Q&A with Eric Liddy, Sr.
No matter how long people have been in EMS, they never seem to get enough of swapping stories and reading about other medics' experiences--some funny, some sad, some so horrific they can only let go of the after-images by sharing them with others. In The E.R. Loading Dock, published in February 2009, Detroit medic Eric Liddy shares his own experiences, along with stories from medics around the country. More information is available on Eric's Facebook page.
What prompted you to write this book?
About 4 years ago, our Detroit Fire Department's EMS Honor Guard, of which I'm the deputy commander, went to the National EMS Memorial Service for the first time in our 3-year existence. When we got back, I wrote a one-page article for our union magazine, and it caught the attention of a published author in Providence, RI, who asked why I wasn't writing professionally. I had done some creative writing in high school, but hadn't thought much about it since. He and I began looking at the possibilities and came up with the idea of getting stories, not only from my experience, but from other medics. I put the idea out on a message board forum and got a lot of positive responses, so we formed a book committee and began collecting stories.
Why did you think these stories would be interesting to others in your profession, or were you looking for a wider audience?
I wrote it for both EMS and the general public. A lot of people know that the city of Detroit is known for its violence, but most of them don't know the full extent. There are providers in some areas of EMS who don't respond to rescue calls, or who work in rural areas with low call volume and don't see some of the things the rest of us see in the course of our careers. I particularly want the public to understand that we're part of public safety, just like fire and law enforcement, and that we also risk our lives doing what we do. The book includes some horrific memories, but there are also some funny things. We didn't cut or clean up the language, so it's a bit vulgar at times, but that's part of the job.
I understand you published the book yourself rather than going through a well-known agency. What did that involve?
A friend who had published his own material through Paladin Press explained that it can be extremely difficult to gain the attention of a publishing agency, and encouraged me to self-publish. Once I found a reputable self-publishing agency, which was Lulu Press (see Lulu.com) , I read through all of the how-to's and found it to be an extensive, lengthy process. This book took the better part of three years to compile and publish, but my thought is, if you feel strongly about getting your message out and you aren't able to gain the attention of a nationally recognized publishing house, then self-publishing is the way to go. In this case, the book proceeds are going to charity, so self-publishing means higher profitability on the book.
Tell us about the charities.
As we were going through the process, I began to realize how difficult it would be to cut quarterly checks to all of the people involved, so I suggested we choose a few charities to donate the money to. We came up with five: The National EMS Memorial Service, The American Cancer Society, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Multiple Sclerosis National Research Institute, and the Shriners' Children's Burn Centers. My ultimate goal is to see 10,000 books sold. If we can do that, I'll know we've made a real difference. On the other hand, I know that every dollar counts, no matter what charity it is.
What advice do you have for other potential EMS writers who have a story to tell?
If you think you have the ability to write, do it. Don't be afraid to put your thoughts on paper. If you're just writing about your entire career, that's great, but make sure you get your point across in a way that people will understand. For example, not everyone understands medical terminology, so you sometimes have to simplify it so readers know what you're talking about. My other advice for anyone who is writing down his or her story is to be careful that you don't violate any HIPAA laws, like including names or addresses without a person's express consent. We did a lot of reading through the HIPAA laws, and I even had to get permission to print my partners' names. These are my friends, and I wouldn't do anything to discredit them.
For me, the writing experience has been great. I've learned a lot and have learned to take constructive criticism better than I had in the past. I'm currently working on three more books: The next one will be a Part 2 to this one and will include more stories, with a section on humorous analogies for medical terminology. I'm also working on a book on the politics of emergency medical and fire services based on my own experience and, finally, I have a child who is developmentally disabled and mentally ill, and I want to write about what it's like to raise a mentally ill child.
EXCERPT FROM The E.R. Loading Dock
Shooting on Detroit's West Side
A few years back, I had probably one of the worst shootings in recent times in Detroit. My partner and I had just pulled back in front of Engine 59's quarters when a run on our MDT popped up. The run was for two adults dead in the basement of a house on fire. My partner and I made the assumption that this was drug related and responded to the run. What happened next would not only shock everyone within Detroit Fire Department, but went on to shock the nation.
As we arrived on Engine 59's fire scene, I grabbed our monitor and blue bag and proceeded towards the house. From my understanding the fire was knocked down, and by all outward appearances this was just another pronouncement. Man, was I ever wrong!
As I made my way to the front of house, members of Engine 59 rushed past me with what appeared to be a dead body on a backboard. I thought as they rushed past, "Why in hell are they bringing the dead bodies out? We're here to pronounce!" I turned to face the house and went to proceed when I suddenly heard screams from the back of my rig, "LIDDY! GET BACK HERE! YOUR PARTNER NEEDS YOU!"
I ran back to the rig and found my partner sitting there, with his jaw wide open...staring. I climbed into the back and saw first the feet (God, those are such tiny feet) then the torso. At that point I realized this was no dead adult, but a living child--all of nine years old. My jaw dropped to the floor for a brief moment. I looked at the little girl's face and realized she was conscious. My first words were, "Tony, pop a line in her while I change this trauma dressing!!!" My partner snapped out of it immediately, and we both went to work to save this child's life.
As I changed her trauma dressing, I realized that there was more than just a gunshot wound here. I saw a section of large bowel protruding from her left flank and then looked to the front...I could see her tiny left lung flapping up and down, her diaphragm and the top part of her liver, as well as a section of her ribs missing. As Tony started the IV, I wet down the dressings very well with sterile saline and immediately my eyes focused on this little girl's face. "Baby," I said, "who did this to you?"
She replied, "My Daddy...My Daddy killed us all!"
Stunned, I asked her to repeat what she said. When she did, I asked her if there were others that were shot in the house and she said yes…her brothers and sisters were all shot in the basement and her father set fire to the house and left. A moment later, she was unconscious. I had put her on oxygen and gathered her vital signs, called in a radio report to Sinai-Grace Hospital and hauled ass for the hospital.
Upon our arrival at Grace Hospital, the entire trauma team and the trauma surgeon on call, Dr. Atwal, met us in the trauma code room. Dr. Atwal immediately looked at her gunshot wounds and calmly said, "I can fix this." The entire room fell silent and focused on him, and I immediately replied, "What? You can fix her?!?" He said "Yes. It's not a problem. I can make her as good as new."
Because of our fast work and the entire trauma team and Dr. Atwal's actions, this little girl is alive today and a straight-A student. Lost were her brothers, one and three years old, and her 11-year-old sister--lost to senseless murders by a selfish father who did not want the responsibility of raising his children alone. Because I was able to gather information as to who shot her and her siblings and set the fire, the father was apprehended by Detroit police officers from the 6th Precinct by 0600 the following morning. It was also the day that I began smoking again.