A Thousand Naked Strangers

A Thousand Naked Stangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back

by Kevin Hazzard

Overview: 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. A failed salesman turned local reporter, he wanted to test himself, see how he might respond to pressure and danger. 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. His life entered a different realm—one of blood, violence, and amazing grace.

Thoroughly intimidated at first and frequently terrified, he experienced on a nightly basis the adrenaline rush of walking into chaos. But in his downtime, Kevin reflected on how people’s facades drop away when catastrophe strikes. As his hours on the job piled up, he realized he was beginning to see into the truth of things. There is no pretense five beats into a chest compression, or in an alley next to a crack den, or on a dimly lit highway where cars have collided. Eventually, what had at first seemed impossible happened: Kevin acquired mastery. And in the process he was able to discern the professional differences between his freewheeling peers, what marked each—as he termed them—as “a tourist,” “true believer,” or “killer.”

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.

Deanna Boe (06/26/17): Obviously this title caught my attention while visiting my hometown in Iowa. The smaller print below the title, “A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge,” helped to explain the title. It was worth giving it a look and I did find it interesting. What is really ironic is the fact the author is working out of the largest hospital in Atlanta and yet I found the book here in Iowa. As we all know this hospital is especially known because it is located near some of the worst areas of Atlanta.

The author, Kevin Hazzard, decided after 9/11 that he needed to do something more important with his life besides working at a newspaper and delivering them. Contrary to many who enlisted in the military at that time, Kevin signed up for emergency medical training (EMT) and then became a paramedic for ambulances. He was 26 at the time. In short, it was a test to see just how well he could do under pressure and hazardous conditions. Kevin quickly learned it was not an easy job which left him often shocked and alarmed as to what he saw and what ambulance people have to deal with on a daily or nightly basis.

Kevin tells how difficult and downright horrible some of the cases are they had to pick up and take to Grady Hospital. He tells enough of the gruesome and somewhat gory details of his job to make you aware of just what an ambulance worker has to encounter; but saying that, the book is not just about details to shock you. He gives you the background for the classes he had to take and what they had to study. He mentions how difficult it is to find someone you enjoy working with while racing to and from their various calls. The turnover rate is so great that when you finally find someone you are compatible working with they unfortunately leave because they are simply burned out or have found this type of work is not what they thought it would be. But for Kevin he says: “Still, I love it here. Forget the booby traps and anonymous terrorists, the plastic bags full of piss and needles. Grady is the only place I want to be.”

Kevin does this for four years before he hits the “burn out” stage and knows he no longer has the right amount of empathy to deal with all the various cases they encounter. Throughout all of this his wife was busy working, had a baby, and does much of their family life on her own. She is supportive of him but when he tells her it is time to stop she is in agreement, time for them to live more of their lives together. Kevin was able to find himself throughout all of this and in so doing discovers the man he felt he should be - a writer. You will agree. He gives us enough background on the learning to be an EMT, Grady hospital, the cases he covered (including one that involved a man simply sitting in front of the hospital whose face was being eaten by maggots,) to people he worked with and why it was time to stop. It is obvious that his talent was not only caring for people but writing about them and his experiences. I will never look at ambulances again the same way as they speed quickly by. I will give them a silent thank you for their work, you will too.
Rating: ***+

Judy Stanton (09/15/16): Having worked at a public hospital in Miami and in Atlanta's health care systems and having been a patient at Grady, I thought I would find this book to be interesting and it certainly did not disappoint. It is truly amazing to me that anyone would want to be an EMT or medic and have to deal with the cases Hazzard did. Each chapter was an eye opener, with outrageous situations and bizarre circumstances that most people would shy away from. But, for a long time, despite working night shifts in Atlanta's worst neighborhoods and having a string of partners -- some great and some terrible-- he really loved what he was doing. We all ought to be very grateful that there are people who are not just willing and able, but enthusiastic about doing this very challenging job, because they are sorely needed. I was a little taken aback by the minimal training and low pay beginning EMTs got, at least back when he was going through this; it gives one pause to think your life might be in the hands of someone who is not very well educated or well paid. A very entertaining read, though not for the squeamish! Well written and fast paced.
Rating: ****

Gail Reid (06/01/16): Kevin Hazzard's account of his years as a medic on Grady Hospital's ambulance squad is at the same time darkly humorous and somewhat scary. For readers outside of Atlanta, Grady is the well-known trauma center in the heart of a large, densely populated area that covers much of the underbelly of the city. I liked Hazzard's portrayal of the relationships among ambulance workers, the life and death situations, the split second decisions, and the challenges of dealing with big city bureaucracy.

The fact that the author now lives in Los Angeles and writes for television also prompted me to read the book. Hazzard can certainly tell a story and I wonder how "A Thousand Naked Strangers" might play out on cable in the not-so-distant future.
Rating: ****

Anne Davis (03/27/16): As a nurse working in Atlanta with Seniors am very familiar with the Grady EMS teams. Found Hazzard's book a fascinating look into the challenges and rewards of working in our complicated healthcare system. His writing adds to the stories and his observations making a difficult subject and fast and enjoyable read.
Rating: ****

Linda Smither (03/22/16): Not a relaxing book! I was on the edge of my comfy arm chair “riding” around in a Grady ambulance “meeting” some of the worst people in the worst neighborhoods Atlanta has to offer. Yet, as we all know, this is also the opportunity that brings out the best in people. If you read this book you will never look at an ambulance the same way….. Four Stars!
Rating: ****

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