If the complaint summarized here is to be believed, ten El Reno, Oklahoma police officers, responding to a 911 call, used tasers on an 87-year-old bed-ridden woman because she "took a more aggressive posture in her bed" when they entered her room. The call was made by her grandson, who couldn't tell whether she had taken her medication and was worried about her condition. He was threatened with tasers as well, handcuffed, and detained in a police car while the police, er, dealt with the old lady.
That's just the plaintiff's complaint in a lawsuit, of course, so there may be more to the story. I can't imagine what it might be, but maybe there's a good reason why ten armed, able-bodied officers felt threatened enough by an elderly invalid that they had to resort to such dangerous, and in this case possibly life-threatening, tactics. That bit about the "aggressive posture" does appear to be quoted from the police report, showing that, whatever is going on, the police don't feel they have to try all that hard to make a convincing case that getting out the taser was the right way to go in this situation.
I have had only one experience with 911 myself, but it was a doozy. (Though as doozies go, it doesn't begin to reach the level of dooziness of the one described in the first part of this post. But you take your doozies as you find them.)
My girlfriend and I had just moved into a new place. The kitchen wasn't equipped yet, so I was cutting some vegetables with a pocket knife rather than a real one, and had an unfortunate accident: the knife unexpectedly closed on my finger. Like a lot of such wounds, it looked much worse than it turned out to be. But seeing the blood spurting rhythmically with each heartbeat and spattering all over the counter and floor had a powerful effect on my emotional state. I wrapped it in a towel and stumbled into the living room in a daze. I felt a little dizzy and strange, but it seemed as though the worst was over.
"I cut my hand, but I'm okay," I announced. It was at this point that the blood, temporarily obstructed by the dish towel, found a way to resume its pulsing flow. And it was the sight of these spurts forcing their way through the makeshift bandage that pushed me over the edge.
The next thing I knew I was surrounded by candles, and each dancing flame was screaming my name. These soon morphed into the single face and voice of my girlfriend looking down at me, and I realized I'd passed out and was lying crumpled on the floor, blood still gushing and my head throbbing from something it had hit on the way down.
I wasn't sure the situation warranted a call to 911, and in retrospect it almost certainly did not. But, for good or ill, a call to 911 was placed.
Now, when you dial this number, it's supposed to contact local emergency services, and when things work properly the people at the other end are able to tell your location. In our case, however, there was some technical mix up with the routing, and the 911 people at the other end when my girlfriend called them believed that our call originated from Dublin rather than Oakland.
I wish I could say that either of us had had the presence of mind to make some kind of James Joyce-related joke, since such ideal occasions for James Joyce jokes rarely present themselves in medical emergencies. There was, sadly, no such joke, at least as far as I can recall, not a "yes I said yes I will yes," nor even a "Frosted Lucky Charms, they're magically delicious." What actually happened was, the operator refused to believe the call wasn't from Dublin, and there ensued a lengthy, and I must say, slightly hysterical, argument about the difference between Oakland, CA and Dublin, CA that ended in a slammed-down phone and what I imagine was a rather confused and resentful 911 operator. And me: there I was, lying in my own blood, thinking how strange life is and other fuzzy sentiments of that general nature.
The next few hours were spent in a nearby emergency room. At some point, while we were away, the 911 people realized the error and sent around four or five fire trucks, a couple of ambulances, and half a dozen police cars. The cops got the guy upstairs, whom we had never met, to let them into the building and forced their way into the apartment. All that blood must have looked pretty suspicious. They asked if anyone had heard gun shots, but eventually seemed to reach the conclusion that it had been a stabbing. We had a lot of explaining to do when we arrived, I with my index finger bandaged and my face a little shamed, but otherwise perfectly intact.
So that's how we met our neighbors, Walter, Phoebe, and the other lady who smelled like juice.
Back then, I thought the moral of the story was: when you move into a new place, test out your 911 to make sure it doesn't go to Dublin. Now, however, I'd really have to advise avoiding 911 altogether, unless you want to run the risk of having your grandma tased in bed and your pets shot. Things have changed, or I have.
If you'd like to hear me doing "Goody Goody Gumdrops" and "Checkers Speech" over the phone as part of an interview-article about my career as a writer, head on over to The Switchboard Sessions.
An Irish Times review of a reading I gave of one of my children's books, Rover Saves Christmas, in Dublin. The reviewer referred to 'the stench of celebrity vanity'. I've seen him many times since. I've even said hello to him. But I will, eventually, kill him.