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When disaster strikes, we all assume the emergency services will be there to help. But standards and services offered vary from country to country. Australian paramedic Benjamin Gilmour has spent 15 years travelling the world and working alongside ambulance teams, learning how they cope with dangerous conditions and minimal budgets. From his humble beginnings in the Australian outback to negotiating the staff sauna in Iceland, via one or two drunken incidents, Paramédico is a selection of tales from his travels.

Although there are a few amusing anecdotes, it’s not really a personal memoir but more of a look at ambulance services around the world that Benjamin has spent time with. There are a couple of moments where he treads a fine line between objective and judgemental but I don’t think this is intentional. It’s just that maybe I was expecting more of a compassionate tone. Overall, it’s a fascinating book and incredibly enlightening reading.

We take it for granted that we can phone an emergency number and a paramedic will arrive and look after you, administering pre-hospital care and delivering you safely to doctors. The NHS might have its problems but overall it is an amazing service. Reading Paramédico really highlights how good we’ve got here in Britain. Benjamin didn’t get a chance to work with London’s finest, and instead spends time with a private company whose service was unprofessional.

“We only employ the dedicated ones,” he says, which I take to mean “those willing to do just about anything”. Indeed, few jobs outside the military are quite as competitive in Pakistan as Rescue 1122. An exceptionally rigorous recruitment process – including “phobia evaluation” where applicants are placed in deep underground holes and dangled by the feet from hundred-foot towers – has been designed to ensure only the toughest and most committed are selected.

The large section of the book is devoted to his time in Pakistan where he spent time with both a government funded service and that founded by Abdul Sattar Edhi, considered a hero to the poor. Whilst interesting, I did feel this section was a little overlong and unstructured. Oddly enough, the better stories were in the second half; Iceland, Venice, Hawaii and Mexico. His Icelandic colleagues might not have a lot of action but Benjamin is more concerned by the daily 5 o’clock sauna that he would really rather avoid. In Venice, the ambulances come by water but have to negotiate hide tides, gondoliers and impossible to navigate city streets. And the struggling service in Mexico might just put you off heading there on holiday…

Paramédico is published by The Friday Project and will be available in ebook and paperback formats from 11th October 2012. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review. There is also a documentary film following four of the paramedics featured in the book.

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  1. KarenSi

    Definitely sounds like my kind of book. Great review. I think I will pre-order it.

    Have you read Blood, sweat and tea? I vaguely remember you having read it but I could be wrong. If you haven't it's also worth reading.

    1. Ellie

      Blood Sweat and Tea is one oft favourite non-fiction books. My first thought when it dropped trough the door was that is was an international version, especially as it's the same publisher, but the writing is very different. I think I still have More Blood Sweat and Tea in my kindle to read though 🙂

    2. KarenSi

      The second one is good too. His frustrations about the organisation and cuts come across more though.

  2. Chinoiseries

    Living close to a hospital and a hospice means that I see a lot of ambulances pass by my house. I will never stop marveling at their speedy response.

    Paramedico sounds like a great project turned into a book and a fascinating read.

  3. Sophia

    I don't think everyone realises how very lucky we are in this country to have the NHS. I've spent a lot of time in Greek hospitals (as a relative, not a patient), and there's really no comparison. This is particularly true of paramedics, who here are highly trained and total heroes. In Greece, I've seen ambulance drivers handle an RTA casualty with no more care than a sack of potatoes. I guess it's no wonder this author feels judgemental at times if he sees things like that going on.

    1. Ellie

      Ah no, not that kind of judgemental, it was just odd moments that came across a bit sharp but not about the treatment of patients at all. Most the people he spent time with were doing the best they could with the resources they had (except the private English one).

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