Call taking the other night, I took a call from one of the rudest, most unpleasant, man I have ever encountered. It went something like this:

Me: Emergency ambulance, what’s -
Him: Are you just going to ask stupid ****ing questions or are you going to send me an ambulance?
Me: Um, I’m going to ask questions and I am going to send you the ambulance. Talking to me will not delay help coming. What’s the problem?
Him: Listen here, you ****. I don’t have time for this. My wife could be dying and you just want to sit here and ask me questions.
Me: We need to ask questions so we can send you the right help. While I am talking to you, someone else is arranging help.
Him: I demand you stop asking me questions and ring the ambulance crew up and tell them to come now.
Me: That isn’t how it works. My job is to get information from you, someone else’s job is to arrange the ambulance. Now please tell me what the problem is.
Him: My wife is 37 weeks pregnant and there is water coming from her ****ing vagina! Oh my god! What more do you want?
Me: The address of the emergency, please.

He gives me the address – in the sort of tone of voice that implied that I should already know, and anyway, never mind the address, just send an ambulance – and I find that he has already called. I read the original ticket, which informs me that this is a green call, to his pregnant wife, whose waters have broken. She is not unwell and is not even in labour. The original call taker has valiantly battled to get those details from him, but he has hung up before telling us his wife’s name and hospital, essential information for any maternity related call. “Very abusive caller”, the call taker has written. Dispatch have sent the police and the ambulance crew are not going anywhere near until the police arrive.

Me: I see you’ve called already. Help has been arranged. Has there been any change in the patient’s condition?
Him: NO! There is WATER coming between her legs! She is dying, I tell you!
Me: Why do you think she is dying? What is wrong?
Him: I told you, you moron! There is WATER coming from between her legs.
Me: Nothing else? She’s not ill or in pain at all?
Me: Her name and hospital, please.
Him: You send the ambulance and I will tell them!
Me: It doesn’t work like that. The ambulance crew need to know where they are taking the patient to, and if there is a problem we need to contact her midwife, and the midwife will need to know who she is.
Him: So what, the midwife will get in her car and come over??!! (He says this as if I have suggested something utterly ridiculous).
Me: Yes, exactly.
Him: So have you rung the ****ing midwife yet???
Me: No – we will ring the midwife if there is a problem. From the information you have given me, there isn’t a problem. Your wife’s waters appear to have broken, which is a normal thing that happens before a woman gives birth. When the ambulance crew arrive, they will check her over, and if there is a problem, then they will contact a midwife.
Him: Oh lord! I don’t know what I have to do to get an ambulance from you!

There were so many answers I could have given to this last question, none of which would have been compliant with London Ambulance Service protocol, but fortunately I didn’t have time to say anything before he hung up.

I think it was not so much his rudeness that annoyed me – rude callers are ten a penny in this job – but the fact that despite having a heavily pregnant wife, he totally failed to realise that there was absolutely nothing wrong with his wife and that waters are supposed to break when you are about to have a baby! If he didn’t know this fundamental fact about childbirth, one wonders how much he knows about looking after an actual baby. I can’t help wishing that idiots like this weren’t contributing to the gene pool!

Published Jan 15, 2009 - 22 Comments and counting

22 Comments on “Idiot of the week award”
  1. Beaker Says:

    sorry – don’t want to be picky but you say “she wasn’t even in labour” when that’s exactly what waters breaking signifies! Just because she doesn’t have any contractions doesn’t mean labour has not started.

    I hate those types of callers. Instead of an ambulance, you want to just go round yourself and smack him. The person I feel sorry for is his wife!

  2. Uncle John Says:

    ‘Trying to be objective’ – Just supposing; if is panicing because he truly didn’t know the details of “What happens”, and his wife hadn’t explained to him about ‘the waters’?

    At least this is a father who is present during the pregnancy, and concerned for his wife’s well-being.

  3. Trish Says:

    When a woman’s waters break it’s a sign she “may” be sarting labor; some women start having contractions at that point and some don’t – some women’s waters don’t break until the baby is starting to crown. There is no excuse for this man’s idiotic and rude behavior; this man was not being rude because of his concern for his wife; but rather, because that is his nature. If it was truly an emergency, which will be determined when the ambulance arrives, he only made everything more difficult. Idiot of the week he is.

  4. Jennyb Says:

    If he’d stayed on the line he’d probably have told you it was an immaculate conception too!

  5. Ailbhe Says:

    One wonders whether his wife was crying in a corner, begging him not to be such a prat, or also genuinely terrified. Or both, of course.

  6. Solomon Says:

    I pity the children. Some people shouldn’t be allowed to breed.

  7. Auntie Jane Says:

    What a rude idiotic man. As previusly said… ‘Some people shouldn’t be allowed to breed’. I pity his poor wife.

  8. GeeToo Says:

    This story depressed me more than the previous one.

  9. viking83 Says:

    If you don’t know the basics, how will you ever know how to look after the child your producing?

  10. A Midwife Says:

    Sorry Beaker but I am going to be “picky” rupture of membranes does not mean a woman is labour, plenty of women have pre labour rupture of membranes and end up having their labour induced.

    I really wish you could say “I think you have the wrong number the local taxi company is blah blah blah and they will be able to take you to hospital (and therefore save blah blah blah NHS Trust X pounds by not wasting a paramedics time and potentially saving the life of another caller with a life threatening condition), but of course you can’t!

  11. radiographer jim Says:

    Someone didn’t go to the antenatal classes…

  12. Tiki Says:

    As an aside, a sudden rupture of membranes may cause an umbilical cord prolapse, which would be a serious emergency as the cord would be compressed and unable to carry oxygen to the baby. That said, it’s a really rare occurrence from what I understand, and I doubt the dad-to-be thought to check for that, nor would he have known how to do so if he had.

