Thomas Fisher wears many hats in his new book, The Emergency: A Year of Healing and Heartbreak in a Chicago ER. He’s a writer, physician, and commentator. All in all, he blends the various roles well and creates a compelling narrative. But I found it more contemplative than pulse-pounding overall.
Part of the reason for the two distinct tones is Fisher’s chapter structure. Half of the chapters are a straightforward chronological narrative of an ER doctor’s days and nights during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Between these chapters, Fisher switches gears to an epistolary format. In these letters, he writes patients, colleagues, and his mom. They’re introspective inquiries into the state of US healthcare today. Often their tone is apologetic, and Fisher acknowledges his many frustrations. Interspersing these chapters makes the book less propulsive overall but also adds necessary and realistic details about the state of the world.
I’m always excited about a new medical memoir, and Fisher delivered here. He illustrates that the global pandemic changed most aspects of his life and his daily routine at work. If you’ve ever been frustrated about wearing a mask to the grocery store, hearing what medical professionals experience is a perspective worth reading.
Fisher also discusses the worldwide protests following George Floyd’s death in 2020. It’s an essential counterpoint to the pandemic. Together the topics bolster another facet of US healthcare—inequities in care for people of color and most patients at specific hospitals. The author is frustrated by the unequal healthcare and has spent his career fighting for a more equitable system. Addressing this makes his book an important choice among the recent books on this topic.
I recommend The Emergency if you enjoy books that tell a medical or social justice story. That this one combines both makes it doubly terrific.