I Was a 911 Operator. You Wouldn’t Believe the Horrible Things I Heard

I talked to parents who found their children dead, to kids who watched their parents die. It took a toll.

I spent my non-working hours feeling anxious or paranoid; after all, I’d seen the underside of my community. After three years, I grew fearful that I would have nothing left to give to anyone outside of work – friends, family or my fiancé.  I remember watching “Conspiracy Theory” and going into a panic attack because of a minor detail triggered a flashback to a call. I was finishing my bachelor’s degree and had taken an abnormal psychology class and learned that there were terms for what I was experiencing: vicarious trauma, occupational distress, emotional fatigue.

When I put my finger on how the job had taken its toll, I knew I needed to step back and do some self-care. Not everyone in the profession is as fortunate. Though there is a mandatory psychological evaluation before you start the job, counseling afterward is always optional.  Though operators were encouraged to go through debriefing after a particularly difficult call, most operators didn’t. You don’t want your peers or especially your boss to question whether you can handle your job. Few people actually talk about the real struggle to balance empathy and protecting your heart against the pain of repeated traumatic exposure — operators where I worked fielded as many as 80 calls a day. The truth is that when it comes to facing vicarious trauma, we tell emergency operators across the country to “Deal with it yourself” every day.

Read more in Washington Post.


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