Tag Archive: 911 Emergency Dispatcher

Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation is a common occurrence in this profession.  Combine long hours (8-14) with forced or voluntary overtime due to sick calls and vacation days and working several days (sometimes up to 7) in a row, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.  We have all come into work bleary eyed with dark circles under our eyes, gulping down various sorts of caffeine in an effort to force our eyelids open.  According to WebMD, (http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/excessive-sleepiness-10/10-results-sleep-loss) the following are 10 side effects of sleep deprivation

  • Sleepiness causes accidents
  • Sleep loss dumbs you down
  • Sleep deprivation can lead to serious health problems
  • Lack of sleep kills sex drive
  • Sleepiness is depressing
  • Lack of sleep ages your skin
  • Sleepiness makes you forgetful
  • Losing sleep can make you gain weight
  • Lack of sleep may increase risk of death
  • Sleep loss impairs judgment, especially about sleep

 I have had my own issues with sleep deprivation and can relate to several side effects listed above.  The following is what happened at my worst ~ my most exhausted moment during my dispatching career.

 I was married with a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old when I first started my job at Bloomington Police Department.  My husband worked daytime hours and I was stuck on dogwatch due to lack of seniority.  One major change in the cost of living from Indiana to Minnesota was the cost of child care.  I think I paid $100 per week for two kids in Indiana and it was $300-$400 per week in Minnesota.  Needless to say, we really couldn’t afford child care.  So…  I came up with the brilliant idea of staying up during the day with both kids and sleeping for a few hours when my husband came home.  I did that for years.  Once both of my kids were school age, it was much easier because I could sleep during the day.  When Taylor, my daughter was in kindergarten (half day during the morning), I was separated from my husband.  I would arrive home from dogwatch at 0730hrs and sleep until she got home around noon.  Austin, my son, was in 2nd grade by then and at school the entire day.  My husband and I lived in separate apartments in the same complex during part of our separation.  My goal was to wake up before the bus came to drop Taylor off and I would meet her at the bus stop and bring her home.  Keep in mind that my doorbell at my apartment did not work.  I thought this was a great thing at the time.  Trying to sleep during the day and waking up to solicitors ringing the doorbell is not fun.

 After three years (at this point) of working dogwatch and trying to save money on child care by staying up during the day, I managed to get about 3-4 hours of sleep.  Sometimes only two hours.  I was exhausted.  I was living in a fog.  My coworkers told me time and time again I needed to get more sleep.  I pushed their concerns aside, put on my Superwoman cape and plodded down the path I was on.  I thought at the time I was just fine.  I considered my lack of sleep as a sacrifice I was making for my family.  Sure I was tired, but weren’t we all tired with the long hours and the hectic schedule???  I would survive through this!  This isn’t a big deal.  Other people are in worse situations than I am.  I’ve got this!  No problem!  Oh, how wrong I was…

 My coworkers love this story because I made an absolute fool out of myself.  I think they were only disappointed that they weren’t there to see it. 

Taylor Kindergarten 2

If my memory serves me right, it was the first day of kindergarten or at least the first week.  Taylor was adorable as a 5-year-old.  She was bright and spunky and ready to go to school like her big brother!  We got her on the bus with her backpack, name tag, and emergency notification card (in case she got lost).  I was excited for her to start her school career, and even more excited to get a few hours of sleep while she was gone!  I went to bed, set my alarm for noon and fell into an exhausted sleep for a few short hours.  I woke up to a message being left on my answering machine.  In my sleep deprived stupor, I heard a message from an “Officer Sanchez” with Washington County Sheriff’s Department telling me that my daughter had been taken to St Joseph’s Home for Children.  I looked at the time and it was 1:00pm.  AN HOUR PAST THE TIME TAYLOR WAS SUPPOSED TO BE HOME FROM SCHOOL.  I completely FREAKED out.  I had visions of my baby girl finding her way home alone, knocking on the door and ringing the doorbell that didn’t work trying to wake me up to let her in.  I pictured her alone, tears streaming down her sweet face, not knowing what to do.  I tried to play the message again to hear a phone number I could call as I was frantically searching the phone book for the Washington County non-emergency number.  I was in such a panic that I quickly gave up and called 911.  I wish I had a recording of that phone call because I was babbling like an idiot.  The dispatcher who answered was extremely kind and patient with me.  I explained, words flying out of my mouth at a speed that I’m sure was incomprehensible, that I had overslept and was not there to get my child from the bus stop and my doorbell didn’t work and I had received a phone message from Officer Sanchez that she had taken Taylor to St Joe’s because no one could find me.  She told me that their department did not have an Officer Sanchez and asked if I was sure that was the correct name.  She didn’t see any calls within the past few hours involving a 5-year-old child that was left abandoned at the bus stop.  In the midst of my meltdown, the dispatcher told me to take a deep breath and told me to play the message again.  With the dispatcher on the phone, I played the message so both she and I could hear it.  I was MORTIFIED.  It was not a call from an Officer Sanchez.  It was a call from the secretary of another school telling me that Taylor was just fine and was in their office eating lunch; she had not gotten off the bus at the right stop and the bus driver had brought her to this school because he had to pick up kids there to take home.  Oh.  My.  God.

