Who Would You Save First?

29Oct09

I am totally overrun by the fact how much we trust the malfunctioning systems we use, because we consider them the best that can exist. I suppose it’s not a specific Hungarian problem, but this post is inspired by things that happened in Hungary.

Yesterday, somehow in a group of people at a bar I found myself next to a man who works part-time as ambulance nurse. He started to tell a friend of mine how he likes to help people and there’s no better feeling than saving lives. As normally I was just listening to their conversation, trying to analyze and summarize the general content.

Usually this kind of chats turn to calling to account the person who is in charge of a responsible, public service job. This time the ambulance nurse. I think my friend put her sort of offensive question in the 5th minute of their talk. She asked the guy to explain why had that happened several years ago at her high school that a 18-year-old boy had died because of the ambulance arrived 32 minutes after that a teacher had called the emergency phone line.

Of course one emergency nurse shouldn’t be responsible of every case in the whole ambulance field, but our nurse tried to give an answer to my friend. He emphasized how hard is for the operators at the emergency phone line’s call center to organize and put the cases in order of who to save first, where to send the ambulance cars by getting information from people who usually can’t even express what kind of help they need and where.

I am following this train of thought, but I have to admit that the system has many points that altogether create a general rate of malfunctioning. For example the traffic, the weather, the number of ambulance cars available, etc.

But if we take only the role of the operator in the call center… I think everybody who ever heard about social work, or started to study how to work with people, knows the classic riddle: If you had a priest, a pregnant woman, a young couple and an old man in a deep cave, and you could use only one rope to pull them out, then who would you save first? What would be the order?

There’s no good solution. Every society has it’s own traditions, principles and rules, and in addition to this every individual has his own. Now, who knows what was the exact situation when in that case the operator had to state an order, and finally an 18-year-old boy had to die?

My friend was totally furious because our ambulance nurse emphasized the responsibility of the operator. It seemed like our life depends on the person who picks up the phone. I finally entered their conversation and stated that she shouldn’t be that angry because it’s the negative result of a malfunctioning system. How could the emergency service work perfectly if we have less available ambulance cars in service than we really need, and the operator has to work like that always? (And still no other factors considered!)

Of course the operator has given references, but what if a computer would decide who to save first? Let’s take out the human factor from the system. Let’s give points to the cases that arrive to the call center. Well, it’s still people who decide how many points we give to each case. We can give points by how useful is the person in question for the society, for example. This would mean that the computer would never send ambulance cars to old people in the first place even if the ambulance car stood right next to my grandmother fallen to the ground.

As an extra, I’m telling what happened some days ago in Hódmezővásárhely. A 84-year-old woman fell to the ground in the parking lot of a shopping mall, a man who saw this called the ambulance line (104 in Hungary) and tried to describe the situation, but finally got very angry because of the questions of the operator who tried to get more information about the patient. The angry man used swearwords which made the operator furious. The operator said “Your mother’s ass!” (I think it’s not that important what was the exact swearword…) and hung up the phone. The man who tried to help the old woman, started to call the general emergency line (112 in the EU) but in that minute he heard the ambulance car arriving. The old woman, who had problems with hypertension, died. The ambulance spokesman stated that the strange phone call didn’t make the ambulance car arrive later, but the case would be investigated.

I don’t want to comment the case. I’m finishing my text by this tune of Aaron Funk, inspired by the ambulance cars’ sound in Budapest.

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