The Weekender, July 19, 2019


1) “The First Responders” (Atavist, 41 minutes). Thanks to Megan McK. for sharing. 

John Moon wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what a paramedic was. Most people in America didn’t. Today the role is clearly defined: A paramedic is certified to practice advanced emergency medical care outside a hospital setting. They’re the people who shock hearts back into beating, insert breathing tubes into tracheas, and deliver pharmaceuticals intravenously whenever and wherever a patient is in need. Until the mid-1960s, however, the field of emergency medical services, or EMS, didn’t formally exist. Training was minimal; there were no regulations to abide by.

Emergency care was mostly a transportation industry, focused on getting patients to hospitals, and it was dominated by two groups: funeral homes and police departments. Call the local authorities for help and you’d likely get morticians in a hearse or cops in a paddy wagon. If you received any treatment en route to the hospital—and most likely you did not—it wouldn’t be very good. At best, one of the people helping may have taken a first-aid course. At worst, you’d ride alone in the back, hoping, if you were conscious, that you’d survive.

Standards for emergency care were so low that, in 1966, the federal government released a study reporting that a person was more likely to die from a highway accident in Kansas than from a gunshot wound in Vietnam. In a Southeast Asian rice paddy, a soldier could at least expect a medic to arrive and provide care where he’d fallen. An IV, bandages, pain meds—you could get them in the jungle, but not in an American city. Certainly not in a place like Pittsburgh, where the police ran the ambulance service and where calls to improve it, or to offer an alternative, had long been ignored. It took a very public death to open the door for change.

2) “And Then There Was One: Three People Lived in This Village Until Two Were Murdered.” (New York Times, 6 minutes, July 2019). The subhead: “Thirty years ago, 200 people lived in the Moldovan village of Dobrusa. But most have since left or died. After a twin killing in February, there’s only one survivor still standing.” It’s a short article but has a ton of great photos. Thanks to reader Raye C. for the suggestion!


3) The Now I Know Week in Review:

MondayWhy Isn’t This Tennis Ball Bouncing?: The mystery at the Australian Open.

TuesdayThe Elephant With Empathy?: A bad story which turns into a nice story.

WednesdayThe $91-Per-Square-Foot Very Tiny Estate: The story of a bad investment.

Thursday: Fandemonium: Why South Korea has advisories about oscillating fans. 

4) “When You Die, I’ll Be There to Take Your Stuff” (Narratively, 11 minutes plus lots of photos, September 2016)

We park the box truck in the dead man’s yard like a six-ton hearse and knock on the front door. A disheveled middle-aged woman answers, still in her pajamas.

“I forgot you were coming,” she says, leaning out the door to see the truck. Emblazoned on the side: William J. Jenack: Estate Appraisers & Auctioneers.

“I’m a mess,” she says. “My mother’s dying.”

We ask if she wants us to come back another time.

“No, please come in.”

She’s been living in the dead man’s house for the last two years, a white Victorian-style home with blue shutters and ivy reaching up the side. She’d known the dead man, Stanley, her whole life. He was on Broadway and she used to sit in the garden as a little girl and watch him sing show tunes. Before he passed, she promised to take care of his home, which is decorated like Stanley’s still around. His photos hang on the wall; open songbooks are displayed on the piano.

5) “The women who win hundreds of sweepstakes per year” (The Hustle, 7 minutes, July 2019). The subhead: “Winning online sweepstakes is supposedly an act of pure luck — but some contestants claim to have it down to a science.”

Have a great weekend!