Sixteen short stories explore the urgent tensions of life and death in a rural hospital’s emergency room.
Although the stories and characters in emergency-medicine physician Green’s debut collection are fictional, he bases them on real experience, giving readers an insider’s look at a rural trauma ward. Unsurprisingly, several stories deal with loss, tragedy, and the difficulty of letting go. Others touch on misdiagnoses of character: a seemingly neglectful meth-head mother turns out to be a good Samaritan (“Saviors”); in “Family,” an alcoholic and annoying ER regular redeems himself by running off a threatening pill-seeker and becomes the hospital’s trusted security guard (“sometimes all a person needs is a chance to prove himself”). Big-city ERs are commonly the setting for medical dramas, so the particular challenges of an understaffed and remote emergency department will be less familiar to readers, and the stories exploring these particular challenges are among the collection’s strongest. “This is the only ER in town. I am the only ER doctor awake in the county right now,” writes the narrator (also called Dr. Green) in “The Crew.” He’s awakened at 2 a.m. for an incoming trauma: four teenagers dead or dying from a car accident on prom night. In the big city, a team of 20 specialists might be on hand; here, the trauma team is one doctor (himself), two nurses, and a respiratory tech. The title comes from a private joke—they call themselves “the crew that do,” which is “a quiet comfort in the middle of the night.” They need this comfort even more on this night; doing the math, Dr. Green realizes that there is a “one-in-fourteen chance that one of our kids was in that car.” It’s the paradoxical, poignant condition of their work that, to function well, they have become a tightknit family who can shut down their emotions—even if it could mean coding one of their own family members. Some stories veer beyond poignancy into the sentimental, however, as in “Transitions,” about a high-school athlete whose death motivates her team to win the state championship.
Well-written stories about keeping one’s head and humanity amid the rawness of emergency medicine.