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Nanaimo author recounts time as paramedic, struggles with PTSD in new book

John Reed’s debut novel is ‘Diesel, Blood and Smoke’
Nanaimo author John Reed recently released his debut novel, ‘Diesel, Blood and Smoke.’ (Photo courtesy Marly Reed)

Working as a paramedic took a toll on John Reed that lingers to this day and the Nanaimo resident recalls those experiences in his debut novel, Diesel, Blood and Smoke.

Reed, born in Nanaimo and raised in Ladysmith, joined the ambulance service in 2007 seeking fulfilment and a way to give back to the community. For the next three years he served as a paramedic primarily based on Vancouver Island, where aside from “the odd medical call” he was most commonly responding to accidents on the Trans-Canada Highway.

“Seeing some of the things involving families and children gave me some pretty bad PTSD that I didn’t address for many years even after stopping working for the ambulance service,” he said.

In late 2009 Reed’s paramedic career was halted when he was infected by the H1N1 virus and suffered a heat attack. He spent most of 2010 bedridden, forbidden from even watching exciting movies because he had to keep his heart rate down. It was during this time that Reed reevaluated his life and decided to make some major changes.

“I decided, as much as I loved being a paramedic and as much as it really did fulfil me, the lifestyle was starting to destroy me,” he said. “And so I wanted to heal from the person I had become and I knew that that lifestyle probably wasn’t going to enable me to move forward.”

Reed has since become a registered nurse with Island Health and is married with a one-year-old son. But while he says his life is “probably the happiest it’s ever been,” he still experiences post-traumatic stress. Reed said he turned to writing as a kind of therapy and so far it’s working.

“I had read a lot about how writing about PTSD can be really beneficial for helping you move forward and so that was originally one of the reasons why I wanted to write it is I want to keep healing,” he said. “And I thought if I can get these thoughts out on the paper and out of my head, then they can maybe stay out of my head.”

While Diesel, Blood and Smoke is a fictional story, Reed describes it as “fairly closely mirroring my life.” It follows a young man from Vancouver Island who abandons the “West Coast party lifestyle” to find meaning working as a paramedic, but then finds the high-adrenaline lifestyle is wreaking havoc on his personal life.

Although he initially wrote the book to help himself heal, Reed said he hopes readers will see some of themselves in it and feel motivated to overcome their own struggles.

“One of the goals from wanting to publish this was giving people in dark places a little more hope that there is light,” he said. “I truly believe that the darkness always passes if we just keep reaching for the light.”

Diesel, Blood and Smoke is available online from Amazon and in downtown Nanaimo at Well Read Books.

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