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999 Call Transcripts
November 29, 2008 10:01 AM   Subscribe

JS (Aged 5) She can't wake up.
Operator No? Is she breathing? Can you see her chest go up and down?
JS I can see her shoulders going ... I can see her doing [Makes breathing noises]
Operator She's breathing, is she? But you think she's having a fit.
JS Yeah, I think she is and ... I don't know what to do.

6 transcripts of 999 operators helping people cope with emergencies: a mother giving birth alone, a 5 year old whose mother is fitting, a mother and son trapped in a house fire, a brother and sister resuscitating their father, a husband saving his choking wife, and a neighbour saving his friend with an amputated arm
posted by roofus (43 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Op OK, is it serious bleeding?

SF Yes, yes, serious, where is the ambulance?

Op OK, it's on the way. It's only round the corner, OK?

SF Round the corner?

Op It's just coming down [road name].

SF [Road name]?

Op Yes, it's literally round the corner, OK. Have you actually got the arm there with you?

SF Er, I don't know, no. [To John] Where's the arm?

Op Do you know where the arm is? [John says something in the background]

SF Er, I don't know, it's, it's down the back of the garden.

Op OK, so you haven't actually got the arm with you?

SF No, no ... It's just up the road, though.

how far is Monty Python from realism for Great Britain?
posted by geos at 10:11 AM on November 29, 2008 [13 favorites]


That particular chainsaw case was unusual / bleakly comical enough that is made the national news.
posted by roofus at 10:15 AM on November 29, 2008


there's something absurdly conversation about asking: is serious bleeding (after having an arm cut off)... and oh, by the way, where is that arm.... as if you are gently leading someone to the topic you wanted to bring up.
posted by geos at 10:19 AM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Fitting"?
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:21 AM on November 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


I actually threw away my Guardian a bit ago. I thought this was awful. It felt like it was directed at those people who slow down to watch car accidents on highways in hope of seeing something gruesome.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 10:25 AM on November 29, 2008


Wow, that one with the 5-year old is heartwrenching.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 10:30 AM on November 29, 2008


I know these are special cases, but I only wish the 911 operators that I've had to speak to would have said things like "You're doing brilliantly, love, just hang on" instead of the rudeness I got.
posted by HopperFan at 10:30 AM on November 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


"Fitting"?

Seizing.
posted by Xezlec at 10:42 AM on November 29, 2008


We've heard it all before. . .
posted by plexi at 10:48 AM on November 29, 2008


I admit to tearing up a bit at the one with the five-year-old boy.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 11:01 AM on November 29, 2008


This is all well and good. I bet they didn't release transcripts from the calls that didn't have happy endings.
posted by bingo at 11:07 AM on November 29, 2008


The birth one was pretty amazing. The paramedic's reaction when they arrived was priceless, hee.
posted by emjaybee at 11:09 AM on November 29, 2008


Could we have a moratorium on posting what I read in today's Guardian?
posted by rhymer at 11:36 AM on November 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Wow, I can't believe the dispatcher had the knowledge to assist a woman with her own birth. And how did she manage on a corded phone? Was it on speakerphone? Or was she doing the shoulder-phone thing the whole time?

An old medical textbook I once read had a section about women who survived solo deliveries in wilderness situations, with only "Nature, Eve's midwife." I thought it was mostly anecdotal exaggeration, but apparently it can happen.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:40 AM on November 29, 2008


I worked for an emergency call center in my very first job out of high school. I was 18 years old and I still can't believe they gave the job to me, or that I took it. I can't imagine anyone being less suited for such work.

Emergency call centers have regulars just like bars. Some of them have chaotic lives that require frequent intervention, but others are just hurting lonely people who want to be heard. I had a callous supervisor who initiated me in part by putting me on a call with one of the worst ones, a woman who called to say over and over she'd been raped, wouldn't we send help -- a rape that had happened when she was a girl -- so she did need help, but everyone we sent was twenty years or more too late.

I worked there a year and by the end of it I was being written up for my dirty uniforms and unkempt hair and general slow wits that once I was fired was diagnosed by a calm professional as depression. Perhaps things have changed but at that time and place (I decline to cite either) management did not look for the seven warning signs that one's employee is coming unhinged. They just flushed people who were cracking up out cleanly, the way you'd treat a communicable disease. I suppose such things can be contagious.

The thing that finally and for good broke me was a call from a man who'd gone to the help of a neighbor who had just found her husband in their garage with his head blown off. Thankfully he was one of those people who relate facts calmly, even when in shock and pain. But in the background I could hear the wife screaming, and it was the most terrible scream I'd ever heard or have heard since. She screamed and screamed. I stayed on the phone with the man until the police arrived and once I hung up I was taken off the line because I was pale and dazed and clearly in no shape to greet the emergency-pressed public. It was soon decided I should probably go home and not worry about coming back.

So thanks for the post, but I'll pass. I do want to give my thanks to those who can answer and answer calmly and come back the next day to answer more, those ceaseless calls from the people who scream, the people who cry, and the people who speak in a calm slow voice that won't stretch quite far enough to cover the screaming and crying just behind it.
posted by melissa may at 11:44 AM on November 29, 2008 [57 favorites]


I actually threw away my Guardian a bit ago. I thought this was awful. It felt like it was directed at those people who slow down to watch car accidents on highways in hope of seeing something gruesome.


