Arts & Ent., BOOK REVIEW

Book Review: “Trauma Sponges: Dispatches from the Scarred Heart of Emergency Response” by Jeremy Norton

Somebody needs to mop up this blood.

You can’t just leave it on the carpet or floor or sidewalk or alley. There are teams who clean that sort of thing, and they need to be called. Someone should sweep up the glass, pick up the detritus of a calamity, and calm the family and the crowd that’s gathered. But first, there’s one thing that supersedes clean-up: as in the new book “Trauma Sponges” by Jeremy Norton, someone must soak up a tragedy.

There are days when he barely had time to catch a breath.

As a firefighter-EMT in Minneapolis for the last twenty-three years, Jeremy Norton’s endured 24-hour shifts that included back-to-back-to-back-to-back emergency calls. There were many days when he and his fellow emergency workers wished they were at the station, fast aslumber, rather than being at the scene of a crime, accident, fire, or death.

But when 9-1-1 is called, “someone has to respond.”

A response might mean that Norton and his crew fight fires. It perhaps means starting CPR on someone who’s near death, until the ambulance arrives to take over. He could be the breaker of bad news to a family, or the guy who saves a life and saves the day.

Firefighter-EMTs “are called,” he says, “when people are having the worst – sometimes the last – day of their lives.”

He hasn’t seen it all, but he’s seen a lot.

Norton was there when George Floyd was killed, and he has some strong words about racism within his workplace, and the system at large. He’s seen plenty of despair on the streets, and he writes with grace about the downtrodden people he meets. He muses on the pandemic, and his total inability to understand why other EMTs didn’t get vaccinated. 

And he writes about the end of life.

“Libraries have dozens of books and poems about the weight of a soul,” he says. “What is the weight of grief?”

If you’re an avid reader of true medicine books, you might be antsy to get to the bookstore now. Yes, you’re going to want to read “Trauma Sponges,” but you’ll want to know one thing.

There aren’t as many tales of real-life calls as you might be used to in other books.

Author Jeremy Norton includes some, but those kinds of tales are mostly relevantly incidental and used to illustrate a point, rather than as a feature. That doesn’t strip the excitement from this book at all – it means that the stories are there more purposefully. 

It also means that what you’ll read is more impactful, and will make you think. Norton’s side-stories on racism, sexism on the job, and life in general are as important as his words on health and well-being, and they might even save your life.

There is some repetition inside this book but it works to underscore what you find here. For readers who love true medicine books and for those who ponder life and death and what’s in between, “Trauma Sponges” will be totally absorbing.

c.2023, Univ. of Minnesota Press​​


352 pages