News : Just the Sound of Her Voice can be the Difference Between Life and Death
Wellington, New Zealand, Nov 17, 2015 -- It's just a room full of computers and phones, but it's a room where lives are saved every day.
The Wellington Free Ambulance emergency call centre is the frontline for every accident or disaster, and Alex Shulamith is its star performer.
The 26-year-old from Titahi Bay has been named Dispatcher of the Year for all of Australasia, thanks to a call in which she helped a woman perform CPR on her father-in-law after he collapsed.
"The woman was hysterical," Shulamith said. "She was screaming, 'Hurry up, hurry up. Just get here.'
"I had to reassure her and calm her down to the point where she could get him on his back and start giving him CPR. He didn't survive, unfortunately, but we did everything we could."
In other cases, though, her efforts are rewarded. "We've had CPR calls that have gone for eight or 10 minutes and the person survives.
"That's such a cool feeling, knowing you have helped to save a person's life."
Shulamith answers anywhere from 50 to 80 calls a day. Each one brings something different: car crashes, childbirth, shootings and stabbings, and sore stomachs.
"You never know every time a phone rings what it's going to be. It could be a sore tooth or it could be someone whose mother or father has collapsed and isn't breathing."
But the job has its lighter moments.
"I had someone call shouting, 'My baby's not breathing, my baby's not breathing,' and I started giving all the normal CPR instructions and later we found out, when the crew got there, there wasn't a patient there, not a human one anyway. It was the dog."
The job also has its tears. Shulamith said that, just a few months ago, she took a call about a 15-year-old who had shot himself.
"It didn't hit me straight away. I woke up the next morning and broke down. I realised it had affected me more than I thought.
"Those things stick with you."
It takes a special set of skills to handle the call centre: a calm personality, the ability to empathise and multitask in stressful situations.
"I find I get tunnel vision and everything goes into that call. You blank everything out.
"Often people will call and want an ambulance right now. They don't realise it takes a few minutes to get there and that there are things they can do in the meantime."
The job also requires a good sense of direction. The Wellington call centre can take calls from anywhere in the country, and often people have only landmarks to say where they are.
"I have to do a bit of an investigation sometimes to dig down and figure out where they are. My geography is getting pretty good now."
Her manager, Katy Wilkinson, said Shulamith deserved the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch award.
"We're this little wee centre at the bottom of the island but, if it doesn't go well in here, it doesn't go well out there. We literally save lives over the phone."
Shulamith has ticked many things off her list, but there is one more she's waiting for – helping to lead a woman through childbirth.
"I've never done the whole process. I've listened to it, and I've had a call where the baby was out. Fingers crossed it happens soon."
It wasn't where the qualified chef expected to end up.
"To be honest I never thought of this as a job.
"I worked overseas as a chef and nanny, then came back and this looked really interesting and thought I'd give it go. I'm still here 3½ years later."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About Wellington Free Ambulance:
Wellington Free Ambulance (also known as Wellington Free and WFA) is a charitable organisation providing free to the patient ambulance services in the Greater Wellington Region of New Zealand.
Published: Thursday, November 19, 2015