The simple words that saves lives

Lessons from “expert talkers” could make all the difference when helping a person in crisis.

The caller had given enough information to elicit a “Marine Corps response”
/Credit: Javier Hirschfeld/ Getty Images

By William Park | BBC

In 1984, Dallas, Texas, a call to the emergency services went catastrophically wrong. An elderly woman had stopped breathing, or was struggling to breathe, in her home. Her son, clearly distressed, called 911. The conversation between the caller and the dispatcher quickly spiraled out of control.

Both parties appeared to argue for several minutes over the condition of the woman. The caller, increasingly exasperated, refuses to give straight answers to many of the dispatcher’s questions. The dispatcher, equally frustrated, eventually hung up with a curt “’kay, b’bye”. Thirteen minutes later paramedics were sent to the home where the woman in question was pronounced dead.

“He didn’t hear that the nurse’s questions were about helping the mother as best as possible,” says Tanya Stivers, a sociologist at the University of California Los Angeles, US. “The nurse was trying to establish some basic information about the mother. He found her questions antagonistic. Sometimes things that are transparent to one party, the nurse in this case, are not to another.”

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