I first saw it on the cart of recently returned books at the library where I work, the title calling out to me. Still, I wasn’t sure until the woman whoʼd just turned it in came back to the desk. “That book,” she said, “is gold. I laughed until I couldn’t breathe.”
So I checked it out. Where most people read humorous books as an occasional pick-me-up, I live on them. Comedy is my weakness, and this book overflows with it. Thatʼs not to say this is a joke-book – far from it. The full title is A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back by Kevin Hazzard. Itʼs a tiny peek into the chaos that is the everyday job of so many emergency responders, and while Hazzard jokes about the absurdities that routinely pop up (sometimes as a result of the unusual nature of the job, sometimes because of bureaucracy), the humor is often there to soften the blow. Ambulances show up when people are having the worst time of their lives, and the EMTs and paramedics inside are routinely confronted with things most of us would have trouble coping with. Lucky for us, Hazzard was a former journalist; already an expert on what the majority of readers can handle, and when to lighten the mood. That said, there are certain chapters that need no levity to lighten the darkness, but rather come straight out of a Monty Python sketch, such as the hilariously farcical nuclear emergency drill, or the memorable (and relatively harmless) episode involving a man, a nail-gun, and a declaration of unending love as strong as the wall he’d attached himself to.
The book begins as Hazzard contemplates leaving his aforementioned stint as a journalist, looking for something with a little more adrenaline. He signs up at EMT school, getting what he asked for and so much more. What follows is presented in the form of a series of short stories, each either about a standout call or a turning point in his career. The result is a mix of funny and poignant moments that leave you in awe of those dedicated professionals that risk life and limb to save everyone elseʼs, all for an astonishing low pay rate. Hazzard never asks you to feel sorry for him, nor does he ever descend into despair, even as he begins to burn out near the end. He just sheds light on an unusual, under-appreciated career.
Needless to say this book isnʼt for everyone, but if youʼve ever been curious about whatʼs going on inside the ambulances that sometimes silently drive down the interstate, sometimes fly by with sirens blazing, I can heartily recommend this book.
By Sara J. Ingle
Circulation Assistant at Mebane Public Library