Review: “A Thousand Naked Strangers” by Kevin Hazzard

Thumbs up for A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back by Kevin Hazzard. Nonfiction/Memoir.

Obviously, you shouldn’t read this if you are easily grossed out, or are offended by the mundanity of death. Before you think my reading tastes are horrifying, let me tell you: you have no idea. I know people whose reading tastes make even me—a novelist—want to back away slowly. Personally, I like knowing about everyday things, and sometimes everyday things involve, to steal a phrase from the author, piss and needles. If you would like to know a little more, rather than a little less, about the world, this would be a good book to read. It is short enough to read in one sitting, and the writing is excellent. And, despite some bodily fluids, it didn’t feel gratuitous.

According to Alan, EMS [Emergency Medical Services] is wild and imperfect. Just like our patients, it’s dangerous and a little mad and possibly contagious. Alan regards the job as a throwback to nineteenth-century house-call medicine—patients don’t come to us, he says, we go to them, and where and how we find them, well, that, too, is part of the story. Once in the field, we should expect no help; we’ll have no team of lab techs waiting for tissue samples or blood samples or stool samples. We’ll have a blood pressure cuff and a stethoscope. A wristwatch. A flashlight. We’ll have common sense and eight months of school. Alan promises that once we’re done with class, we’ll find EMS simple and uncluttered and intensely personal, because it’s one thing for a patient to die on a hospital bed beneath the glare of a thousand watts of fluorescent lighting, but it’s something else entirely for a man to die on his living room floor with his family looking on. And yet Alan believes the essence of EMS is not that a man has died here in so intimate and messy a setting. The essence of EMS is that we know we’ll be back tomorrow, because even from here—surrounded by the hysteria of an unexpected death—we’ll hear a baby coughing in the next room.

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