 I breathed in huge gulps of air (I was nearly hyperventilating), wiped the tears streaming down my face and felt an enormous wave of relief.  I was so relieved that no one had taken my child to St Joe’s and that she was safe and sound at a school just down the road from where I lived.  The dispatcher gently told me that everything was just fine, Taylor was safe and sound and she was glad everything turned out okay.  She kindly suggested that I take a few minutes to pull myself together prior to retrieving my daughter.  Remember that list of the side effects of sleep deprivation ~ yes, the one about sleep loss dumbing you down???  Yep, that was me.  Somehow, in my sleep deprived mind, I heard that message say what I feared the most.  As a dispatcher, when we need to find a safe place for children and there isn’t a relative to release them to, we take them to St Joe’s.  St Joe’s is a wonderful place full of compassionate staff members and they do wonderful things there for children going through a rough time.  As wonderful as this place is, it is no place for any child of mine. 

 When I walked into the school office, my daughter was sitting happily in a chair coloring.  The office girls had taken wonderful care of her.  They had made sure she was given lunch, that she was content and reassured that I was coming to get her.  As I hugged her close to me, breathing her in, I thanked God that she was safe and sound.  It was this incident that finally convinced me I could not go on with such little sleep.  I was out of my mind in a state of delirium because I was so exhausted.  Taylor survived the ordeal and really didn’t seem to bat an eye at what happened.  She told me she didn’t get off the bus when she was supposed to and the bus driver took her to the school down the road because he was picking up some other kids there.  Taylor has always been resilient, even at 5 years old.  I was proud of her for being so brave and not being a messy puddle of tears (like her mother) when I picked her up

My coworkers literally howled with laughter when I told them my story the next day.  I received several “I told you so” comments in regard to my constant exhaustion.  I am glad that this was the worst thing that happened to me in my sleep deprived state.  I’m grateful I didn’t fall asleep driving on the way home and crash into another vehicle.  Sleepy drivers can be terrifying on the road.  If you find that you are pushing yourself way beyond your limits and you are at the extreme limits of sleep deprivation, I am begging you to take a moment to reevaluate your situation.  Are you depriving yourself of sleep out of necessity?  Is it worth falling asleep on the drive home and crashing into another vehicle ~ possibly killing the occupants ~ possibly killing yourself?  As dispatchers, we advocate safety to everyone.  We ask our officers, firefighters, and paramedics to stay safe.  We ask our family, friends and loved ones to stay safe.  We give life-saving instructions to our 911 callers to keep them safe.  We need to take our own advice and keep ourselves safe.  Getting enough sleep is a part of that!


The Battle of the Bulge

 Many a dispatcher has fallen victim to the battle of the bulge.  In the past five years, I have allowed myself to gain 75 pounds.  Ugh…  The reason?  Yep…  A broken heart.  After my divorce, I lost 30 pounds, looked great and felt even better.  I started dating a man who I really thought was a perfect match for me.  After moving in together (after 2 ½ years of dating) and getting engaged, I discovered some information about him that he had failed to tell me.  I won’t go into details, but let’s just say it was a doozy.  My heart was absolutely shattered and I completely lost all faith in love.  I just flat-out didn’t care anymore.  And I proceeded to wallow in self-pity (and ice cream) for five years. 

