This is Kevin Hazzard’s memoir- he was a journalist, until 9-11, and then, he decided that he needed to work a job that gave more back to society. So, he decided to become an EMT and, eventually, a paramedic. This is the sometimes insane, sometimes touching, and, many times, yucky record of his ten years in that profession.
This book is exhausting- another one that I wouldn’t have picked up without the encouragement of my book club. To give you a bit of background about me, I go to a monthly book club meeting at a local brewery. The organizers tend to pick mainstream fiction or depressing non-fiction, which is okay, because it gets me to read things that I normally wouldn’t. As I read A Thousand Naked Strangers, I felt myself becoming jaded, just like Kevin was, to the gore, the horrors, the injuries, and the accidents. Frankly, I’m surprised that anyone is able to do this job- I know that I couldn’t.
A Thousand Naked Strangers invites the reader to examine their own mortality or, if not examine it, just remember it like a literary memento mori. Between the ridiculousness, bravery, and terror of the men and women who work as paramedics, I glanced into the nebulous space between the lines to read into my own possible future. Will something like that happen to me? Will these professionals ever burst into my home, scaring my pets and comforting my husband, saving me or declaring me dead? I don’t know… I don’t know! And that’s why I couldn’t decide if I hated this book or loved it, because I don’t want to be reminded of my own death. I want, like most other people, to pretend that I’m going to live forever when I know I’m not. A Thousand Naked Strangers doesn’t allow room for that.
Why Kevin decides to become an EMT: (his first day of class) “…Alan (the instructor) tells us, right out of the gate, if we’re not sure we can handle this, now is the time to leave. A couple of people laugh as though the mere suggestion is ridiculous, but I’m not one of them. I didn’t grow up wanting to be an EMT, nor do I know if I’ll like it. What I do know is I want to get hip-deep in things that matter.”pg 19 ebook. He certainly manages to do that.
Learning the ropes: “It’s all so new, so foreign, so much like that period of childhood- first or second grade, maybe- when you’re old enough to know you’re alive and one day will die, yet young enough to still believe that a thin vein of magic runs just beneath the surface. Everything crackles with the electric charge of wonder.” pgs 26-27 ebook. I still feel like that, most of the time.
Why Kevin stays: “Every word the radio breathes into the stale air of the station sets me on fire. EMS is the greatest show I’ve ever seen, except it’s not a show, it’s all real. No, it’s more than that- it’s reality distilled and boiled down to its essence. It’s life and (hopefully) death, and unlike the general public, I’m invited and allowed to wander freely amid the debris. So send me anything. I’m on a 911 ambulance. I’ll run whatever you’ve got.” pg 59 ebook At times, I had trouble connecting with this memoir. He almost felt too excited to be there… inviting disaster because he was going to be the one to pick up the pieces. I’ve never felt like that.
Why it’s so hard to read A Thousand Naked Strangers: “In a job where it’s possible to scoop up a stranger’s brain, it’s important to have levity. But after a while, I lose the ability to judge which stories to tell my friends and which go beyond the limits of good taste. Death cracks inside jokes that only we emergency workers- with our practical knowledge of the post-mortem human- will ever laugh at.” pg 90 ebook. That’s it- in a nutshell.
Finally, how Kevin’s job is sort of like everyone else’s: “Like a recurring dream, every working day holds the same frustrations, and the working days never change, they just stretch out for all eternity. For months I’ve wondered how it will end. Maybe I’ll reach my limit and quit.” pg 206 ebook I think, anyone who works a job for any amount of time, feels like this at some point or another. Kevin’s job was simply more intense and invited that type of introspection more quickly.
I can’t think of any read alikes quite like Hazzard’s unique memoir, but if you’re looking for non-fiction memoirs that include health issues or the medical profession, you may want to pick up Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan or Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart by James Doty, MD.
Thanks for reading!