us “upstairs” staff get stuck back on the 9s from time to time, because as much as I did not enjoy that shift, it was a reminder of what the call takers do for the ambulance service every day. Short of being out on the road, it’s the most stressful and demanding job you can do here. It might even be worse than being out on the road, actually – on the one hand, crews have physical danger and being out in the elements to contend with, but on the other, whilst crews work under their own steam and are fairly oblivious to how busy the service is (because they can only do one job at a time), call takers are under constant pressure to answer one call after another. Also, whilst patients/callers generally want crews to do their job (treating the patient) and are grateful to them, they see call takers as an obstacle to them getting an ambulance. Call takers are rarely thanked – in fact, I have never received so much as a thank you note even though there are several people wandering around today who wouldn’t be alive if I hadn’t been doing my job.
It’s not all rudeness and timewasters though – if it was, I’d have given up this job and gone and worked somewhere where I don’t have to wear green or sacrifice my weekends. The polite, helpful, kind people who call in make it all worth it. The mother of a severely disabled sixteen year old who’d developed serious breathing difficulties (“again”, she sighed), the passerby who stopped at a road traffic accident and took control of the first aid and the bystanders, the kind drug abuse support nurse who’d come round to check on a client on his day off and found him collapsed on the floor, the little old lady who didn’t want to bother us with that silly pain in her chest and down her arm, and even the man who rang because he’d seen a dog been hit by a car and didn’t know what else to do. (I gave him the RSPCA emergency number. There are no inappropriate calls, only inappropriate responses…) Those decent people are the ones who make it all worthwhile.
I expect I’ll be back upstairs tonight!