Review: A Thousand Naked Strangers

A thousand naked strangers

 KEVIN Hazzard was a reporter with a comfortable life. Then, Sept 11 happened, and he was suddenly thinking about "all the things I hadn't done."

Listening to his soldier friends recount life-and-death experiences of war, Hazzard suddenly felt that his world was too safe, too routine. He wanted to test himself and see if he could handle the pressure of facing death in the face.

So, he became a paramedic.

Hazzard quickly tells the reader that he didn't do so because he had the noble thirst to save humankind from suffering.

I'm unconvinced, however, and believe that some tiny form of altruism was involved -- why else sign up for a low-paying job where you're shoved into situations where you could either a) end up killed? b) end up killing someone. This is alarming and depressing, but through this memoir I discovered that an emergency medical technician gets paid a few dollars more an hour than someone working in a fast food restaurant in the United States!

In what he described as a "rash decision", Hazzard signed up for emergency medical training and immediately had serious doubts. But stuck with it, he did, driven by the desire to see whether he could hack this intense life. And with clammy hands and a pounding heart, he became the crucial link between a person and the hospital a few months later at the age of 26.

Just a day in the job, Hazzard quickly realised that the scenarios painted in the classroom was ideal. Real life was far messier, frightening and heart-breaking.


Hazzard experienced situations that would make your jaw drop. Collecting body parts strewn across a highway after a terrible road accident, evaluating a too-ripe corpse and wondering whether it'll "blow". Working on a patient while his patient's father watches TV, more concerned about his son's cigarette stash than his life.

These were situations where one would veer from celebrating humanity's great potential to losing hope that our species even deserved to even crawl out of the muck.

Hazzard worked for Atlanta's prominent imposing hospital, Grady, and in the worst areas of Atlanta, and no night is the same.

One reason this memoir was so effective was Hazzard didn't just highlight the uplifting moments where he saved people's lives. He also highlighted the corruption and politics that not just cause paramedics to be fired, but risked the lives of patients and paramedics too.

One's reaction to all this contributed to a medic being “a tourist” (just there to collect the pay), “true believer” (a medic who loves what he does) or “killer” (a medic so burnt out he no longer cares if his charges lived or died).

Hazzard has a way of writing a scene so that it comes alive. Example: "Marty trails, careful not to step on any of the maggots, all of them tiny squiggling urns, fat with the remains of a man not yet dead."

You can almost smell the scene.

Is it any wonder that the highs and lows of a paramedic's life comes alive? Hazzard combines his nose for the news, his great writing style and experience as a medic in one of the toughest neighbourhoods one can be a medic in and the result is this electrifying memoir.

One of the best memoirs I've read!


Disclaimer: I received an ARC copy from NetGalley