Sunday, August 7, 2016

"Bringing Out the Dead" by Joe Connelly

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"Saving someone's life is like falling in love: the best drug in the world." Frank Pierce, a paramedic working in New York City's Hell's Kitchen, knows that high also comes with crushing lows. The best he can hope for is his patients surviving the journey to Our Lady of Mercy Hospital, the place he and even its own staff refer to as Misery. He's (literally) haunted by a young girl whose life he couldn't save. Frank, on the verge of losing his job, agrees to work a 72-hour marathon shift.

The shift begins with Frank and his partner Larry responding to a cardiac arrest call. Frank unexpectedly finds himself taken by the victim's ex-junkie daughter Mary. But don't be fooled into thinking this is a love story, at least a traditional one. Larry's primary interests are food and "the true love of his life," which isn't his wife or even his job with the city; it's his membership in the Bayville Volunteer Fire Department.

Next, Frank works with Marcus, an African-American from the city's first paramedic class. Marcus is best known for his so-called "Narcan revivals," a spectacle worthy of Broadway. He's aware that Frank is burnt-out and maybe more than a little crazy, but isn't perturbed by it, at least not to the degree that Larry is.

Frank's third and final partner is Tom, who broke Frank in as a trainee. Tom, like many in the first generation of paramedics, earned his stripes as a medic on the battlefields of Vietnam. He practices a special kind of "psychological first aid" and nobody in their right mind wants to ride with him. Fortunately, Frank's not in his right mind.

A troublesome homeless man named Noel, chronic caller Mr. Oh, ER physician Dr. Hazmat, and less-than-warm-and-fuzzy Triage Nurse Constance round out the cast of characters.

I've read a lot of books in my life and this ranks high on my list of all-time favorites. My familiarity with the world of medicine has a lot to do with it, I'm sure. The details of the calls and patients' conditions are spot-on, which is no surprise when you find out the author himself is a former New York City medic. It's pitch-dark, packed with gallows humor, and yet has a true heart and soul. Ride along on this breakneck, life-and-death journey through the underbelly of the city that never sleeps.

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