“My Ambulance Education” is a good read, but is a bit heavy on the gore

“My Ambulance Edu-cation” by Joseph F. Clark, c. 2009, Firefly Books, $19.95, 254 pages.

  • Monday, June 22, 2009 10:46pm
  • Life

The Bookworm

“My Ambulance Edu-cation” by Joseph F. Clark, c. 2009, Firefly Books, $19.95, 254 pages.

Traffic was stalled for miles and so was your patience.

There was nothing you could do except pound the steering wheel and feel your blood pressure rise. But as soon as you got close to the red-and-blues, you felt a little bad for being angry.

There was an accident, of course. Cars were crunched, the median was ripped and it didn’t look good. You know, because – you couldn’t help it – you slowed down to take a peek.

Ambulance drivers hate that, says author Joseph F. Clark. In his new book “My Ambulance Education,” Clark writes about rubberneckers, MVAs, DOAs and time spent in the back of a speeding vehicle.

When he was 18 years old and heading for college, Joseph Clark, who had been considering a career as an emergency medical technician, figured being an EMT could at least pay for his education. He quickly learned that education would be found in the “ultimate double life” – student mistakes often get do-overs.

Not so in an ambulance.

Seven years later, Clark, burned-out and tired, chose his college major over the ambulance. He reasoned that an EMT career would help few but his degree could help many. Today, Clark studies the causes and treatments of stroke at the University of Cincinnati. But back then, he had stories.

“John Doe” is often the moniker given to a patient for whom no identity is known. But sometimes, gallows humor and mental coping mean that “Mr. Doe” gets a variety of names. In his first chapter, Clark describes how EMTs sometimes cope in the aftermath of horrific rescues.

Though the heightened ability to focus is desirable when working with an ambulance service, Clark says that EMTs have to learn to avoid tunnel vision. Not only can it impede the care of someone who needs it badly, but it can have its embarrassing consequences.

And speaking of embarrassing, there are people other than the ED who are listening to the radio when EMTs call in. To preserve privacy, the EMS – and, quite often, the FD – uses the alphabet as SOP when transmitting to the ER.

“My Ambulance Edu-cation” is a lot like that accident on the highway: you want to look, but you don’t want to see. That’s because this is a darn good memoir, but the graphically gruesome, stomach-clenching tales might mean trouble for delicate readers.

Clark doesn’t candy-coat anything and his stories are often blunt, yet respectful. He’s particularly gracious to colleagues in the fire and police departments and the emergency departments to which he transports patients. He’s happy to warn readers to buckle up, wear a helmet and pay attention. And in the end, Clark is honest about why he got out of the biz, but he clearly doesn’t regret his time spent in the back of a rig.

Despite the blood and guts (can I warn you enough?), I liked this book a whole lot and I think you will, too. So pick up a copy of “My Ambulance Education” and give it a look.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.

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