I understand what you're saying, but I came away from these thinking how well trained these 999 operators are. It's actually pretty touching that someone "just doing their job" can manage to be direct and compassionate in the face of all kinds of horrible things, day in and day out.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:02 PM on November 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


These operators are amazing. They have some crazy medical/customer service hybrid skills - better than most medical professionals, anyway.

The one with the five year old definitely brought some tears to my eyes. What a brave little boy.
posted by sunshinesky at 12:14 PM on November 29, 2008


and a neighbour saving his friend with an amputated arm

Neighbor: He asked me to lend him a hand.
Dispatcher: Is he armed?
Neighbor: He was earlier.
posted by hal9k at 12:17 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just to lighten the mood a little .. some nuisance 999 calls:

Can you inform Animal Rescue that there's a grey squirrel with no hazelnut trees, please? (Operator: 'Grey squirrels are not rare, it's the red squirrels that are rare.' Caller: 'Well actually I'm not trying to be funny but it's half and half .. It might be a cross breed, oh my god, it's even rarer.')

I want to know what year the Internet first came out, I can't remember. (Operator: 'I'm sorry, I can't answer your question. We are very very busy tonight.' Caller: 'You couldn't tell me roughly what year?')

My wife's left me two salmon sandwiches which was left over from last night .. and I'm sat in the chair here and she's out there decorating.

Is that the police? Oh good, perhaps you can help me .. I want to speak to the Prime Minister, just to give him good wishes and say that he's my type of chap. (Recording here.)
posted by verstegan at 12:58 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


It felt like it was directed at those people who slow down to watch car accidents on highways in hope of seeing something gruesome.

I thought it was an attempt to de-mystify and praise a service that is often misunderstood and taken for granted. From the introduction:
Charlotte Wright, one of the call-takers featured here, was only 19 last December when John Swift called to report that his wife Ruth, who has multiple sclerosis, was lifeless after choking on a sandwich. At the time, Wright had been working for the ambulance service in York for barely two months. "I think she's gone ... Be as quick as you can, because I think she's dead," Swift says in the recording of the call, his voice trembling. There was no time to wait for the paramedics. Wright talked him through the Heimlich manoeuvre over the phone, and Ruth survived.
I notice the chainsaw bloke's address is redacted in the online version but they accidently managed to print it the actual newspaper.
posted by ninebelow at 1:15 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


The five year old did so well poor fellow.

"What's you're mum's name?"
"...Mummy."

He keeps it together as well as he can, then every once in a while lets out a very plaintive and heartwrenching "I want my mummy!"
posted by thatbrunette at 1:34 PM on November 29, 2008


I also teared up a little with the one of the 5 year old and his mummy. What a brave, clever little boy Jakob was and the operator did an amazing job too.
posted by electricinca at 2:25 PM on November 29, 2008


Ditto on the tearing up with the one about the 5 year old.
posted by pinkbuttonanus at 2:33 PM on November 29, 2008


I'm an EMT in the US and I found this heartwrenching and, well, kind of embarassing.

Too often we'll arrive on scene and find something completely different from what we were told by dispatch happened; we often end up cursing the call-takers for not relaying us the right information, but we forget that in the heat of the moment, it's easy to get things off - and many times, like the transcripts given, the call-takers prevent things from getting worse and sometimes even make them better.

It sounds a lot like what I'm doing now: long periods of nothing followed by bursts of drama, with occasional annoyances in between.
posted by Han Tzu at 3:39 PM on November 29, 2008


I have had some horrifying conversations with moron 911 operators in the USA and Canada....

Me: The tall one is waving around a tire iron.
Op: What's a tire iron, like a pump?
Me: No, it's like... it's like a big wrench or a crowbar.
Op: Now sir, is it a wrench or an iron? Those sound pretty different. What makes you think it may be a weapon?
Me: Jesus Christ woman it's a fucking piece of metal for bashing heads in. You want me to go over and ask for a part number?

As one police officer told me later, apologetically, "yeah, sorry, they're civilians."

It sounds like the UK versions are a bit better trained.
posted by rokusan at 5:05 PM on November 29, 2008 [7 favorites]


These transcripts make me sad. I mean, sure, they're probably glamourized to pick the ones that ended well, the ones that make them sound the most trained, but I can't help but think if everyone in this world were forced to work a good 6 month stint facing trauma and tears and emergencies every single day, maybe they'd be a little bit more thankful for their lot in life, a little bit less petty and vindictive.

But then, there are a lot of things that would be good for people if forced upon them. Maybe there's a reason we don't force it on people that I'm not quite seeing. Who knows.
posted by Phire at 5:16 PM on November 29, 2008


The transcripts are pretty inaccurate, lots of stuff left out.

Particularly in the case of Jakob, it is worth listening to the whole thing, to get the feel for this little chap's bravery, and amazing expressiveness under pressure.

"I don't know even a single bit of the back door".

