Benjamin Gilmour's book "Paramedico" explores the lives of emergency responders in a variety of countries, an intriguing, blood-soaked concept with plenty of drama and a dash of wait-and-see boredom.
Gilmour, an author and filmmaker from Australia who also is a trained paramedic,
hopped from South Africa to the Philippines, to Thailand, Mexico and several other nations, where he spent time with various ambulance services to learn what works, what doesn't and what sets each apart from the others.
To no one's surprise, the life of a rescue worker in, say, impoverished, terror-ridden Pakistan, is quite different than that of his or her counterpart in calm, cool Iceland. The former is lucky if the ambulance contains basic medical equipment. The latter spends a lot of time in saunas.
In South Africa, many paramedics fear being infected with HIV as they aid the afflicted. Emergency responders in Venice, Italy, have to navigate canals, not merely streets. And Filipino paramedics often learn where they need to go by relying on radio news bulletins because, at least when Gilmour was in the country, there is no central emergency number.
Gilmour has a good sense of humor and a knack for spotting enlightening details. His descriptions of some of the emergency situations he encounters are vivid, and some of the men and women he meets are worth basing novels on. The best chapter is about Pakistan, where there is growing competition in the ambulance industry at a time when bombings and shootings provide plenty of work to go around.
Unfortunately, in the rush to pack as much as possible into this book, the writing suffered. "Paramedico" can be a tough, at times awkward, read, and it deserved stronger editing. The book, which comes out in the United States on Tuesday, is also linked to a documentary of the same name, so for those unwilling to slog through its pages, a visual rendition might be more appealing.
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