by Cindy Armstrong

Cindy armstrong_1
Cindy Armstrong

One day I went for an interview to become an EMS Dispatcher and then I was hired.
I was told that I wouldn’t make it a year, as I’d get stressed out and tired.
So excited getting the first few calls, I knew that I wanted to help people all the more.
Helping others is all I ever wanted to do, but little did I know what was in store.

With each call different from the next, they started to come in, one by one.
There were accidents, people with burns, stabbings, and a man with a gun.
There was difficulty breathing, chest pain, abdominal pain, and a fall to the floor,
The ambulances were sent and the paramedics would respond with a big “10-4”.

Then came calls that would burn a trail onto my soul: “I..have..chest..pain!”
As I heard a gasp and a thud followed by silence, I called out “Hello? Hello?” again and again.
The medics worked on the patient as I waited with each agonizing minute passing by.
Then holding my breath, a tear in my eye, and a lump in my heart, I knew the patient would die.

Another one that haunts me came from a frantic construction worker making the next call.
He gave his address and sounded distraught, a machine had toppled pinning three men in all.
One got out easily with just a minor pain, the second man’s leg was stuck under a beam.
The hysterical caller could do nothing as silence followed the third man’s piercing scream.

The emergency crews rushed in very fast and frantically tried to save the men, all three.
They rescued two, but could not reach the third, sadly he had died before he would be free.
With many more people needing some help, I stored these calls deep into my brain.
With sweaty palms, goose bumps, shivers and a sigh; I knew I had to ignore this pain.

After each shift, a normal life I do seek, but no one sees that I am suddenly gripped with fear.
Passing construction sites, I again visualize the trapped man and his piercing screams I do hear.
A broken arm or cut, they will heal, but calls I’ve heard create thick dark scars I cannot erase.
For no reason at all, I begin to shake, shiver and cry; all I can do is display a smile on my face.

I may not see what the crews do see but the descriptive images that I create are just as bad.
Leaving me a nervous wreck, with a lump in my throat, a pit in my stomach I try not to go mad.
I close my eyes, cover my ears and my head but nothing seems to make the screams go away.
As an EMS dispatcher I should be strong, not weak; so I hide my pain with a smile and I pray.

Dear God: Give me quick wits to watch over the medics and get them safely on their way.
God, give me strength as I feel my knees knocking and I believe that I am beginning to sway.
When I suddenly begin to tense up, shake and cry, and my heart begins to pound again,
Please help me heal my pain, but most of all, God, please make the screams stop. Amen.

About the Author: Cindy Armstrong has been an EMS Dispatcher in southern Ontario for 5.5 years. Previously, she had been a nurse since 1991, became legally disabled twelve years ago, but fought the system to get back to work. While on disability, Cindy helped out with different charities and enjoyed helping people so much that she knew that she wanted to help more. She participated in charity fundraisers put on by fire departments, and enjoyed the emergency services. With her background as a nurse, Cindy decided that an EMS dispatcher was the career for her. Even though it is a very stressful job, she loves helping people. She is  presently a first aid and CPR instructor, and loves doing demonstrations to educate the public on AED usage and hands only CPR. Her stress reliever is her crafts, making emergency vehicle items.

911 dispatcher