A Thousand Naked Strangers is a former paramedic’s account of his decade spent mostly working in a public hospital ambulance in Atlanta. While Hazzard does discuss some of the cases he encountered, this book is about his journey as a paramedic, connecting with others, and finding beauty in chaos.
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.
I will be honest that I was looking for something to satisfy my macabre curiosity. My expectation going into this book was that I would read about some of the gory and morbid details of Hazzard’s encounters. To some extent, this expectation was met. However, I will say that more pages are spent discussing his and his partner’s similar curiosities than actually describing cases.
I enjoyed Hazzard’s writing. I liked his matter-of-fact style and his dark humor. I think that to broach a topic like this book with those unfamiliar with the experience, a dry, sarcastic humor is the best approach. That being said, I can see how some people may find his tone irreverent. I have worked in health care a long time and understand Hazzard’s attitude and point of view. Essentially, an emotional distance is required when you see gruesome things and the worst of humanity on a regular basis. If this sounds like something that may offend or appall you, I would recommend steering clear of this book.
There was one thing that did bother me about this book. There were a few times that I was not sure if he was being critical of people whose lives he knew little about. For example, there were some comments about the size of someone that rubbed me the wrong way. However, I cannot say for sure if they were just his descriptions or judgements. Other than that, I think the book lacked a bit of emotional depth, which I mostly attribute to the fact that Hazzard is a journalist.
Overall, I enjoyed A Thousand Naked Strangers and would recommend it, mostly to those who have witnessed the dark sides of humanity. If you get queasy reading about blood, guts, and gore, this is a book you should skip.
A Thousand Naked Strangers
FOR SELECT AUDIENCE
Nonfiction – Memoir
January 5, 2016