Laughter Truly is the Best Medicine
A song is running through my head while I think about what I am writing — “How Can I Help You to Say Goodbye,” by Patty Loveless. The lyrics, “it’s okay to hurt and it’s okay to cry,” stay with me as I reflect on retired dispatcher Brandie Puraty and the 28 years she spent helping her community and her law enforcement family.
Brandie’s dispatch experience exposed her to some of the toughest situations one can handle in life. Yet, as the four of us — Brandie; her husband, Mitch, Charlie, and I — sat around the campfire a few weeks ago, the laughter won out in emotional roulette. Still, her stories are haunting me. If these secondhand stories are still sitting on my chest and on my mind, how has Brandie stayed so strong?
Mitch is a sergeant with Jefferson County out of Golden, Colorado, where he and Charlie worked their rookie years on patrol together, on the same team. Oh my gosh, we laughed that night around the fire, sharing stories of Mitch and Charlie on the road, with Brandie dispatching the two of them. But this was more than just a group of friends getting together; it was an interview. I had questions for Brandie — how was it being the voice of 9-1-1? Being married to one of the deputies you sent into dangerous situations? How did you handle the emotional toll this must have taken?
Brandie became a Police Explorer at 15 then at 17 a dispatch intern in Longmont, Colorado. A year later she was hired on at Park County and then, for most of her career, in Jefferson County. Most calls over the years were pretty routine. People reporting an accident, a break-in, their neighbor’s noisy dog, kid, party, etc. But then there were the calls that left an indelible mark on the psyche — an officer down, kids screaming, a wife crying over her husband’s body as she begs for him to stay with her.
When asked how she handled the emotional trauma, she says, “You try tucking it away and try not to remember.”
But how do you tuck it away? Brandie said the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office was extremely supportive and encouraged the dispatchers and deputies to talk with available counselors. That encouragement helped to destigmatize reaching out for mental health assistance, something Brandie needed when her colleague Sergeant Sean Renfro was killed in a traffic accident on Hwy. 285 in 2015. The words of the state trooper — “He has blood all over his face” — kept running through her mind.”
To this day, she still can’t pass an intersection where a teenage driver caused an accident that killed several of the teenage passengers — she can hear their screams as their friends were dying.
Or when you recognize the voice on the other end of the phone — listening and getting help for your husband’s dying friend as he suffered a heart attack, calming the wife and encouraging her to begin CPR.
Sitting in the command center during the Columbine school shooting — a horrifying tragedy that was followed by months of residents calling dispatch and spewing vitriol at how emergency personnel had responded — all while trying to treat the community with professionalism.
These things are what stick in your mind and scar your heart. How do you move on?
Perhaps it was the laughter that kept her going. Her favorite call over those 28 years was the elderly gentleman who was a bit lonely. He called in to 9-1-1 and sang an original song to Brandie — the “Butterbean Song.” It’s a call she still listens to when she feels nostalgic and needs a smile.
Sometimes it was having resolution to a call. It’s something that rarely happened, but on one memorable occasion it did. Brandie coached two different women through the delivery of their babies. One family was so grateful, they invited Brandie to the baby’s first birthday party, which she gladly attended.
Maybe it helped that she had Mitch to go to at the end of her shift. Someone with firsthand knowledge of the calls she used to get. When asked about how she felt dispatching her spouse into a dangerous situation, she was very pragmatic. During a shift, he was not her husband but a deputy who deserved the same level of professionalism and help that any other deputy received.
Brandie managed to keep her sanity during 28 years of dispatching, and however she did it, she did it beautifully.
We thank her for her professionalism, for her empathy, and for her service. And we thank her for the laughter through the tears.
To hear the full interview - and get a few laughs - you can listen below.
- Brandie and Mitch Puraty
- BAA fireside interview