Friday, May 13, 2016

Nonfiction: A Thousand Naked Strangers by Kevin Hazzard

The full title of today's selection by Kevin Hazzard is A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic's Wild Ride to the Edge and Back. Reading the first part of the title without the second part creates a lot of curiosity. Reading the whole title together adds clarity, but the curiosity does not go away necessarily: it is still there, it just shifts slightly.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a nonfiction book about the life of a paramedic in a big city. Kevin Hazzard worked as a paramedic in Atlanta for ten years. From 2004 to 2013, Hazzard ran the calls that no one ever wants to make. A Thousand Naked Strangers begins with the story of the first person Hazzard saw die in front of him while on the job, and then continues to tell the story from the absolute beginning: his first day in class at EMT school. From here, the book chronicles his journey from EMT school, to his first job, to his second job; through the myriad of partners he will end up having in the back of the ambulance with him; to becoming a paramedic; to working at the legendary Grady Hospital in Atlanta; and finally to his ultimate decision of giving up the job for good. Quite naturally, since this is a book that details the author's time as an EMT, there are plenty of bloody and often gory bits as Hazzard describes some of his more gruesome calls, the kind that stay with you even after having done the job for ten years. But there is also plenty of  reflection on what causes someone to stick with being an EMT for so long, as well as becoming one on the first place, knowing what we know and what we have seen on TV. There are the odd hours; the even crazier shifts; the partner you may or may not like but have been forced to work with; dealing with the police; dealing with fire fighters; and then of course, the patients and the bystanders. Some people call 911 with a legitimate emergency, others do not. And even of the ones who do need emergency care, they may not want to accept it, and decide to fight the process the entire way. Hazzard has had to dodge knives, be ready to dodge bullets, and maneuver his way through unruly and agitated crowds. The job - and at certain points the book - is not for the faint of heart. 

My Verdict: Knowing that this book is about the life of a paramedic, it is understood that some of the stories are going to be gruesome and hard to digest. But even knowing that going in did not prepare me for some of the stories that would be presented, and that may be part of the point Hazzard is making. Because after all of his training, what he learned in school, and even after getting a few years under his belt, there were still situations he was not ready for, but had to go in and deal with anyway. It is a hard to digest book that gives the details where they are necessary, instead of shoving them down the reader's throat in an intentional effort to make you cringe and wince. People get hurt, some even die, and others are just in incredibly embarrassing situations. The "wild ride to the edge and back" may not be wild enough for some readers, but for me it was just enough.

Favorite Moment: When the city decides to run a drill involving multiple emergency services around town, but neglects to inform the ER staff of the closest hospital, the one that will receive the fake patients, that it is only a drill.

Recommended Reading: I actually recommend Dancing With the Devil in the City of God by Juliana Barbassa. It is another nonfiction book, but this time the author has decided to pick up and move to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. And some of what she finds there is almost as shocking and explicit as some of what Hazzard saw as a paramedic.  

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