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Bad Call: A Summer Job on a New York Ambulance


Bad Call: A Summer Job on a New York Ambulance

BAD CALL is a coming-of-age memoir about a Vanderbilt student’s years working as an ambulance attendant in the biggest borough of New York City, the one known for being the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world --- Queens.

It’s the late ’60s. Originally from Bayside, an upper-middle-class suburban neighborhood, Mike Scardino is smart enough to know that if he doesn’t pay for Vanderbilt now, he’s going to have to pay for it forever. That’s why, through his father’s friend, he accepts a job working on the ambulance for St. John’s Queens Hospital. His parents hope he will become a doctor, but his slipping grades and lack of interest prove otherwise, and he is well aware of his uncertain fate in the medical field. In fact, Scardino doesn’t want to go to Vanderbilt at all. He wishes he had gone to Queens College, but he met his girlfriend and soon-to-be wife there, so he stays and works to pay that hefty bill.

"...[a] memoir that is witty and fun, and gives us a glimpse into a world that takes more guts than we would’ve ever known."

Even though he’s not 21, Scardino lands the job, which, in the early ’60s, pays for a year of his college tuition and some pizza pies. In BAD CALL, New York City is described as the ninth circle of hell. Scardino and his colleagues navigate its labyrinth while in the ambulance, riding in and out of cars with sirens blaring, trying to save the city’s latest victim, and then bolting off to the next catastrophe. They work around the clock, only sleeping between calls, but still manage to save lives. They have seen it all and can stomach just about anything, even nine Nathan’s hot dogs in a row.

On one of Scardino’s first calls, a policeman gets third-degree burns on 18 percent of his body after an accident cooking outside. He is lucid when they arrive at the scene, and Scardino thinks he may be okay, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. Throughout the book, we get vignettes of tragedies. On one call, Scardino and his colleagues arrive at a fancy building in Forest Hills. Escorted by cops, they get to the apartment upstairs to find a little girl and her parents who say they have papers that will admit her to a psych ward. Scardino is confused. The girl looks like a miniature Disney princess, and even smiles. But when Scardino asks if she wants to go into the ambulance, her smile drops into a frown. They continue to try, and the smile starts up again, but it quickly turns into something creepy and Scardino thinks it’s good the parents called.

In yet another harrowing story, Scardino’s classmate from Vanderbilt is actually present, an upper crust kid who is in for the ride of his life. Scardino and his crew are called to pick up a woman who is the largest human he has ever seen. He knows that moving her will be a difficult task. She is also diabetic, and her legs are gangrenous. They can hardly fit her down the stairs, into the ambulance, or on the stretcher. They have to carry her on a body bag and use a skid to get her into the ambulance, but instead, she shoots down the stairs as if it’s a water slide. They rush to help her up, and she does get to the hospital safely. Scardino’s friend is so overwhelmed by the ordeal that he treats everyone to the Lemon Ice King.

On another call, Scardino encounters an Italian woman who hasn’t taken her pills. At first, it appears to be one of those unnecessary calls. She is old school and doesn’t want her neighbors seeing her go out in an ambulance. Like most Italian woman of her generation, she has pride, and anything even remotely negative should be hidden in the dark and never brought out into the light again. She does go into the ambulance, but not without a price. As they drive, she screams, “I AM THE VOICE OF JESUS CHRIST. IF YOU DO NOT LET THIS WOMAN OUT I GONNA MAKE ALL THESE TRACKS FALL DOWN AND KILL ALL A YOU.”

Scardino is admittedly scared, but the tracks don’t collapse, and he lives to write this memoir that is witty and fun, and gives us a glimpse into a world that takes more guts than we would’ve ever known.

Reviewed by Bianca Ambrosio on August 3, 2018

Bad Call: A Summer Job on a New York Ambulance
by Mike Scardino

  • Publication Date: July 17, 2018
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316469610
  • ISBN-13: 9780316469616