  I have never been this heavy in my life.  Add wallowing in self-pity to a job that has me sitting on my butt for 10 hours a shift, and you end up with what I have become.  I absolutely cannot stand it anymore.  So I’m making a change…

             This is what I’ve done in the past two and a half weeks:

  1.  I have given up pop and sugar
  2. I have not eaten fast food
  3. I have been making better food choices and counting calories
  4. I went to “the fat doctor” and got on a prescription for Phentermine (http://www.abetterwayhealthcenter.com/)
  5. I have started the “Couch to 5k” treadmill workout (http://www.c25k.com/)
  6. I have signed up for an accountability group at www.teambeachbody.com with a high school friend as my coach
  7. I have started drinking Shakeology once a day (http://www.teambeachbody.com/nutrition-shake/shakeology)
  8. I will be starting FocusT25 on Monday (http://www.beachbody.com/product/fitness_programs/focus-t25-workout.do)            

  If I don’t lose this weight now and keep it off, I’m going to wind up being 300 pounds of misery.  Who wants that?  I am not relying on just myself to accomplish this goal.  I am doing some extra things like the Phentermine and Shakeology to help me get there.  Is that cheating?  Maybe.  Do I care?  Not one bit. 

  I blame no one but myself for gaining this weight.  No one forced me to eat unhealthy meals.  No one chained me down and refused to let me exercise.  Broken heart or not, I led myself down this path and it’s time to turn things around before it gets too far out of control.  There is nothing worse than shopping in the “women’s” section of a store.  I miss cute clothes.  Seriously.  I find myself staring ~ longingly~ across the aisle at the “misses” section with huge amounts of envy.  It has been so long since I have been able to look in a mirror and smile.  Not only do I miss looking good in my clothes, I miss having energy.  I have been carrying around the weight of a 10-year-old child for so long that I’m exhausted.  I have worn jeans for the past three summers in 90 degree heat because I can’t stand the thought of wearing shorts when I am this heavy.

 So…  I’m saying enough is enough.  I set out two and a half weeks ago to lose 75 pounds and I’ve lost 15 so far.    I have 60 to go!  I am hopeful that by next year, at this time, I will have reached my goal. 

Cutting the Apron Strings

Three weeks ago, I packed up my 18 year old (baby boy) and chauffeured him down to college on the outskirts of Chicago.  He is attending Universal Technical Institute (UTI) for the automotive mechanic program with a FORD certification.  Austin was sick with a sinus infection on the way down (a six hour journey from where we live), so I drugged him up good with Mucinex Sinus Max and he slept most of the way.  Actually, saying that “he slept” is an understatement.  He was out cold the majority of the time.  Even my singing along to the radio didn’t seem to faze him.  I had imagined this trip in my head several times in the weeks leading up to the day of our departure.  I planned to take advantage of our time together and impart all my wisdom upon him in an environment which he could not escape.  He would have to hear me out, or risk serious injury from jumping out of a moving vehicle at 70mph.  It is difficult to impart wisdom to an audience that is asleep.  I was kind of sad that he slept, but knew he needed the rest to get over the illness.

  During the time he was awake, we talked a bit about this exciting opportunity he would have at UTI.  He didn’t appear to be nervous.  He was excited to go and didn’t seem to worry about being on his own so far away from home.  We talked about how proud Papa would be of his decision to go to UTI.  I stole glances at him from the driver’s seat and sometimes saw the little boy he used to be sitting beside me.  Austin was my first born.  He was an absolute angel as a baby.  He rarely cried and always woke up with a big smile – happiness radiating out like sunshine.  He was adorably cute with his brown hair and dark brown eyes.  He never ran off and always held my hand…. He has always had a sense of empathy and compassion for others.  He truly has a heart of gold.  At times, he gets hurt easily.  He expects honesty and goodness from those he encounters.  He has struggled off and on with making sense of how cruel this world can be.  I have always felt a strong connection to him; not just the mother/son bond, but something deeper I can’t put into words.  I see bits and pieces of myself in him.  He is a reflection of me on many levels.

