I’m still here.
I know I’ve been M.I.A. for a little bit, but I had to step back from writing and focus on my mental health and sanity. Basically, I’ve been working at Anderson County Dispatch for almost three years now and each time I have sat down to write in the last year or more it has been too difficult to form the words on the page. Part of it was the stress that writing brought through my job. Part of it has been the fear of not saying the right thing that I am feeling. The truth.
I’m going to be completely honest: Dispatching is hard. While it may not be physically difficult, it has been spiritually and emotionally draining. Dispatching is like being on an active disaster response every single day you walk into work.
Years ago, I walked into the Volunteer Reception Center in Joplin, MO about 24 hours after a EF-5 tornado ripped through the city and found myself sitting alongside survivors, listening to their stories of that night. As we worked alongside one another to input volunteer information into a database, I listened to the heart-wrenching stories of destruction, loss, and survival.
It took me months to come to terms with what I heard that evening and over the next two weeks in Joplin. It was weeks before I was able to talk about it with my teammates who witnessed the same experiences, the same sights, sounds, and smells.
Now take that experience and apply it to every night that I put on the headset.
People talk about Dispatchers (my official title is Telecommunicator) as secretaries. We have been told that we are not first responders, that monkeys could do our jobs. But we are so much more than that.
I’ve been cursed out more times than I can count. I’ve stopped keeping count of how many times I’ve walked someone through CPR. When I have that headset on, I know that one mistake could mean someone’s life or death.
All that stress builds up. All that stress weighs you down. And no matter how much you try to leave work at work, it follows you home and you wake up in the middle of the day (because you work night shift) in cold sweats because you can’t stop thinking about that voice on the other end of the line.
You wake up questioning if there was more you could have done or said to bring a better end to the call that will haunt you for the rest of your life.
Each night we sit down and answer call after call, not knowing what will come next. We send out our officers and paramedics and firefighters with what little information we have and we are expected to know exactly what is going on without being there. We disconnect with one caller, just to have the phone ring again. And without ever knowing how things turn out, we do it all again. And again. And again. Until our 12 hour shift is over and we return home, thinking about everything we could have done different.
Over the past three years I have struggled, asking myself if there was anything more that I could have done. I find myself lying in bed for hours wondering if things would have turned out differently if I did something different.
But I go back to something that someone on staff asked me after I returned from the wreckage of Joplin, when I struggled with that same question: In the moment, did you do your best? As long as you are confident that you did the best work that you were capable of in that moment, the doubt you feel is fear of things that could have been different, that may be different next time.
I do not doubt that I’ve made a difference in someones life over the past three years as a dispatcher. I know that my actions have changed, even saved lives. I do not doubt that.
But this season as a dispatcher in Anderson has come to an end.
Soon, I will be setting off on a new adventure. I will continue dispatching, but I will be heading down south (further south than South Carolina?!) to dispatch for the Antarctic Fire Department at McMurdo Research Station for the Summer Season.
And while I will miss the family of dispatchers that is Bravo Shift, I will not miss the stress that comes with dispatching here in Anderson!