A Year of Healing and Heartbreak in a Chicago ER
The riveting, pulse-pounding story of a year in the life of an emergency room doctor trying to steer his patients and colleagues through a crushing pandemic and a violent summer, amidst a healthcare system that seems determined to leave them behind
“Gripping . . . eloquent . . . This book reminds us how permanently interesting our bodies are, especially when they go wrong.”—The New York Times
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Time
As an emergency room doctor working on the rapid evaluation unit, Dr. Thomas Fisher has about three minutes to spend with the patients who come into the South Side of Chicago ward where he works before directing them to the next stage of their care. Bleeding: three minutes. Untreated wound that becomes life-threatening: three minutes. Kidney failure: three minutes. He examines his patients inside and out, touches their bodies, comforts and consoles them, and holds their hands on what is often the worst day of their lives. Like them, he grew up on the South Side; this is his community and he grinds day in and day out to heal them.
Through twenty years of clinical practice, time as a White House fellow, and work as a healthcare entrepreneur, Dr. Fisher has seen firsthand how our country’s healthcare system can reflect the worst of society: treating the poor as expendable in order to provide top-notch care to a few. In The Emergency, Fisher brings us through his shift, as he works with limited time and resources to treat incoming patients. And when he goes home, he remains haunted by what he sees throughout his day. The brutal wait times, the disconnect between hospital executives and policymakers and the people they're supposed to serve, and the inaccessible solutions that could help his patients. To cope with the relentless onslaught exacerbated by the pandemic, Fisher begins writing letters to patients and colleagues—letters he will never send—explaining it all to them as best he can.
As fast-paced as an ER shift, The Emergency has all the elements that make doctors’ stories so compelling—the high stakes, the fascinating science and practice of medicine, the deep and fraught interactions between patients and doctors, the persistent contemplation of mortality. And, with the rare dual perspective of somebody who also has his hands deep in policy work, Fisher connects these human stories to the sometimes-cruel machinery of care. Beautifully written, vulnerable and deeply empathetic, The Emergency is a call for reform that offers a fresh vision of health care as a foundation of social justice.
In this riveting debut memoir, Fisher, an emergency room doctor at the University of Chicago Medical Center in the city's South Side, recounts his experiences during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic. Starting in February 2020, he documents daily life in the hospital during the initial surge of Covid-19 cases, offering fascinating details about abrupt changes in visitation policies, the complex process of donning and removing personal protective equipment, and how medical personnel dealt with short supplies of inhalers and other medical devices. In addition to tending to Covid-19 patients, Fisher treated victims of the South Side's notorious gun violence. Throughout, he eloquently captures the intensity of the situation "Standing near unmasked COVID patients," he writes, "feels like being in the room with someone holding a gun" and shares heartrending stories of victims, including a healthy 32-year-old woman who suffered a stroke as a result of the virus. In letters addressed to patients and family members, Fisher also reflects on growing up on the South Side in the 1980s and how the shooting death of a Black high school basketball star helped inspire his medical career, as well as spotlighting systemic racism within the U.S. health care system. The result is a powerful reckoning with racial injustice and a moving portrait of everyday heroism. Agent: Gloria Loomis, Watkins Loomis Agency.
Nonstop action in an ER doctor’s life in a south side Chicago hospital. It was a moving account of what that life entailed during the first year of Covid. I loved the letters he wrote to various patients he felt he had failed in some way. The letters served as a method to probe more deeply the issues faced by our broken healthcare system and Tom Fisher’s life experience within that system.