Book Review: Black Flies
*I want to start off by stating that I don't know the Author. I looked at his picture in the back and it doesn't "ring any bells" I have no interest, financial or otherwise in this book, other then the fact that I worked through this period for Health & Hospitals as NYC*EMS and FDNY-EMS, after the takeover in 1996 I worked in the Bronx during most of this period but I did Overtime shifts in Harlem, Bellevue and elsewhere (all over the place) in the 5 boros. It might even be possible that I worked with the author, though I have no memory of it.
I saw this book in Barnes and Noble and after reading the subject material, bought it. It is set during my first 10 years "on the job" so I'm familiar. Also, much of what we all went through remains unwritten and who knows, I might have a book in me one day but Anyway...
Right before Graduating the EMS Academy, I remember one of my instructors, Ray Simons, saying " You will be a different person after working in this job for a year. What you see, say and do will stay with you." He was right then and remains right today (he is in our Counselling Services Unit -CSU after retiring) This is one of the many stories of that process of change.
Working the streets is a real "meat grinder" and in between dealing with your partners, the public, the supervisors and all the Overtime you're forced to work, both to make the financial nut and keep enough Ambulances - or Busses on the streets it can and does eat you up inside. There are many sights, sounds and smells you can never forget. Seeing Evil on the TV is one thing- dealing with it (and it's effects)up close and personal is a completely different thing! Cops, firemen and other "professional rescuers" all have this in differing ways. Many drink, fool around, work and focus way too much on the job to the detriment of their family, friends and most importantly, themselves. Burnout is a Bitch and occurs a Lot! Ever wonder why the Divorce rate is so hi? I don't.
You have to develop a "thicker skin", a sense of purpose that will allow you to function in the middle of Chaos, a professional (and detached) demeanor, get rid of whatever preconceived notions you've got and Focus. You also have to learn to Cope, to leave the job, at the job when you go home, to remember to relax and re-charge your "batteries" so things like Patience, Compassion Humor, Love and Friendship have a place in Your Life. Believe me when I tell you this: Keeping your Head on Straight is a full-time job! Otherwise Burnout is not only Likely, it's inevitable. At times, the turnover rate in my job was higher then Mc Donalds! Even now, after the city acknowledging and trying to change it; the average EMT only stays for 3 years, the Average Paramedic:5 years.
Many of the stories of job and descriptions of places feel right on and were similar to what I've gone through. The actual process I assume was changed for dramatic (or legal) reasons. As for Partners: there are as many "types" and flavors as there are people. I recognize some of the "types" he presented but as you go on, all of you change- I can tell you that some of the folks I didn't like or didn't like me when I first got there turned out to be Great Partners and Friends as a result of shared experiences. Attitude and Approach are Important. So's keeping a Sense of Humor. And B.S-ing in the After-hours clubs ,parking lots bars,night clubs and other spots with Partners, the cops, firemen etc...
There was a mini epidemic of job-related suicides during this period. The last incident was last year when someone killed himself outside of the EMS Academy. We have struggled with this mightily.
That all said; the book is dark, like the job can be but it is not at all an accurate reflection of the EMS that I've come to know. Then again, I've lasted 15 years and am still Positive ( I kind of feel like saying my experience isn't the norm and isn't necessarily what others will go through-"past performance doesn't guarantee future results") but I'm not the Poster child for "normalcy"- whatever that is and don't want to be either! A good, quick read but keep in mind that it IS a novel with the flavor of NYC*EMS- not a mirror. I look forward to reading something else by the Author. I also hope that if this was his experience- he's Happier now and has gained some Perspective with time.
Enough with the writing- I'm going to enjoy the rest of the afternoon and take a walk.