Some time ago, I wrote about one of our regular callers, Brenda Kramer. (Not her real name – don’t start!) Brenda was an alcoholic who liked to call us out for increasingly inventive diagnoses (once she pretended her house was on fire, another time she pretended to be a neighbour who had found her, Brenda, dead). Invariably, she would turn out to have nothing wrong with her, waste the crews’ time, refuse to travel, be abusive towards them and occasionally answer the door completely naked. And ten minutes after they left, she’d call 999 again. Most call takers would recognise her voice as soon as it came through.

Since I made that last post, two and a half years ago, Brenda stepped up her abuse of the 999 system. She was calling several times every single day. Social Services, the police and her GP all got involved and a new care plan was drawn up for Brenda. Much to our relief, part of that care plan was an injunction against her calling 999. If she had called inappropriately, she would have been arrested and possibly imprisoned. In the case of a genuine emergency, she was instructed to contact her daughter, who would then call on her behalf. Only then (or if Brenda called and we were unable to contact her daughter) would we send an ambulance.

Well, the desks went quiet after that! Performance rose and the crews of Whatevertown Ambulance Station actually got on with treating some sick people. The injunction had worked.

Then, one day, we received a call from Brenda’s daughter. She’d not heard from her mother for a while, so she’d gone over to her flat. Getting no answer at the door, she’d peered through the letter box and seen Brenda lying lifeless at the bottom of the stairs. The Fire Brigade smashed the door open, but it was far too late. Brenda Kramer was dead. Finally, there had been something really wrong with her.

I feel sad for Brenda. Sad that after years of calling us out for nothing, she didn’t make the call that could have saved her life. Sad that just as her new care plan came into place, it all turned out to be pointless. And in an odd way, I’ll miss her calls, her theatrical manner, the aghast reports from the crews who attended. She was a real character. Here’s to you, Brenda.

Published Dec 05, 2008 - 8 Comments and counting

8 Comments on “The Caller Who Cried Wolf”
  1. Always Tired Says:

    Ahhhh, we have one like this ourselves at the moment. She ‘falls’ over her cat rather a lot and then constantly calls us asking for an ambulance when there is nothing.
    In one day alone we had in excess of 40 calls from the patient, enough to drive anyone crazy!

  2. Erin Says:

    I was listening to one of the managers and ECP discuss all the regular callers in our areas over the years the other day. We were currently trying to sort out ways to deal with our that-day regular and the two were reminiscing about some of the more interesting ones.
    It just became a list of the dead. Every single one that none of us had heard from in a while had stopped calling because they literally couldn’t. They couldn’t think up a single one that had just gone, ‘Wasting ambulances time is awful, I shall stop and get a life.’
    Makes them even more depressing.

    But still very, very, very irritating.

  3. Corrvin Says:

    One of our regular callers is, as far as I know, still safe at home with her family (she calls whenever they leave her alone for a bit, like to make dinner).

    Another, well, after hearing from the hospice nurse, my co-workers and I have a talk with the new ones about “sometimes people are desperate for pain meds because they really are in horrible amounts of pain.” I won’t say she had a happy ending but she did get the care she needed, finally.

  4. Flora Gardens Says:

    Sorry to be negative here – but my first thought is “Good Riddance”. In my bit of London we probably have more “frequent flyers” than anywhere else. Some of them – as you say – decline all aid, then call 999 again when we have just walked out of the door. They drive me round the bend. They are wasters, and abusers of the ambulance service.

    Why should we as an ambulance crew – remember what we are here for – continually play nursemaid to these inadequates?

    The patients’ GPs rarely want to know, because they would have to leave their nice warm surgeries, and actually VISIT the patient and do an assessment. As to social services – who frequently deny any responsibility for their own clients – don’t get me started. Their inaction in several recent well-publicised cases shows their complete lack of interest. Like LAS managers, they are only interested in statistics ie “ticking the boxes” and “meeting the targets”.

    Regular callers are only good for two things – break avoidance, and end-of-shift “Off Jobs”.

  5. Uncle John Says:

    Of course – and with 20/20 hindsight – there WAS something wrong with ‘Brenda’, but it didn’t fit in any of the boxes provided by our caring NHS – so she was told she would be thrown into prison next time the world overwhelmed her. We will never know what ACTUAL assistance she got from other agencies involved with her ‘care plan’ (It is quite possible the fear of jail ensured that she told them she was ‘better’)

    I hope she died quickly & never knew she had left it too late to overcome that fear and call for help.

  6. Dullahan Says:

    The regular callers really are weird. They always call, but tell us to foxtrot oscar when the crew arrives.

    They only really stop when they invariably die young. It seems to be the ambulance version of “live by the sword, die by the sword”

    And it’s a great example of just how bad the care in the community idea was! I wish they’d bring back asylums and workhouses. They may have a dickensian image, but at least people are getting the help they need in a controlled environment.

  7. Fat Lazy Male Nurse Says:

    Flora Gardens said:
    ‘The patients’ GPs rarely want to know, because they would have to leave their nice warm surgeries, and actually VISIT the patient and do an assessment.’
    What do you expect the GP to do. Tell them off? Give them a slapped wrist? Cut their fingers off so they can’t dial 999?
    I work in a GP surgery, we have our own fair share of patients who ring us daily, demand home visits daily or come to surgery daily. We don’t have any magic answers – and a pointless home visit can take and hour and a half depending on traffic. We could see 9-10 patients in surgery in that time. If you’ve got a sensible idea of how to deal with these patients – I’m dying to hear it.

  8. Pat Tyrrell Says:

    We had one like that 14-15 years ago, a Bosnian gentleman who would call 911 to report difficulty breathing, or feeling unwell, or that he had been assaulted or pushed down the stairs by the March of Dimes caregiver. He did have some medical issues, but none that really required an ambulance response.

    Back in those days we had to call the ambulance stations directly by landline, and I always started out with “I’m sorry to have to do this to you guys”, before giving them the details. Suffice to say, most times the crews were really pi$$ed to get the call.

    This man was eventually admitted to the psych ward of the local hospital, who discharged him to a halfway house who then kicked him out due to his obnoxious behaviour. Eventually he returned to his native Bosnia, where we heard that within the first week, he got killed by a stray mortar attack!

    Needless to say, we were all shocked at the horrific way that he died, but there were a few giggles as well! Even tho’ I now dispatch for Fire Comms, whenever I hear that address, it takes me back to the old days…

    Nee Naw
    Nee Naw was a blog about life in the London Ambulance Service control room. It was written by Suzi Brent from 2005 to 2010. The blog is no longer being updated, but the archives will remain here.
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