Don't Choose to Abuse - call handler Shelley's story
04 December 2017
Shelley Moore has worked as an emergency call handler for two years.
What has been your favourite/ most memorable call?
I think my most memorable call was from a young girl who found her dad on the sofa, agonal breathing. Her sister was upstairs screaming, and this young girl so wanted you lose it, but I kept reassuring her that I would help her to help her dad until the crew arrived and she did brilliantly, following every instruction until the crew came in and took over. What hit me most was when the crew took over and this young girl, in the midst of her worst nightmare said “Thank you, thank you for helping me help my dad."
What have been the worse calls you’ve received?
Whilst mentoring recently we took a call from a family whose mum was passing away from cancer. There was a DNR in place and listening to her family pleading with her to keep breathing, hold on, stay with them was terribly distressing. When you are talking through someone doing CPR it can be tough but you feel like you are doing something, helping that caller to do something to help, so that if the outcome is not good they will know they tried their best, but when there is nothing to be done and you are just monitoring and trying to support them while you wait for crew, your heart just goes out to them, even though you know it's what the patient has decided.
I think the worst are those where people really don’t seem to understand that we are an emergency service. Having a tummy ache for a week, toothache, dropping a carton of milk on a toe etc. I know for that person it feels like an emergency but when they angry and frustrated that the ambulance is not there right now, it’s hard trying to explain when they don’t want to listen.
What is your experience of receiving verbal abuse from callers?
First I think it’s important to acknowledge that there are different reasons that people are verbally aggressive on the phone. Being frantic or scared – finding a loved one injured or not breathing – we all recognise that this caller is in a situation that is frightening and they can come across as very angry and screaming and shouting and yes, abusive.
But we all recognise this and for me, I don’t listen to the swearing, I understand it’s not aimed at me. Then again there are those who just want someone to vent at. These can be hard to deal with, having to just sit and take it. Not being able to react. Of course we can hand the call over to the call handler team leader but if they are busy with someone else, we just have to sit and take it. I have been called every name under the sun. Mostly I bite my lip and just ask them not to swear at me, keep repeating that they need to calm down so I can help, or just sit and wait for them to take a breath in their rant so I can try asking why they called.
What impact has verbal abuse had on you?
When you know that someone is scared it has no impact on me. I understand the fear. But those who just want to scream and shout make me feel so frustrated and belittled.
On a good day I can roll my eyes and let them rant, knowing that they will get nothing from me until they calm down. But at its worst it has reduced me to tears. One woman I recall did not use many swear words but she was so horrible that when she hung up on me, I told my team leader I didn't want to call her back to ascertain if she actually needed an ambulance. She screamed at me that I was useless at my job, I was uncaring, nasty and useless, that someone like me should not be doing the job and I should get another job.
I know that as call handlers we are not face to face with aggression and abuse like the front line crews, not physically in danger, but it can have a physical effect on you.
It's horrible, and as an emergency service we should not have to tolerate it. We must not tolerate it.