Author: Jenny Abbott

For Harold Culpepper, the concept of dying had, until now, seemed like a relatively abstract event—something everyone had to do at some point, but tried not to think about and avoided discussing in polite settings. But now, as he lay bleeding by the darkened roadside, he was forced to reassess things. Struggling to reach the phone in his back pocket, he winced and fought against the idea that his last minutes might be spent 20 miles outside of Omaha, following a particularly unlucky encounter with a carjacker.
With effort, he managed to retrieve the phone and remember his passcode. The device had miraculously survived with a cracked but functional screen, and 18% charge remaining. He forced himself to remember the numbers “911” in that order, and dialed.
A friendly female voice answered promptly. “911, please hold.”
“No, wait! I’ve been shot! I need…” he started desperately, only to find himself pleading to a recorded voice set against the sounds of late 80s easy listening music. With blurring vision, he looked at the phone’s screen and wondered if he’d misdialed. Having made it to the age of 42 without ever having to call 911 before, his references for this kind of situation admittedly came mostly from pop culture. But, as best as he could recall, emergency services as portrayed in movies never involved holding. Or Muzak.
Finally, a woman’s live voice came on the line. “Thank you for holding. What is your emergency?”
“I’ve been shot! I need an ambulance!”
“I see, Sir.” She continued briskly, computer keys clacking. “And how would you rate the severity of your situation? On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the least urgent and 10 being cause for the most concern for your wellbeing?”
Harold looked down at the blood pooling in abstract geometric shapes around his side. “10! I need an ambulance now!” His mind raced. “I don’t wanna die!”
“No, Sir, people in your position usually don’t. I do have to ask, though, that you let me know if that changes. That would need to be coded appropriately for your records.”
“Huh?” He rechecked the number on the screen. It read 9-1-1, as best as he could tell with narrowing vision. “I’ve been shot!”
“Yes, Sir. A lot of other people have been, as well. It’s been a busy night. I do appreciate your patience.” The keys clacked rapid-fire. “I just need you to answer 2 more questions. First, how would you categorize your shooting: was it the result of an accident, hostile workplace encounter, travel-related crime, or other?”
Harold became aware of the sensation that his head was drifting somewhere far from his body. With less than 100% certainty, he decided that a highway carjacking constituted the third category. “Travel-related crime. Please hurry!”
“Just one last question. Would you be willing to complete a short customer-satisfaction survey at the end of this call? Your feedback is greatly appreciated.”
“Yes! Whatever! I need an ambulance!”
“Thank you. We appreciate your input. I’ll have an ambulance sent to your location.” After a momentary pause, “I do ask that you stay where you are, so the paramedics can find you. We’re using the GPS coordinates indicated by your phone, so some margin of error is possible.”
“I don’t wanna die!”
“Yes, you’ve stated that already. Sir, I ask that you stay on the line until help arrives. It’s been a pleasure to serve you.”
With his last seconds of consciousness, Harold heard the opening strains of Air Supply’s “Lost in Love” drift soothingly from the phone. And then, “please hold…”