My husband and I are TUTS season-ticket holders, and on the night of May 15, 2015, we had tickets for “The Music Man.” We had an extra set of tickets for our close friends, Mike and Rhoda. At 5:09 P.M., they wouldn’t arrive for another 45 minutes, so I decided to call my parents to see how my father was doing. To see how (or if) their stories matched, I called my father first and he seemed to think that everything was going well and that he’d be leaving soon. He wasn’t wearing his hearing aids, so the conversation was a bit challenging. At 5:16 P.M. I called my mother to get her side of the story. When she answered I asked how the patient was doing. She responded by saying, “We’re just having so many problems with engineering.” At first I thought that either I had misunderstood or she had, but our conversation continued in the same confusing vein, and some of her responses seemed straight out of “Harry Potter.” I handed the phone to my husband and told him to ask her about my father. He seemed to have a nice conversation with her, but when he handed the phone back to me he said that he couldn’t understand a word she said.
The challenge of living three hours from your loved ones is that you can’t just run down the street to check on them. I needed eyes on my mother, so at 5:27 P.M. I called the neighbor who lives across the street, explained that I was having difficulty understanding Mom, and asked if he could go over and ask my mother about my father’s condition. He called back 15 minutes later and said that he couldn’t understand her either. At 5:50 P.M., I called my father and told him that I thought that Mom was in some sort of trouble and that I wanted to call 9-1-1. He said that he would call her himself. For future reference, having a hearing-impaired person without his hearing aids call someone who’s speaking gibberish is pretty much a waste of time. He had no trouble understanding what he thought she said.
I called my mother again and told her that I was calling an ambulance for her and they would take her to the hospital. It was another confusing conversation and I don’t know if she got the gist of what I was saying or planning to do because I couldn’t understand anything she said. As I was telling her good-bye, she finally said something that I could understand; she told me that she “loved me to bits.”
At 6:23 P.M. I called 9-1-1. When asked about the nature of my emergency, I told the Harris county 9-1-1 operator that I needed to be transferred to a 9-1-1 operator in Bell County. She said, “I don’t even have a phone number that I can give you.” My husband, who was busily searching for Bell County phone numbers on his iPad, gave me the number for the Bell County Sheriff’s office. My call was answered with, “If this is an emergency, hang up and dial 9-1-1.” OMG! I knew that she would eventually end up at Scott & White Hospital, so I called the main number and told the operator of my plight. The very helpful operator said that she would transfer me to someone who could help me. I wish I had made a note of that department because I was greeted with another recording of, “If this is an emergency, hang up and dial 9-1-1.”
Now it’s almost 6:30 P.M. Our theater-going friends brought us sandwiches, turned in our tickets at the box office, and went to the show themselves. In desperation, I called my parents’ neighbor again and asked if he could call 9-1-1 for me. He did, but he had a difficult time convincing them that my mother was in need of assistance. They eventually agreed to send an ambulance to the house. Before he hung up, our friend provided the 9-1-1 operator with my mother’s name and my name and phone number. I was relieved that help was on the way. I started gathering clothes and my work computer so that I could leave as soon as I heard from the hospital. That wait took much longer than I expected.
Call me crazy, but it seems like the State of Texas could have a web page (maybe a wiki) that contains the 254 phone numbers of 9-1-1 operators. At the very least, the 9-1-1 operator who answered my call should have have been able to say, “I can’t transfer you, but you can call 254-555-5555.” I was lucky that I was able to snag a neighbor to make the call. The elapsed time from my first call to 9-1-1 to the time that our friend placed the call was nine minutes. In an emergency, nine minutes can be the difference between life and death.