Thursday, July 31, 2008

Somebody's Mama Died Last Night

If you are reading this blog for the first time, may I suggest that you read parts I,II,and III of the Sand Box series first. Enjoy and come back.

Randy J. Cole

Prior to the days of 911-enhanced emergency phone systems, law enforcement and other emergency services had to rely on the abilities of call takers to pry basic information from those in need. Not an easy task considering it is damn near impossible to remember what your address, and at times, even your name is when the shit is hitting the fan. I know, because as an officer, I have experienced it myself. Prior to my becoming an officer, before radio communication was common place, many small communities throughout the country used a simple light on a pole located somewhere in the city. The officer would notice when the light was on and stop by the office where the call taker had written down the information given by the caller. That would make Mayberry a pretty darn modern department in the early sixties considering they had radio communications.

This story takes place in a time when Stevens County had radios, but 911 had not made it to our corner of the world yet. It was important that the call taker/dispatcher could dispatch officers, as well as other emergency services, to the location where they were needed. On this cool summer night, I was the only officer on duty for the City of Colville. It was shaping up to be a rather dull night of door shaking and an occasional barking dog type of shift. You’re bored out of your mind, but when the night is over you are relieved that nothing requiring paperwork had happened.

The call came into the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office dispatch center at about three a.m. An elderly woman told the call taker/dispatcher that she was having pains caused from a hernia for which she was being treated. She was able to tell the dispatcher her address and only wanted him to call her son. She could not say what her son’s name was and seemed to be disorientated. Unable to get more information from the caller, the dispatcher asked me to respond to the address and see if I could make contact with the caller. I found the address to be that of a modest, small, neat one-story house located about two blocks from the sheriff’s office. It was also located the same distance from the ambulance parking facility across the street from the sheriff’s office. The ambulance personnel were and still are dedicated volunteers, the same as most small communities throughout the country. The ambulance facility had sleeping quarters, but those on-call could stay at their own homes provided they lived within the city limits of Colville. They would be notified of an ambulance run by a paging system which in no way resembles the pagers of today. As I recall, they were very large boxes that would be placed in one’s home when they were on-call.
The dispatcher kept the caller on the phone and told her that I was at her residence. She responded with, “All I want is for you to call my son”, but yet could not or would not give any information as to who her son might be. She did tell the dispatcher that she was not able to get to the door to unlock it and this information was passed on to me. I walked around to the side of the house and found a light on in what appeared to be a bedroom. The bottom of the window was about five feet from the ground and open about three inches and was also covered with a screen. There she sat on her bed talking to the dispatcher and I made my presence known. At this point, it was not clear that a major medical problem existed, however based on the fact that she could not get off the bed, it was best that we page out the ambulance crew. At about this point, I observed the woman fall back on her bed and passed this information on to the dispatcher. I was able to pry the screen from the window. Fortunately, the window was not locked in place and I quickly slid it open as far as I could. I pulled myself into the open window, a task which would be impossible today. As I slithered my top half into the room, the window, without warning, slammed down on my waist and managed to key my portable radio which was attached to my side. Panic ruled the moment as the unresponsive woman lay on the bed to my left. It was obvious she was not breathing. I was forced to become a circus performer, all the while cussing a blue streak which, unfortunately, could be heard by other law enforcement units throughout the county. I am sure that many of the local citizens who had police scanners sat straight up in bed wondering if they had heard the nice policeman correctly. Somehow I managed to get my right elbow to the window and slid it open to the point where I could roll onto the floor. If the woman was having an out-of-body experience looking down at the scene, I am sure I looked like a monkey humping a football. Everything fell out of my pockets and my gun belt also popped off as if spring-loaded. I jumped to my feet with my radio and advised dispatch that the woman had no pulse and no respiration. I began CPR, as I had been trained, knowing that the ambulance would soon be arriving.
A police officer doing any type of emergency first aid in those days of the early eighties, usually did them without the benefit of any type of protection. Mouth-to-mouth meant just that. People need to be thankful for the developments that have taken place within the last five years such as the advent of the Automatic External Defibrillator or AED. Most small law enforcement agencies carry these in their patrol vehicles. Thousands of lives have been saved with this technology. God how I wish it would have been around back then.
In an effort to keep me informed, the dispatcher advised me that the paging system appeared to be down and that he was attempting to place phone calls to the ambulance crew on-call. These were not the words that I wanted to hear. All I wanted was the sound of the wailing sirens and the flash of red lights bouncing off the light-colored walls and more strength. I provided CPR for seventeen minutes before the ambulance rolled to the front of the house. The crew rushed in and took over the responsibilities of pumping this stranger’s heart and providing the necessary air to her lungs. I collapsed in the corner as if I had just gone fourteen rounds with a heavy- weight boxer. Death is a foe that does not give in to defeat easily. This woman, who had been struck down by what appeared to be a massive heart attack, was loaded into the ambulance and transported to the hospital. I was a total mess and because of the amount of sweat that had drenched my uniform, I went home and changed clothes.
It was about six in the morning before I made my way to the hospital to check on the status of the patient. I was met at the emergency ward entrance by one of the ambulance attendants, who also happened to be my sergeant at the police department. He was very calm as he told me that the lady had passed away and that I had done everything possible. The sun was coming up and it looked as though it would be a beautiful day. My Sergeant looked at me and said, “I need you to do something now. I need you to deliver a death message”. I responded with, “I think I can handle that boss, just tell me where”. He looked a bit surprised as I said that. He removed the pipe from his mouth and said, “You need to tell the chief that his mother just passed away”. I was stunned. I had no idea that the woman who was asking for her son was referring to the chief, my boss. When I arrived at his house, he was in good spirits and family was there as well, visiting from out of town. I broke the news to him and his response was as to be expected by a son who loses the mother who gave him life.
This story doesn’t have a happy ending, but then again, life itself can be painful and all of us experience this type of loss. Police officers are no different and many of those we serve think that we shouldn’t have the right to a bad day. This is a good time to remind the reader that law enforcement officers bleed on the outside as well as the inside, just like everyone else.