"Man, I've seen, believe it or not, a head-on accident in the
parking lot of a Macy's sale. What do they have, those white sales,
is that what they have? The parking lot was completely barren
except these two cars that hit each other head on. This little old
lady and some other idiot. How do you do that? A barren parking lot
Completely empty, morning, nobody there, and somehow they managed
to hit each other head on. Well, it was just enough trauma to kill
her, you know? Barely any damage but, you know, a little old lady
driving a big car, a big old gnarly steering wheel and that's
enough to kill an elderly person and stuff ."
As they race to and from emergency calls, as they wait and
watch, and as they administer aid to the traumatized, paramedics
tell stories. Their tales disclose much about how they view their
own profession. Their duties are much more complex than the
dramatic portrayals that reach the living room via the television
screen. This book reports what really goes on behind the scenes.
The reader of Talking Trauma has a virtual front seat in the
Here the focus is not on the mechanics of the job but rather on
paramedics' work culture and their well-established storytelling
tradition. The stories they tell are cynical, flip, and
profane--the very antithesis of "heroic" in the romantic sense.
Their narratives evince an "anti-epic" quality that intentionally
trivializes the conventional immensities of pain and horror.
Paramedics present the gothic as "business as usual," and mainly
their stories are intended only for the ears of other
Their stories afford a shocking glimpse into a chaotic urban
underworld where prostitution, drug abuse, assault, and murder are
daily fare. Outsiders may expect their tales to be only about
horrific mutilation and death. However compelling such topics may
be to the layperson, the actual repertory is most often commentary
on personal experience and revelation of the "why" behind the
stories paramedics tell.
Talking Trauma provides an intimate look into a work culture
deliberately kept hidden from public view. It is not centered on
individuals the public may stereotype as streetwise, hardened
caregivers but upon the stories of self-presentation by which
paramedics structure past events to fit into their identity. This
fascinating book reveals how storytelling equips these
professionals to exert control over chaos and to withstand
encounters with suffering, death, and mayhem on a daily basis.
At the University of California, Los Angeles, Timothy R.
Tangherlini is an assistant professor in the Scandinavian Section
and affiliated with the Folklore and Mythology Program.
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