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.