All Grown Up

All Grown Up

 Austin his grown up to become a good man.  Wow, is it hard for me to call him that!  He is fiercely loyal to his family and friends.  He loves and adores his younger sister (even when she is a complete butthead to him).   He seems to have learned from his mistakes and has gained some insight and wisdom as he gets older and the years pass by.  He will be nineteen next month and for some reason that is much harder for me to swallow than it was when he turned eighteen.  I am so grateful he made it through his high school years without becoming involved in alcohol or drugs.  He was never a rebellious juvenile delinquent always in trouble with the law.  I am so thankful he never gave me that heartache.  We may have had our moments when we were angry and upset, but Austin has never called me vulgar names to my face.  He has never disrespected me in that way and often after an argument, he would come to my room to apologize, hug me and tell me he loved me. 

My Baby Boy

My Baby Boy

 As the miles passed, I wondered if I had done enough as a mother (as a parent) to prepare him for life as an adult.  I wondered if I had taught him all the lessons I wanted him to know before I released him into the wild on his own.  I couldn’t help but feel I needed more time.  Does he know how much I love him?  Does he know how much he means to me?  Does he know how amazing I think he is?  Does he know how proud I am of him?  Does he know that my heart aches to think of not seeing him every day?  Does he know that I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to let him go?  As the rolling hills of Wisconsin passed by, the memories came rushing back:  The joy I felt when I found out I was pregnant;  The first time I heard his heartbeat;  The first time I felt him kick;  The relief I felt when he was born healthy with ten fingers and ten toes;  Wondering how on earth something so beautiful and perfect came from me;  The contentment I felt as he slept soundly in my arms as I rocked him;  When he was learning how to walk; The way he held his arms up to me so I would pick him up; The smile on his face and the sound of his laughter when I tickled his belly and kissed his neck;  How he sat in the sand at the playground and played with his cars and trucks; In his highchair making dinosaurs with play dough; His first pair of glasses; How he played with Legos for hours; His first day of kindergarten;  Second grade; His tears when some of the kids were mean; His dad teaching him how to ride a bike;  Watching him play football/winning the championship; Watching him play basketball and being voted MVP by his teammates; Feeling so proud I thought my heart would burst; His first day of middle school;  His first girlfriend; His first time seeing the Grand Canyon; His first time playing in the ocean in Florida; His first trip to Disney World and Sea World; His first day of high school; Getting his driver’s license; His first truck; His first accident; Senior Prom; His first heartbreak; His first job; His tears when I told him Papa was sick; His sorrow when Papa passed away; The strength I found in his arms as he held me while I cried; High school graduation; His car packed and ready to go away to college… 

 I was grateful he slept through my tears…

 If I have learned anything in my job as a 911 dispatcher, it is how valuable life truly is.  How quickly a life can be taken.  I have tried to teach my children to choose their words carefully.  Words said cannot be unspoken and those words may be the last that person hears from you.  Regardless of how angry you are at a friend, lover, family member or even a stranger – be kind.  Find a way to say how you feel without being abusive or insulting.  Regret is a difficult thing to live with.  As morbid as this might sound, I ask myself frequently if something happened to my children and they were physically taken from this world – would they know how much I love them.  Do they know that I regret all the hours I have spent at work instead of being in their company?  Do they know that even though it appears my job means more to me than anything else, it is merely a way to pay the bills to support them?  Do they know how hard it is to support them on a single income?  Do they know that I realize they would rather have time with me than anything else?  Do they know that I have to work this hard just to put food on the table and keep the lights on at home?  Do they know that I am doing the best I can?  Do they know that I carry them with me, every day, wherever I go? 

