“I did nothing to save the first person who died in front of me.” An inauspicious beginning to Kevin Hazzard’s decade-long career as an EMT, then paramedic in Atlanta’s mean streets, to say the least.
In the aftermath of 9/11 and at the age of 25, Kevin Hazzard found himself searching for a way to make a difference with his life. He abandoned his second of two back-to-back unfulfilling jobs and began training as an Emergency Medical Technician. “Our class begins in March and wraps in December, putting the education of an EMT – one of two people sent to save your life should the worst happen – at eight months.” A sobering thought. But then I learn that the second of the life-saving pair is a paramedic who has more autonomy with immediate treatment decisions and has undergone “an additional eighteen months of training.” A slightly less sobering thought.
Upon completion of his course- and fieldwork, Hazzard applied to Grady Hospital EMS, the crème-de-la-crème of metro-Atlanta medic postings. According to Hazzard, Grady medics are “the standard by which all medics . . . are measured.” He was rejected for lack of experience. He then tried various fire departments and Rural/Metro Ambulance which covered areas of Fulton County not serviced by the Grady folks. No luck. He finally landed his first job with FirstMed Ambulance, a semi-shady outfit which provided private ambulances for transport of the old and infirm to doctor’s appointments and hospitals.
It turns out that Hazzard’s response to his first dying patient was perfectly understandable, in fact even appropriate in the face of the patient’s DNR – Do Not Resuscitate order. When confronted with the elderly and/or terminally ill, first responders must determine if a DNR is in place, then treat (or not) accordingly. “Ostensibly, we’re here for the patient, but really all we care about is the DNR.” This thought stops me in my tracks. Of course the EMTs and paramedics would need this all important bit of info, but “all we care about”? Really? Callousness, or coping mechanism?
From here the ride gets riotous and bumpy in the best of ways, as Hazzard climbs the EMS ladder to Rural/Metro and finally to the coveted Grady EMS.
Hazzard pulls no punches, and if you’ve got a queasy stomach or are the least bit prissy about blood and bodily functions, I’d suggest you stop right here. His writing style is staccato-fast, raw and spontaneous, and he doesn’t hold back on the gore and gross-out factors. He’s also terribly blunt: “Disturbing as it may be, the . . . truth is that often enough the people showing up to your medical emergency do so because this was the only respectable job they could get with a GED and a clean driving record.” I learned this disconcerting fact before the end of the second chapter. Scatological humor (which I happen to dig – you may not) is also sprinkled liberally throughout; at one point he gives new meaning to the term “dirty bomb”.
Hazzard doesn’t avoid the fact that, in order to survive such an emotionally-charged career, many medics develop a seriously thick skin and morbid sense of humor. Some get off on the rush, the high of returning a patient from the dead. Still others are insolent and disrespectful, miserably inept or on the fast track to burn-out. But most manage to serve with kindness and conscience.
Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Scribner via Netgalley. I would like to thank the publisher for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.
One thought on “Kevin Hazzard’s A Thousand Naked Strangers”
I love books about people with careers that are very different than my own and am also particularly interested in science and medicine, so this is on my to-read list. I think I’ll probably be alright with the gory bits, since I’ve made it through some of Mary Roach’s books, but I’m not sure!