When God Answers the Phone:

October 01, 2009 | Shawna Malvini

The emergency room was slammed. Ambulances rolled in one after another and patients were piling up at the front desk to check in. At the same time, Erika Rootvik, admitting clerk, was trying to implement a new standardized telephone script. Little did she know, the script would help save someone's life that night.

"I was feeling hurried and impatient as I answered yet another phone call with the standardized, ‘Good evening, emergency room admitting ... This is Erika. How may I help you?'" says Rootvik.

"The woman asked if Dr. Underhill was on duty that evening. When he wasn't, she replied with obvious disappointment. I asked if she wanted to leave him message, but she declined," Rootvik recalls. "Something about this woman's voice piqued my interest and so when I asked the scripted question, ‘Is there anything else I can do for you?' there was nothing scripted about it. I was asking with true sincerity."

Her response made time stand still in that small Emergency Room at Walla Walla General Hospital, "I just wanted to thank him for being such a good doctor to me. ... You see..." she said, "I won't be seeing him again, because I am ending my life tonight."

"Feeling like a bucket of ice water had been dumped on me, I sent out a quick prayer for guidance — ‘God help me. Walk me through this,'" says Rootvik. "I don't remember what I said to her. All I know is that I got her talking, and I told her that people care for her. I did not want her to hang up before I could get her information."

So Rootvik engaged the woman, who talked about how she felt alone and like a burden to her adult children who lived far away. "Meanwhile I was writing down her name and phone number from the caller identification," she says. "By some miraculous stroke of luck, Esther Davis, nursing supervisor, walked around the corner. I flagged her down and in her wonderfully calm and capable way, Esther went into action getting in touch with the crisis response team and other necessary services."

Rootvik is adamant divine intervention helped her in this situation. "I'm sure my words were not my own while I was on the phone with this woman," she says. "I stayed on the phone with her until I knew help was on its way.

"At first she had told me she did not want the crisis team to come out and talk to her, but toward the end of our conversation she was willing to accept help," Rootvik adds. "After almost 20 minutes on the phone, I handed her care over to trained crisis workers. It was hard to hang up, but it was clear to me God was in control of the situation, and I marveled at his mysterious and wonderful ways."