Bentley’s second memoir (A License to Heal: Random Memories of an ER Doctor, 2014) tells his rags-to-riches story of overcoming poverty and abuse to become a doctor.
The author’s early life was brutal. Along with his older sisters and younger brother, he was raised by a mother who had problems with alcohol and turned to prostitution to make money. The kids got split up for a time when they were put in a home run by an uncaring headmistress. Things weren’t much better when they moved in with their father and were mistreated by their new stepmother, who favored her own children. According to Bentley, she sexually abused him on more than one occasion. He found the beginnings of his way out when he started helping his father at his pharmacy and took an interest in medicine (“I enjoyed the work and loved to learn. Soon, I was doing the work of a pharmacist, but for a lot less money”). The first two-thirds of the book talks about Bentley’s childhood, and the rest takes him from his college years to working as an emergency room doctor, with frequent diversions to talk about some enjoyable trips he took around the world. It’s an inspiring story, but Bentley doesn’t offer a lot of specifics. He doesn’t set scenes or even stick with one story for terribly long. He mentions a young woman named Gail he dated in college, relating how interesting she was and how they loved to talk. But he never shows readers a conversation between them or even reveals how they met. He also discusses how much of what his professors lectured about in college wasn’t applicable to the actual job of being a doctor. He writes that they insisted on teaching him the Krebs cycle but doesn’t explain what the cycle is, why it wasn’t applicable, or the kinds of things that a doctor needs to know in contrast. Bentley clearly has a lot to say, but what he puts in this account reads more like an outline than a fully realized memoir. The book could also use a good basic edit to excise the abundance of exclamation points and dashes.
While recounting turbulent events in a physician’s life, this book lacks vivid details.