Street medic stories

24 Sep 2014 01:03
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Excerpt from the introduction of my new book North American Street Medic History 1999—2004, due out this week from Katuah Medics Collective.

“I think we told too many stories. Although some of them helped to illustrate points in a way that straight lecture could not, some others were unnecessary… A couple of comments in the evaluations are in this same vein, although one person also listed 'Doc's anecdotes' as their favorite portion of the training.” — from critique of 2004 medic training by the co-trainer, Soph.[1]

Despite silences in our public history, medics are not known for our silence. We speak up in trainings and evaluations. We give testimony to hold public officials accountable. We produce widely-read hand-outs and public health messages. We question, critique, and debrief, and can't resist weaving yarns of the things we've witnessed. Medics tell stories.

Our best stories add intimacy to big events in history. Hundreds walked on the Selma to Montgomery marches which led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Only medics tell the story of caring for the feet of 600 people walking 60 miles in their Sunday best shoes — feet that ached, blistered, and were rubbed raw but kept walking. Stories in this book restore the physicality of sweat and bruises to civil unrest in our time.

Our most useful stories tell how things were done. All the protests in this book predate universal adoption of cell phones. You'd better believe we told stories about fundraising thousands to rent UHF radios and trunk repeaters, confusion over radio protocols (what the heck is a 10-9?), and cops jamming our signals. In this book you'll find stories about practical things like organizing a field clinic, caring for injuries from impact munitions, and reconciling after conflict.

Our worst stories are contemptuous stories we tell about being better than someone else. We sometimes let contempt for each other breed from the results of bad decisions or differences in protocols. There's credible evidence that at least one of our schisms was deliberately created by the FBI. That's not who I work for, so this book won't rehash medic drama. It will share some of our process of getting past it.

This book documents the social process of street medics emerging as an independent subculture, distinct from the campaigns we support. In the process, we learned from EMTs to be contemptuous of some of the protesters we turn out to support. This book encourages medics to foster closer ties with other protest organizations and healthcare professionals by showing how we are them, and they take risks for us.

I hope this book invites you into greater intimacy with people in moments of social unrest and equips you with greater preparedness for social upheaval. All medic methods of self-organization and protocols became convention because someone did something different in the past, it worked, and it entered our stories. These are some of the stories that built our flexibility, curiosity, and toolbox of practical skills. This book widens the audience.

1. Soph of Chicago Action Medical, personal communication, 2004.

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