A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic's Wild Ride to the Edge and Back
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
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.
complex, remembered—by those who remember it at all—as the spot where a toddler was killed by a stray bullet that passed through his bedroom wall. To the rear sits a long brick building that is rumored to have served as a dormitory for chain gangs working in South Atlanta. Other than that, there is the highway and nothing else. Crestview is monstrous. How many thousands have slowly slipped down the drain of life with bellies full of Crestview Jell-O is impossible to say. Most of the home’s
residents live and die anonymously; they are the toothless faces of Georgia’s poor and infirm. Jonathan and I step off the elevator. I’m immediately assaulted by the air, heavy with the stink of dirty diapers, reheated food, and unwashed bodies. We squeeze around a resident who stares but doesn’t move. He’s nothing but an open mouth, a vacant face. A geriatric still life in dirty pajamas. Down the hall, it only gets worse. Fish-eyed men in bathrobes stand frozen in corners; legless women roll
me. I turn. Chris has the camera in his hand, and he seems almost surprised. He looks at me, the body, the camera. Neither of us says a word, but the message is clear: We’ve spent so much time looking for carnage and taking pictures of oddities that the two have merged. He hasn’t taken a picture of the body, just the teeth—perfect and disembodied, lying in the road like a windup gag toy. What would we even do with such a picture? No time to think. Our radios light up again. Our lights flash red
transaction. The interrogation continues. “Did he live?” “Last I knew.” “What happened?” Before I can answer: “I bet you see some horrible things.” “I guess you do, too. I mean, you’ve seen me.” But he’s in no mood for jokes. “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen?” Again with this fucking question. There’s a line behind me, people who no doubt normally resent any delay not of their own making, though they, too, have forgotten their purchases and are leaning in to hear what I have to
what really surprised her was the way I took to the patients. “Remember Jane?” I laugh. Jane was a homeless woman, a crack whore, and a regular. Sabrina and I bumped into her one day while we were tailgating a Georgia Tech game and she was digging in the trash. Jane walked right up to me like we were old friends, even knew my wife’s name. “I could tell by the way she looked at you,” Sabrina says, “that you treated her with respect. You have a lot of good in you, and this job brought it out.”