 I have gone into Austin’s empty room one time since he has been gone.  I haven’t begun the deep clean that I know it needs.  I can’t bring myself to spend too much time in there.  Avoidance is my way of coping.  If I don’t go in his room, I don’t have to acknowledge that he is gone.  I miss him though; every day.  There is a void in my heart that can only be filled by his presence.  He still texts me and calls me, but it isn’t every day.  I long to be an overbearing mother who calls all the time, but I won’t allow myself to do that.  I know he needs his freedom to find his place in this world.  I find it strange that I can’t force him to tell me where he is going or what he is doing.  I worry that he isn’t eating well (enough) and that he isn’t taking his contacts out at night (he likes to sleep with them in).  I worry that he will oversleep and miss class or get sick and not know what medication to take to feel better.  I worry that he will go on with his life and somehow slowly forget about me.  I worry he will fall in love with someone and she will break his heart and I won’t be there (physically) to tell him how wonderful he is and that time heals.  I worry he will be afraid to tell me he screwed up or ask me for advice on how to fix the situation for fear that I will view him as a failure.  I hope he knows that he can always come to me and together we will find a way to “fix” whatever is broken or messed up.  I am far more interested in finding the lesson to be learned from a mistake than judging him for screwing up.  We all screw up from time to time.  Learn from it, move on, and try not to make the same mistake twice.

 I realize this does not have much to do with my job, but this is my confession and it is sincere and heartfelt.  This is a part of my life that I want to share with you.  I love this child more than life itself and I know he is going to do great things in this world. 


It goes without saying that working as a 911 dispatcher has affected several areas of my life.  I expected the odd work and sleep hours, the missed holidays with family and the mental exhaustion.   I did not expect to become so emotionally numb to tragedy that I cannot grieve the loss of my own father.   Recently, my mother and I started attending a grief support group.  My father passed away in November of 2012 from stage four brain cancer.   I signed up for the group with the intention of supporting my mother and hoping to figure out why I was having such a difficult time allowing myself to grieve the death of my father.   I can honestly feel myself purposely avoiding thinking about it at all.   I had some suspicion that my job may have something to do with my grieving process, but I was amazed at how much it has truly affected my ability (or lack thereof) to grieve.  While I am not a big fan of group therapy, it has been a good experience.  Grieving, I have learned, is an individual and deeply personal experience.  Grieving the loss of a father is very different from grieving the loss of a spouse.  My mother and I are grieving very differently.  My parents had been married for fifty years.  I cannot imagine how difficult this journey is for my mother.  It breaks my heart that I cannot make it easier for her.  It is a road she must travel alone.  I can be there to support her, but what works for me may not work for her and I need to be patient with that.  There is no right or wrong way to grieve. 

In the eight months since my dad passed away, I have broken down a few times.  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it consumes me.  More often than not, I try to avoid thinking about it for fear of losing control.  Dispatchers by nature are control freaks.  Losing control kind of terrifies me.   The sadness tends to hit me out of the blue when I’m least expecting it.  If I had to visualize it, it would be a big wave crashing onto the shore.  It is overwhelming and knocks me off my feet.  It feels like a riptide that tries to pull me into a dark ocean of sorrow.  I wasn’t ready for my dad to go.  I had sixteen months to prepare for it, but I wasn’t ready.  I have found myself battling to stay on the shore.  There are times when I want to dive into that sorrow, but I fear I might drown and never surface.  What if I dive in, lose myself in grief and can’t come back up for air?  Would I be able to perform my job to the best of my ability by allowing myself to really feel the loss of my father?  I’m not sure I would.  So I stand on the shore and look at that endless ocean and the waves that threaten to pull me under.  Part of me wants to dive in and lose myself in the grief that beckons me, knowing I need to feel that sorrow in order to get past it.  The other part of me fights to stand my ground on the shore because people count on me to be that rock that they so dearly need in their time of crisis.  I don’t know how to grieve and still be strong.  The fear of letting go and really grieving for the loss of my father scares me. 

