Joe Connelly on Anxiety

There’s a remarkable description of anxiety and it’s role in illness and medical trauma from Joe Connelly in his novel Bringing out the Dead. The novel is told in the first person by the main character, a paramedic in Manhattan in the 1980’s. Here’s the quote:

But shortly after they put me to work, I began to realize that my year of training was useful in less than ten percent of the calls, and saving someone’s life was a lot rarer than that. I made up for this by driving very fast, one call to another—at least I looked like a life saver—but as the years went by I grew to understand that my primary role was less about saving lives than about bearing witness. In many cases the damage was done long before I’d been called, and there was little I could do to reverse it. I was a grief mop, and much of my job was to remove, if even for a short time, the grief starter or grief product, and mop up whatever I could. Often it was enough tat I simply showed up. Most ailments are side effects of other problems: the fear of going mad, the anxiety of being alone among so many, the shortness of breath that always occurs after glimpsing your own death. Calling 911 is a fast and free way to be shown an order in the world much stronger than your own disorder. Within minutes, someone will show up at your door and ask if you need help, someone who has witnessed so many worse cases than your own and will gladly tell you this. When your angst pail is full, he’ll try and empty it.

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