After 9/11, Kevin Hazzard, who had graduated from the Citadel but hadn’t gone into military service, decided he wanted to try a job that would test him. He’d been a reporter and written a novel put out by “a tiny publisher.” One day he was “poking around the internet” and by that night he was enrolled in an EMT program. That led to a year of work as an EMT and then to longer and more in-depth training to be a paramedic.
In A Thousand Naked Strangers, he shares some experiences from the nine years he worked out of an ambulance, going to homes, abandoned buildings, the projects, car accident scenes, and so on in the least desirable areas around Atlanta. It’s not for the faint of heart: he talks about a brain atop a car and a man with a face covered in maggots, for instance. He deals with shootings, stabbings, drug overdoses and the regulars who are seriously mentally ill. But there are still plenty of headaches, backaches, asthma attacks, minor calls. There are even people faking suicide.
Hazzard makes clear that it’s the type of job that has high turnover and quick burnout. “The long days and longer nights, the missed holidays, the missed birthdays, it all starts to add up.” EMTs may make $11 an hour — “about what people make at Starbucks. How many baristas are bled on or puked on or asked to save a life?” So many move on, a few “stay forever. Most who stay love it.” But others who can’t get a different job for whatever reasons end up as “Killers.” There are “Tourists” who try it out and “True Believers.” Those who stay for much time at all, like Hazzard, or who go back after being away a while, may enjoy the medicine, but Hazzard says it’s really “the madness” that they’re in it for, the unexpectedness, the feel that it’s outside of the routine the rest of us take for granted.
For those of us outside the profession who enjoy getting a safe peek at different kinds of lives and experiences, Hazzard’s book gives us that window into the world of being an EMT or paramedic. It’s interesting, revealing, a little crazy, a bit what you’d expect in an overview of those who go out seeking the unexpected.
Rated: High. There are probably 40 or more uses of strong language, at least. There are some detailed descriptions of bodies and body parts that are no longer in their correct places. There’s evidence of the negative results of drug use. There are a number of crude sexual references.