During the first grief support group meeting, as I listened to the others give a brief summary of what brought them there, I heard many stories of heartache and loss.  A lot of deaths caused by cancer (my father included), vehicle accidents, children taken way too young, suicide and even murder.  My heart broke for each and every person in that room.  As I started talking about my father, a few tears managed to escape.  I was grateful for the abundance of Kleenex in the room.  I found myself not only thinking of my father, but thinking of many of the callers I have had over the years that called 911 to report a death.   I didn’t tell the group about those thoughts, but they were there.   I thought of the mothers I have spoken to that have dialed 911 when they found their children who committed suicide.  I thought of the children who have called trying to save their parents who decided life was too difficult to live.  I thought of the husbands and wives that have called when their spouse who was so ill finally stopped breathing.  I thought of the woman that went looking for her husband when he didn’t come home from his daily run and found him dead on the running trail with the family dog that wouldn’t leave his side.  I thought of the mother who came home to find her baby boy murdered by the father that was supposed to love him.  I thought of all those people, both the deceased and the survivors and grieved for them too.  Honestly, it felt overwhelming.  I felt guilty for not being able to only think of my father.   Did that mean I didn’t love him enough?  All of those other people were strangers to me.  How could they have such a strong hold on my heart?   It is a rare occasion that I can put a face to a name when I answer a 911 line, but I still carry those callers in my heart.  I hear their voices in my head.  They are a part of me, but I never allowed myself to really feel their grief.  I listened to their cries and their pleas for help, their anger and shock and disbelief at the situation, but I never allowed myself to bring them or those feelings to the surface.  I forced myself tuck them safely in the back of my mind and I moved on to the next call.   Not only was I grieving for my father, but for all those calls I have taken over the years.   I know in my heart that it doesn’t mean I didn’t love my father enough.  My dad was my biggest fan.  I miss him so much I wonder if this ache will ever subside.  It’s difficult to keep a positive attitude when I feel so sad inside.

 It takes a certain type of person to handle what we go through on a daily basis in the 911 center.     Avoidance is my coping mechanism that allows me to do this job.  Surely, I can’t be the only dispatcher alive that uses this mechanism.    Dispatchers are often an outlet for the public.  There isn’t a dispatcher out there who hasn’t been screamed at and called a variety of inappropriate names by a multitude of callers.  We are the first contact during a crisis and people handle stress in very different ways.  We often take the brunt of the verbal assault.  To do this job, you cannot take it personally.  You have to blow it off.  You can’t do this job (and do it well) if you break down  and cry every time someone yells at you whether it’s a citizen, officer, fire chief or sergeant.  You have to have incredibly thick skin.  That being said, as dispatchers, we tend to become a bit callous.  We use humor to deal with the seriousness of the situation.   It’s a way to survive this job.  I have become numb to a lot of things.  I find that I have to be.  I wouldn’t be able to do my job effectively if I really allowed myself to “feel” the anger, sadness and sometimes helplessness that come with the territory of being a dispatcher.  Although I can’t speak for other dispatchers, I know that it takes quite a bit to get me upset in my life outside of work.  I tend to not understand people who “sweat the small stuff.”  If it isn’t life threatening, I really just don’t see the point in worrying about it.  My children know they have to be on fire or bleeding to really get my attention at times. (They might argue that leaving a mess in the kitchen or their rooms gets them  plenty of  attention.)   I know this has been difficult for them.  As a parent, we are often told by our kids (especially teenagers) that we “just don’t understand.”  I do understand, but if the situation doesn’t involve a dismemberment or loss of life, I really don’t lose any sleep over it.  It is what it is, so to speak.  Move on.  Believe me when I say that I haven’t always been this way.  It has taken many years to get to this mindset I have – good or bad.  Perhaps it is a mixture of the effects of my job as well as a bit of wisdom that comes with age.  I can tell you that I am much happier now not worrying about the little things in life than I was twenty years ago when I worried about everything.  Life just doesn’t have to be that difficult.  Life is too short to not enjoy it. 

So currently, I am taking it one day at a time.  I miss my father more than words can say.  I am hopeful that time will make things easier and the ache of his loss won’t feel so sharp.  Those who have traveled this path before me have told me that time heals.  I will figure out a way to allow myself to grieve this loss because I know I need to in order to heal.  I will do my best to comfort and support my mother, my siblings and my own children who are feeling the loss just as deeply as I am.  I will keep a positive attitude because life is more good than bad.  I was blessed to have my dad for nearly 40 years of my life.  He is gone but not forgotten.  God will see me through this and I know my father is in a better place. 

I am including a link to a song that has helped me for reasons I can’t begin to explain.  A woman with an extraordinary voice sang this during a “Blue Christmas” service for people who were grieving during the holidays last year.  It is a beautiful song.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOHJghBU0XA

 Below is the link for the grief support group I found.  The workbook is extremely helpful and they have support groups in the United States, Canada and Internationally.  http://www.griefshare.org/

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