  13. helen-louise Says:

    Dear gods. I hope and pray that the idiot’s abuse only extends as far as verbal to ambulance dispatchers, because I hate to think of violence in the presence of a newborn baby…

  14. Sewmouse Says:

    Fear doesn’t bring out the best in almost anyone. Sounds as if this man didn’t bother to go to, or pay attention at, pre-natal classes. I know that before being pregnant myself, I had no idea what all was involved – the whole “bloody show” and waters breaking and all that. It is possible this guy is just a jerk all the time and won’t care, but it’s also possible that after baby comes, he’ll realize he was a jerk and be embarassed.

  15. loulou Says:

    I’m sorry but as far as I am concerned panicking is absolutely no reason for rudeness like this. The man is obviously an imbecile. If he was so concerned about his wife he would have at least gathered the basics of what she would go through when the time to deliver came and planned ahead for her trip into hospital (that old chestnut – you’ve had almost 9 months to organise a cab/friend/relative to take you in) You have no idea of the amount of verbal abuse call takers receive from idiots like this. I am glad they sent the police – that’ll teach him!

  16. Decius Says:

    His main problem was that he thought he knew more than the professional he was calling. While I don’t know what standards call takers are held to, I would imagine that a progressive approach would work wonders.

    Start with the clinical and strictly professional method. This is most efficient when the caller responds properly.

    Then go for caring “I understand how confusing the situation is. I am doing everything I can to assist you. I need to know your wife’s name and hospital so that I can handle the situation properly.” This helps people who are panicking or otherwise scared to death.

    When he refuses to be handled by this method (Somewhere around ‘understand how’, he will interrupt with “Don’t f*ing patronize me.), go with a more aggressive mode “Hey, I need you to tell me the NAME of the patient, and her HOSPITAL.” With loud, definite questions putting the caller in a subordinate position, this method establishes and maintains control of the call. Except in actual emergency situations, this is borderline. I would only use it if there was a likely threat of harm otherwise. It is likely that an aggressive caller will compete for dominance.

    The final stage of call escalation would be to state the facts in a very uncompromising way, while implying some extra things. “Without all of the needed information, it can be impossible to provide proper care. Do you really want to be the person that withheld information and maybe caused harm to your wife? I’ve done everything I can and more, the quality of care is entirely up to you now.” This requires a call taker that knows how to manipulate people, and has a very low chance of success. I would only recommend using it in an actual life-or-death situation, and only after all other methods have failed.

    Most importantly, the call takers need to know that they are not supposed to take abuse from the callers. Sending the police as well as an ambulance is the right call. Just try not to allow a horrible person impact the patient. Even if the horrible person calling IS the patient.

    Two years of inbound customer service call taking, juxtaposed with four years of military service has taught me the difference between an emergency and a person who is mildly inconvenienced and thinks he has a right not to be. I almost got fired from the former when I asked “What is the nature of the emergency? In what manner will that result in injury or property damage? Then it’s not really an emergency then, is it?”

  17. AJ Says:

    @ Decius: Sounds like a good idea…

    That guy was being a total arse. He should have been ready for what might happen, and he obviously wasn’t.


  18. Flora Gardens Says:

    Unfortunately, the poor sods who have to deal with c**ts like this bloke are ruled by the God-awful AMPDS questioning system.

    They get their calls quality-assured, and get marked down for non-compliance with the robotic questioning protocol.

    Even the most common-sense questions,extraneous or not, cause the call-taker grief.

    It’s far better being on the road, because you can call a c**t like this man a c**t to their face, with no tape-recording!!!

  19. Dullahan_999 Says:

    The call takers are trained and one of the common misconceptions is that the questions have to be read like a robot.

    While the words have to be verbatim, the tone, inflection, volume, pace etc are a matter of telephone skill from the EMD. It only sounds robotic with trainee EMD who are still in a state of fear from training and patients shouting.

    As for arrogant people, raising your voice or being aggressive on the phone can lead to a tit-for-tat exchange and gets nowhere, repetative persistance works well, but some people are so wrapped up in their own self importance you can never get through!

  20. Vic Says:

    Now, if he was knee deep in water…

  21. Always Tired Says:

    After a while with AMPDS the script goes out of the window, you start to become something of an actor and start to ad-lib as long as it means the same thing.

    Anyway only one idiot of the week? no wonder LAS are hitting the A8 targets ;-)

  22. vivdora Says:

    Oh you are so right about the gene pool. I wonder if there will ever come a time when someone is allowed to tell people to stop being rude and idiotic instead of always having to be polite to them?

    I must say one thing though, from personal experience a long time ago. If you are not told that an ambulance has been or will be dispatched and questions are being asked you start to think one is going to be refused and then you get panicky and frustrated and frustration leads to aggression. This is made worse if the dispatcher is based a long way away from the incident and doesn’t know the landmarks, it makes the caller feel as if an ambulance might be half an hour away which is frightening when you have an unconscious and hypothermic 15year old in front of you (even though a GP happens to be three too) -clue is all the same family-! So I think it is essential that the caller knows an ambulance is on its way (as they were told in the case you describe).

    I think there is an element of people expecting to meet with what they perceive as officialdom. I’m a retired practice nurse and I know that patients are frequently very rude to the receptionists because they are expecting them to deny them what they want. Those same patients with a GP or nurse are sweetness and light.

    Somehow we need to restore good manners and common sense in this country. The demise of the extended family has got a lot to do with the fact that many people today haven’t got a clue about normal events such as minor injuries and childbirth.

    Are you allowed to go outside periodically and scream?

    PS aforementioned teenager is now training to be a paramedic!

    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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