"She's lieded by the cooker now". In this wild crisis, some part of his little brain was nevertheless dimly aware that "to lie" (in the sense of posture, rather than false communication) was an irregular verb, and he had a crack at rendering it in the relevant tense. Paging Doctor Chomsky!
posted by gdav at 6:09 PM on November 29, 2008


Count me as another moved by the little boy's call. My boys are about the same age as those two and I don't think I'd better listen to the audio, but it was something to read. Maybe I'd better start teaching my older son to dial the phone.
posted by Songdog at 7:12 PM on November 29, 2008



I know these are special cases, but I only wish the 911 operators that I've had to speak to would have said things like "You're doing brilliantly, love, just hang on" instead of the rudeness I got.

I'm really lucky. I've never had to speak with a 9/11 operator and hope I never have to.
posted by notreally at 7:15 PM on November 29, 2008


I've only listened to the birth and the five year old, I don't know if I can really handle the rest - but wow.

I'm not surprised to read that the woman who gave birth on her own isn't considering more children since doctors have warned her the next one's likely to come even *faster.* Wow.

And that five year old! Oh, he's so brave. And I'm not surprised to read that he reminds his mom to take her pills every day. She's a lucky woman to have raised such a thoughtful and responsible boy.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:21 PM on November 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Why would you post something that gives me an overriding need to hug a 5-year-old who is literally on the other side of the planet from me?

Why would you do that?

It's just...

Why, man. Why you do that?
posted by Wataki at 7:55 PM on November 29, 2008 [5 favorites]


I have had some horrifying conversations with moron 911 operators in the USA and Canada...

Yeah, no kidding! What is it with our emergency operators, anyway? Someone needs to fix that.
posted by Xezlec at 8:06 PM on November 29, 2008


In South Korea it's 119.
posted by bardic at 9:32 PM on November 29, 2008


It sounds like the UK versions are a bit better trained.

From what I understand it's much more centralized. In the US each individual county, and possibly in some cases cities within counties, operates its own 911 service, with concomitant variability in the level of professionalism and training.
posted by dhartung at 9:39 PM on November 29, 2008


I think it's in his The Trap – What Happened To Our Dream Of Freedom? that Adam Curtis looks at how the introduction of management techniques based on wacky right-wing misanthropist social theory to our public services like the NHS and the emergency services had the effect of undermining the in fact widespread ethos of service, skill and dedication such as evident here. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in game theory.
posted by Abiezer at 11:57 PM on November 29, 2008


"She's lieded by the cooker now". In this wild crisis, some part of his little brain was nevertheless dimly aware that "to lie" (in the sense of posture, rather than false communication) was an irregular verb, and he had a crack at rendering it in the relevant tense. Paging Doctor Chomsky!
posted by gdav at 11:09 AM on November 30 [+] [!]


I'm sure you didn't mean it in that sense, but saying 'little brain' sounds a little pejorative and unwarranted given his bravery and impressive handling of the situation.

The audio is harrowing and makes me feel rather disquieted—however the sheer calm and gentle yet persistent instructions of the operators are laudable.
posted by oxford blue at 2:12 AM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


NeeNaw is a great blog by an ambulance dispatcher in London. It's pretty interesting and he describes calls ranging from ones similar to those linked here, to hoax calls, to some really sad ones.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:51 AM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


For the record, "unassisted childbirth" is not that uncommon, or necessarily horrible, although if unplanned, it certainly can be alarming. Provided the mom is healthy, most times she will give birth just fine. Compared to severed arms and such, surprise homebirths aren't necessarily severe emergencies.
posted by emjaybee at 11:59 AM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


If all goes well, yes, the mother and baby will get through it. Wild animals give birth without assistance. If it's a breech birth, the umbilical cord is around the baby's neck, the mother starts to haemorrhage, or the baby can't breathe on its own... it can be a different story.
posted by orange swan at 5:35 AM on December 1, 2008


"Fitting"?

Operator Is she breathing? Can you see her chest go up and down?

JS I can see her shoulders going ... I can see her doing [Makes breathing noises]

Operator She's breathing, is she? But you think she's having a fit.

JS Yeah, I think she is and ... I don't know what to do.

Operator Can you see the little numbers on her jeans?

JS Yes. It says 28 and 26

Operator OK, go back to the jeans section and find a pair that says 29 and 26 on it.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:59 AM on December 1, 2008


"Fitting" and "having a fit or fits" are considered offensive words by epileptics. Maybe this doesn't hold true in the U.K.?
posted by orange swan at 9:02 AM on December 1, 2008


"Fitting" and "having a fit or fits" are considered offensive words by epileptics.

I'm pretty sure that this is UK standard parlance.

My neurologist calls them "events" which makes me feel like the next time I have a seizure, I should be issued an invitation first.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:26 PM on December 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


Quick google for "seizures fits uk" gives this article which uses the terms "fits" and "seizures" interchangeably. Also, I don't think an emergency operator would use a pejorative term, especially to a 5 yr old.

(Oh yeah, I have epilepsy and there are things that offend me more than the term "fits" - like flashing lights! Those REALLY offend me!)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:28 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


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