The Emergency

A Year of Healing and Heartbreak in a Chicago ER

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The riveting, pulse-pounding story of a year in the life of an emergency room through the eyes of one doctor trying to steer his patients through a crushing pandemic, a violent summer, and the collapse of the system meant to care for our most precious resource: our irreplaceable bodies

As an emergency room doctor, Thomas Fisher has about three minutes to spend with the patients who come into the South Side of Chicago ward where he works. Gunshot: three minutes. Untreated wound that becomes life-threatening: three minutes. Drug overdose: three minutes. He examines his patients inside and out, touches their bodies, comforts and consoles them, holds their hands, and listens to their deepest secrets. Like them, he grew up on the South Side; this is his community and he has sworn to do what he can to heal his neighbors. During a global pandemic, however, Dr. Fisher spends those precious minutes hidden behind a mask, negotiating distance, stalked by thespecter of a plague.

Dr. Fisher goes home at the end of a shift haunted by the confusion in the eyes of his patients. Who is this man treating them from behind a mask? How did they end up in the ER? Why do they have to wait so many hours to be treated? His colleagues are no less bewildered; young doctors and veteran administrators alike, they work day and night in a confounding system. So he begins writing letters to patients and colleagues—letters he will never send—explaining it all to them as best he can, as someone who has worked on policy in boardrooms and theWhite House, who has seen patients die in the ER and friends killed on the streets of Chicago. And as the year stretches on, the realities of theER come home to Dr. Fisher in a way he could never have imagined.

This is not only the story of a dramatic year in the life of a Chicago ER but a primer in health care we all need to understand. Full of heartbreaking stories, compelling personal narrative, and penetrating analysis, this is a page-turning and mind-opening work that offers a fresh vision of health care as a foundation of social justice.

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