A Thousand Naked Strangers : A Paramedic's Ten-year Journey to the Edge and Back
Overview - A former paramedic's visceral, poignant, and mordantly funny account of a decade spent on Atlanta's mean streets saving lives and connecting with the drama and occasional beauty that lies inside catastrophe. In the aftermath of 9/11 Kevin Hazzard felt that something was missing from his life--his days were too safe, too routine. Read more...
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More About A Thousand Naked Strangers by Kevin Hazzard
A former paramedic's visceral, poignant, and mordantly funny account of a decade spent on Atlanta's mean streets saving lives and connecting with the drama and occasional beauty that lies inside catastrophe.
In the aftermath of 9/11 Kevin Hazzard felt that something was missing from his life--his days were too safe, too routine. A failed salesman turned local reporter, he wanted to test himself, see how he might respond to pressure and danger. He signed up for emergency medical training and became, at age twenty-six, a newly minted EMT running calls in the worst sections of Atlanta. His life entered a different realm--one of blood, violence, and amazing grace.
Thoroughly intimidated at first and frequently terrified, he experienced on a nightly basis the adrenaline rush of walking into chaos. But in his downtime, Kevin reflected on how people's facades drop away when catastrophe strikes. As his hours on the job piled up, he realized he was beginning to see into the truth of things. There is no pretense five beats into a chest compression, or in an alley next to a crack den, or on a dimly lit highway where cars have collided. Eventually, what had at first seemed impossible happened: Kevin acquired mastery. And in the process he was able to discern the professional differences between his freewheeling peers, what marked each--as he termed them--as "a tourist," "true believer," or "killer."
Combining indelible scenes that remind us of life's fragile beauty with laugh-out-loud moments that keep us smiling through the worst, A Thousand Naked Strangers
is an absorbing read about one man's journey of self-discovery--a trip that also teaches us about ourselves.
Inside the ambulance
With an unsparing eye for all the details, Kevin Hazzard takes readers on a chaotic ride through a city’s crack houses and road carnage, a hospital’s turbulent mental health ward and still-smoldering scenes of domestic violence. In A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back, a gripping account of his 10 years “running” ambulance calls in Atlanta, Hazzard evolves from neophyte (terrified he might harm instead of help) to true believer (total professional) to burned-out paramedic wise enough to know it was time to quit.
There’s the patient who dies because medics allow him to walk to the ambulance instead of insisting he go on a stretcher. There’s the victim who loves his wife even though he ends up nailed to a wall (literally), and the baby born at a mere 23 weeks of gestation, whose beating heart is visible through his translucent skin. There’s this: Narcan really can raise the dead. And this: Firemen and medics can get in each other’s way.
Yet Hazzard is no gleeful voyeur; the respect he accords his patients and many—though not all—of his colleagues imparts a kind of honorable dignity to this work. “Lives are in the balance,” he says, “and it’s just us.” He admits his addiction to the adrenaline rush from an incoming call, senses when his empathy begins to feel more like apathy, and chooses to leave before he becomes what he calls a Killer, a medic indifferent to the fate of his patients.
Hazzard has been, in other words, just the kind of human being you hope would come to your rescue. His story may well inspire others to take a chance on this vital but often overlooked vocation.
This article was originally published in the January 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.