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Book Review: A Medic’s Mind

A Medic’s Mind is a true and inspiring story of resiliency, tenacity, and hope inspired by a blog and podcast of the same name by Matthew Heneghan. The book begins on Valentine’s Day, 2017 and chronicles a two-year span ending on Valentine’s Day, 2019. Throughout the story it cleverly dips back into the past, unfolding the history of the life of the author, a man born in the U.K. who moved to Canada at a young age. Heneghan tells of growing up in an idyllic small town in British Columbia while longing to join the military and become a medic. His decision was cemented when he watched the Twin Towers crumble on 9/11.

Heneghan achieved his dream of becoming a medic in the Canadian armed forces, but as time went on he was challenged with a multitude of losses and early symptoms of PTSD. He transitioned to civilian paramedicine, only to add new layers of trauma over the existing layers he’d buried in his psyche. His illness was relentless, eventually leaving him jobless with the residual side effects of rampant PTSD and raging alcoholism.

When everything seemed hopeless, Heneghan was hit hard with a family tragedy, knocking him further into depression. At his lowest point he found himself needing to accept help or lose everything. Reluctantly, he embraced help.

Through a variety of supports, including blogging and podcasting (and a few serendipitous events), Heneghan was able to move toward a better place—a life that had the possibility of hope and purpose outside the EMS world. In a style all his own, literary and lyrical, Heneghan exemplifies that the road to recovery is an achievable path.

As a memoir this book has a wide appeal. However, in first responder circles this is a fascinating and, in many cases, relatable read. Heneghan is a master of description, a sort of Picasso with words. He paints a picture that includes all the senses, allowing readers to experience life as if they were him. Whether he’s outlining a call or recounting a nightmare, one can’t help but imagine they are right there, experiencing the same things.

This book highlights the job of a medic: the sweet elderly patients, the camaraderie of the profession, and the sometimes-irreverent humor. It also exposes the lows of a demanding career of self-sacrifice: the tragic calls, the emotionally draining situations, and the noxious patients. This book takes the reader through the entire gamut of what it means to be a first responder.

The emotional roller coaster of this book is unparalleled. It takes one from laugh-out-loud hilarity in one chapter to agonizing grief in the next. But regardless of the emotion, it connects on a visceral level.

This book would be of interest to anyone in an emergency field; however, it would also be a great read for anyone who enjoys memoirs in general. The writing stacks up to the best in the field, and the organization of the content is both easy to follow and genius at the same time. Like paramedicine itself, there are some intense and uncomfortable moments. The only caution would be if someone was either easily triggered or sensitive to strong language or traumatic situations. Although not gratuitous or excessive in nature, some description of trauma is necessary to the story.

This is a book that is hard to forget for several reasons: The writing is fantastic, the story is a triumph over adversity, and the subject matter is incredibly relatable and at times very funny. Heneghan’s writing is honest, raw, and inspiring. Without hesitation, I recommend A Medic’s Mind wholeheartedly.

Heather Down is a freelance writer who lives in Ontario, Canada. She loves all things book-related and is the host of the podcast After the Book Ends. Find her on social media at @afterthebookends.

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