The 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 how vulnerable Black bodies could be.
This book reminds us how permanently interesting our bodies are, especially when they go wrong. Fisher’s account of his days is gripping. While reading, we are all, helplessly, medical voyeurs ... Fisher’s writing about his stream of patients is what gives this memoir its immediacy, its pulse ... His book derives its depth and tone from his arguments about the inequities of American health care. Fisher is moved, and infuriated, that so many African Americans die young because they lack access to decent insurance and treatment. His frustration, his outraged intelligence, is palpable on every page ... Fisher works out his aggravation by writing letters to some of his patients, explaining why he couldn’t spend more time with them, and why the health care system is so dismal for so many. These are long letters, and they appear in this book. I’m sorry to report that they don’t work; not really. The letters are a conceit, and they feel artificial, like exposition-filled movie dialogue ... Fisher remains a somewhat distant figure in The Emergency. He skips quickly through his own biography ... We don’t learn a lot about his private life now, either the small, earthy details or the things that seem to genuinely matter. What Fisher does provide is the best account I’ve read about working in a busy hospital during Covid ... Fisher locates beauty in a different part of the medical process.
Fisher’s deep commitment to these patients is evident. Each story becomes a window on the terrible inability of even his major medical facility to promptly and efficiently provide needed care. The reader may wonder why he doesn’t move on to another big-city hospital. Similar situations exist in all of their ERs, he writes. His intimate accounts of what goes on at Chicago will alarm anyone about the terrible state of America’s emergency medical care ... His book will give health policy makers much to consider about ways to improve care ... With a foreword by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Emergency is a moving, well-written account of American ER care and the disadvantaged that demands wide attention.
... one of the year’s best [memoirs], partly because it is the work of a physician describing, with a natural writer’s concision, craft and bluntness, his vulnerabilities. In harrowing ways, it is an account of a Chicago ER doctor not just saying what he would like to say to patients he treats but asking what he wished he had time to ask ... It is in the long nonfiction tradition of workplace exposes that describe...the way things work as they actually work ... Sometimes they’re muckraking; and sometimes they’re about process. Fisher’s book is more of the latter, with an opening line so haunting and immediate, you’re transported back two years ... The Emergency gathers into a furious indictment of not only his own workplace, but American health care, and its interlocking failures and racial inequities, too knotty to untangle ... the book itself, paradoxically, leaves you at times with an odd reassurance, that despite endemic problems, some of the people involved are doing their best.