In­spir­ing tales of am­bu­lance chases

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - John Zubrzy­cki

THE most re­cent Reader’s Di­gest list of Australia’s most trusted pro­fes­sions has paramedics in first place — for the sixth year run­ning. My cho­sen ca­reer, jour­nal­ism, ranks 40th — just ahead of taxi driv­ers, but one notch be­neath sex work­ers.

Read­ing through the pages of Paramedico, I sus­pect it’s a sim­i­lar story in Mex­ico, Pak­istan, South Africa or Ice­land — just a hand­ful of the coun­tries Syd­ney-based para­medic Ben Gil­mour ex­plores in this un­con­ven­tional and en­ter­tain­ing book.

Gil­mour has a writer’s eye for de­tail, con­text and pace which gives this story of life be­hind the wheel of an am­bu­lance; a sirens­blar­ing tex­ture that is at times funny, tragic and mor­bidly fas­ci­nat­ing. Who hasn’t seen an am­bu­lance part­ing peak-hour traf­fic on some swollen in­ner-city ar­te­rial and won­dered what ac­ci­dent, fire or night­club brawl it is speed­ing to?

Gil­mour be­gins his jour­ney as a 19-yearold ap­pren­tice para­medic in the out­back NSW town of Peak Hill, but it may as well be Timbuktu to most of us. In this oneam­bu­lance, one-hospi­tal bed back­wa­ter, so lit­tle hap­pens that the lo­cal green­gro­cer is able to re­cite in com­plete de­tail Gil­mour’s ev­ery move. On his first post­ing he breaks the bore­dom by driv­ing his am­bu­lance to the post of­fice twice a day to check if his mother has sent more gin­ger cake. His off­sider’s favourite pas­time is ‘‘ road kill pop­ping’’, which in­volves driv­ing his Ford over bloated car­casses to hear them pop un­der the chas­sis.

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