January 17th, 2016

_A Thousand Naked Strangers_, Kevin Hazzard

Subtitled: A Paramedic's Wild Ride to the Edge and Back

Hazzard starts out a journalist, then writes a novel, then delivers newspapers for a while (ha!), goes to school to become an EMT, does that for a while, goes back to become a paramedic, and then works as a medic for Grady in Atlanta for a memorable decade plus.

I have a soft spot for a particular kind of grisly non-fiction book, and this one really hit the spot. Earlier examples included _Death in Grand Canyon_, _Dead Men Do Tell Tales_, and, of course, _Stiff_. While Hazzard's book shares a lot of grisly anatomy with those other books, Hazzard's book has some of the je ne sais quoi I would normally associate with something written for Outside magazine, possibly by Krakauer. And all of these books have a strong streak of human empathy, laced with morbid humor and a manic glee in being alive while all around one are the (nearly) dead or dying.

So if that sort of thing gives you the heebies, probably stay away.

Hazzard is believable, which is crucial if someone is telling you a bunch of stories ranging from death by broccoli (inhaled), through a lot of domestic violence, to delivering babies in unexpected locations. These stories are no fun at all if you start to suspect they are made up or even significantly exaggerated. At _no_ point in _any_ of these stories did my suspended disbelief even contemplate falling. I believed him.

Hazzard does an almost unnaturally good job of capturing a sense of what it was like to live through the various stages of education, clinical training, and then the years of experience. His depiction of _why_ he quit is particularly compelling. He ran out of adrenaline, basically: yawning in the middle of an immensely chaotic call, then talked it over with his wife, who we learn enough about through the book to really get a sense of how well she knew her husband, despite their separated lives. Work as an EMT or medic is incredibly low pay. Hazzard's wife made a lot more money, so their lifestyle was pretty widely separated from a typical person living off this job. Because his life is much closer to the middle of the middle, while his job had him spending so much time with people in much more dire circumstances, his voice is a sort of ideal walk-through narrator in a dystopia.

Atlanta is a huge part of the book, and the financial crisis plays a role as well. Hazzard touches briefly on the changes that the city underwent when it first grew from a regional city to an international city, and then when it gentrified more recently. This book could play a really useful role in an urban design and planning course, or a class focused on the depiction of the city in literature, or how various decades have played out in cities, etc. There's a ton of salient detail, presented in a rollicking adventure.

It was really interesting, tho, to read Hazzard use some of the same analogies I have thought about in the past. If you do this kind of job, it's because it's really _fun_ to be around all the madness. It's because you enjoy walking _towards_ the thing that everyone else is walking -- or running -- away from. I've never walked knee deep into the kind of morass he worked in, but I skirted around the outer edges of it a few times, at the WTO protests, taking a first responder course, sitting and talking to a couple of very large cops after someone called in a domestic I was involved in, redirecting a Crazy Person who had targeted the friend I was walking through Pioneer Square with (still bugs me I did this while 7 months pregnant and without even thinking about it at the time), and the disturbing number of times shots have been fired on the block I was then living on. I know I'm _not_ the kind of person to do this work (I walk _away_ from things). We're all very lucky that humanity includes people like Hazzard, and the wonderful people who cycle through EMS in Atlanta and elsewhere.