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Book Review: Molly, Mushrooms, & Mayhem

Did you hear the one about the pill-popper who puked on the paramedic? If not—meaning, your occupation is something other than EMS—then buy a copy of Molly, Mushrooms, & Mayhem by Jim Bollenbacher and have at it. You’ll get not one, but 32 stories about drug-induced illness or trauma. I know because I counted them. It wasn’t hard, given MM&M is only 87 pages long, or 97 pages if, like Amazon, you count blank pieces of paper.

But if you work in EMS, as most of you do, and have already seen enough substance abuse to make such anecdotes less than compelling, buy the book anyway. Bollenbacher is donating 100% of the profits to the First Responders Children’s Foundation, which makes the $11.98 retail price worthwhile.

Back to the content: MM&M is a collection of event-medicine vignettes that could be titled Naked Patients Behaving Badly. Most of the nakedness is stimulant-related, while most of the bad behavior is…also stimulant-related. That’s what happens when you mix barely regulated music festivals with free-flowing neurotransmitters.

Bollenbacher, a 60-something paramedic who specialized in outdoor venues after retiring from the legal world, lacks the high-volume 9-1-1 experience many of you have but not the enthusiasm some of us have lost. He’s learned enough in three years of practice to help educate the public about things EMS providers do. Those clinical pearls, italicized throughout his book, are simple explanations lay readers should find appealing.

However, most of you aren’t lay readers; plus, Bollenbacher’s reliance on copious body fluids as plot elements may not rivet an EMS audience. MM&M wants to be a Woodstock-inspired version of life and death on the streets—a popular genre, but one that needs fresh stories.

Speaking of stories, Bollenbacher tells fewer than half of them. The rest are credited to other EMTs and paramedics by first names only. Considering how easy it is for any of us to exaggerate our own accomplishments, it’s asking a lot of an audience to buy into second-hand narratives—especially when the telling of those tales is sometimes burdened by amateurish composition.

There’s also a bit of EMS ugliness in MM&M that I wouldn’t choose to broadcast to potential customers. Consider this paragraph from page 33:

“Not all patients are so cooperative and grateful for our care. Some are downright hostile, as my friend Sean reveals in the next story. In the beginning I had no tolerance for this behavior. While many of my views have changed, my compassion still runs pretty low for jerks. The good news is, like in a casino, the house always wins, and in the end patients get the medical care they need, even if they don’t want it. Often, some well-deserved karma comes with it.”

Those last two sentences are particularly troubling.

In my opinion, a truly worthwhile Bollenbacher book would be a comprehensive account of his professional choices and experiences as an end-stage paramedic: Why was he attracted to the law? What dissatisfiers led to a career change? What was it like going back to (medic) school at age 60? How helpful has his first career been to his second? What advice would he give to older adults considering EMS, and the reverse for those who’ve had enough of our industry and want to try something different?

As for Molly, Mushrooms, & Mayhem, consider it a gesture of thanks from the author for donating to a worthy cause.

Mike Rubin is a paramedic in Nashville and a member of EMS World’s editorial advisory board. Contact him at

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