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. 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.
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.
Being an EMT is a crazy job. It’s your duty to keep people alive long enough to get to the hospital. Sometimes they’re dead before you arrive at the scene. Other times it’s a spry-looking man complaining about a toothache. And sometimes you drive past the address you were given because the shooting hasn’t stopped yet.
Hazzard joined this world for ten years and takes us along for the ride. A word of warning for the squeamish – there’s a fair share of gore and gallows humor, and know that the nature of the job doesn’t lend itself to overflowing empathy. I didn’t bother me but I work in medicine so your mileage may vary.
The writing is good and the crazy stories are indeed batshit crazy. Hazzard gets at the soul of the job when he writes,
Medics don’t have to be heroic or tough or even good people. They simply have to enjoy the madness…. [It’s] a willingness to walk in unprotected when we clearly should walk away. A desire to take part but just as often to bear witness.
But mainly he does it
Because it’s fun.
I listened on audio and am so glad I did – Hazzard is a natural storyteller and George Newbern does an amazing job with the narration. He gets all the jokes, the pauses and nuances right on, to the point that I thought the author was reading his own work.
A Thousand Naked Strangers may not be for everyone but I really enjoyed it – a nice addition to my first responder memoir shelf.