While it's not unheard of for dispatchers to take calls from pregnant women needing an ambulance, it is rare for them to play the role of temporary obstetrician and walk those expecting mothers and their family through the delivery process. And yet, that's the exact position Harvey County 911 dispatcher Courtney Becker found himself in during the early morning hours of his shift on Nov. 8.
Once the call came in (at a quarter to 3 in the morning) from a rural residence just southeast of Whitewater, Becker admitted he believed it would progress like most such calls — the ambulance would arrive and take over, and that would be that. However, while on the phone with the expecting mother's father, Jeff Toews (a former firefighter), it was quickly noted that the crowning process had begun. With the first responder still 13 minutes out and ambulance not arriving on scene until 3:10 a.m., it quickly became clear to Becker that he would be the one assisting the family with this delivery.
Rare as the occurrence may be, there are Emergency Medical Dispatch protocols in place for assisting with a delivery. Becker noted he was familiar with those protocols through training. Though he had never needed to use those protocols outside of training, he said it was fairly easy to get into that process in the moment.
"There's a number of decisions you start to make as you start to move through the card set and all that went pretty smooth," Becker said. "Things were progressing at a nice pace so I was able to kind of look ahead at what the next steps were, unlike when you're doing things like CPR where it's very hectic and it can get really difficult to follow instructions. Here it was just a much more relaxed move through the process."
"I really wasn't that worried about it, but I knew from what my wife and daughter were telling me we didn't have time to get her to Wichita because we were 30 minutes away," Toews said. "It was a smooth delivery and everything went fine."
Having a calm caller (Toews) to work with helped facilitate that process, making it easy to relay the instructions and progress through the delivery.
Admittedly, Becker — a father himself — said the delivery went a a little quicker than in his personal experiences. Once the crowning began (about five minutes into the call), the Toews had delivered his new granddaughter, Regan, in a matter of a couple of minutes.
"Nothing seemed to go wrong. Everything moved quickly," Becker said. "I was surprised (by) that, just thinking back to my own children; they did not deliver in less than two minutes. So, once this started progressing it just went really fast and I was surprised by that, but it was very smooth."
Following the birth, the mother (Emily Merritt) and baby girl were transported by Newton EMS to Wesley Medical Center in stable condition and reportedly doing fine (with hopes to be home by now).
Many of the experiences a dispatcher assists with are not as joyful as helping bring a new life into the world — a first for Becker (and Harvey County 911) in his dispatch career, just days before his last shift — so getting a chance to play a role in this family's experience, and seeing the happy ending, was particularly meaningful.
"I've been a dispatcher for 18 years and I think I've been involved in just about everything. A lot of those calls obviously have a lot of negative and difficult elements to them. There aren't all that many call types that are as rewarding as this, and so to get to experience that was really special," Becker said. "You hardly every get glimpses or the ability to be in somebody's life in quite that way."
"A lot of the times, we know that the work is important and you know you're helping people, but because of how disconnected we are from those stories it's easy to lose track of the importance of what we're doing," Becker said. "Sometimes it just feels like we're here and we're answering the calls and that's kind of it. These moments are where you recognize, 'okay, that made a difference.' Being able to be a calm voice during a difficult situation has value to people and helps them get through their situations."