“‘Yes. Do you?’
“‘It was an anticoagulant, Nijat. And maybe we are all going to hell.’
The Strange Happiness of the Emergency Medic
Chris Jones • Esquire • July 2009
Apprenticing aboard an ambulance with veteran paramedics.
“Before my first shift, I worked my way through the bags with a paramedic named Suzanne Noël. It was impossible to cover everything that might happen on a given shift—broken bones, strokes, childbirth, heart failure, brain injury, gunshot wounds, stab wounds, toxic shock—or where the drama might take place: in a bedroom, a bar, or a car upside down in a ditch. It's a job that requires a free kind of spirit, and like most paramedics I met, Suzanne was bright-eyed and quick to smile. ‘Seeing what we see, we know how lucky we are to be alive,’ she said.
“It was one of the great lessons of the truck. I expected to find a bunch of burnouts dragging through the graveyard shift, broken men and women who dipped into the blue bag so they might find sleep. But paramedics are a surprisingly sunny bunch. They understand that it's all so much randomness anyway, a cosmic confluence of vectors. One night, four kids got into a car and raced down the slushy streets until the driver lost control. The car spun like a roulette wheel before it was finally stopped by a streetlight. One kid, unlucky enough to have chosen the seat that ended up with the streetlight in it, suffered massive head injuries. The other three walked away. They knew the out-of-body feeling that follows the cheating of death, the feeling that every day between that day and their last will be a gift that so easily could have gone unopened. Paramedics know that feeling better than anyone, because they walk out of nightmares unscathed again and again. They know what a genuinely bad day really looks like, and they know that day will come for them, too, but today is not that day, and that knowledge alone was reason enough for Suzanne to smile.”
Earl Shorris • Harper’s • December 2011
On his deathbed, a longtime Harper’s contributor considers the state of ethics in America.
“Without ethics, politics has no limits. America broke the rules of living systems, and lost its balance. All the oxygen flowed to a smaller and smaller section of the body politic. The history is brief and unquestionable: close to toppling, the society momentarily pulled itself upright, and then became even less ethical, less balanced, more endangered than ever as a lawless financial system came back from death, and like a foolish patient after a heart bypass operation, continued in its old ways. With no ethical component to national politics, President Obama could deliver his 2011 State of the Union speech without ever mentioning the word ‘poverty,’ although one in every five American children lived in poverty. Without a commitment to Hutcheson’s idea of the greatest good, which is at the core of the original American philosophy in Jefferson’s drafting of the Declaration of Independence, this may no longer be the brilliant experiment. If happiness is for the few and it produces unemployment approaching that of the Great Depression, then the shadow of evening is here.