Marianne Paiva grew up in Orland where she worked from 1993 to 1997 first as an emergency medical technician and, in the last two years, as a paramedic serving Glenn County and Chico. Now a Chico resident, and a former Northstate Voices columnist, Paiva teaches sociology and has done extensive field research on paramedics. She is also a gifted writer, and the experiences she relates grip the reader with unforgettable, brutal images.
Those stories are contained in "Breathe: Essays From a Recovering Paramedic" ($14.95 in paperback from Memoir Books), available online at www.mariannepaiva.com and in Chico at Lyon Books.
Paiva will be signing copies of "Breathe" tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. at Bella Day Spa, 15 Williamsburg Lane.
"In paramedic school they never teach you how to treat a patient who has tried to commit suicide by slitting his own throat," she writes. "They teach you to bandage a stab wound, a sucking chest wound, a slice on the arm. They tell you how to splint a fractured femur and how to help a baby breathe again, but they never tell you how to bandage a throat that has been slit from ear to ear. I think somewhere, they assume that the person will be dead and there will be no need for bandages." In part, because of the work of Paiva and her teammate, the patient (they are always patients, never victims) survived.
There are other stories where the outcome is far different. Paiva captures the moment-by-moment urgency in the mind of the paramedic: "What do I do now?" Sometimes it is not enough. And sometimes there is that one call that calls an end to a career. "I am done, I realize. I am done. I can't take any more babies beaten and scalded with hot water. And mothers who extinguish cigarettes on their children and fathers who rape their sons and the people who cover it up. ... I can't take one more boy struck by a car on his way to school and my best friends being shot by their boyfriends."
Now, years later, "sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and wonder when the pager will go off." There are many who are grateful that, back then, it did.