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Ask Me Why I Hurt: The Kids Nobody Wants and the Doctor Who Heals Them [Hardcover]

Randy Christensen M.D.

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Book Description

April 12 2011
The unforgettable inspiring memoir of one extraordinary doctor who is saving lives in a most unconventional way Ask Me Why I Hurt is the touching and revealing first-person account of the remarkable work of Dr. Randy Christensen. Trained as a pediatrician, he works not in a typical hospital setting but, rather, in a 38-foot Winnebago that has been refitted as a doctor’s office on wheels. His patients are the city’s homeless adolescents and children.

In the shadow of one affluent American city, Dr. Christensen has dedicated his life to caring for society's throwaway kids—the often-abused, unloved children who live on the streets without access to proper health care, all the while fending off constant threats from thugs, gangs, pimps, and other predators. With the Winnebago as his moveable medical center, Christensen and his team travel around the outskirts of Phoenix, attending to the children and teens who need him most.

With tenderness and humor, Dr. Christensen chronicles everything from the struggles of the van’s early beginnings, to the support system it became for the kids, and the ultimate recognition it has achieved over the years. Along with his immense professional challenges, he also describes the trials and joys he faces while raising a growing family with his wife Amy. By turns poignant, heartbreaking, and charming, Dr. Christensen's story is a gripping and rich memoir of his work and family, one of those rare books that stays with you long after you’ve turned the last page.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; 1 edition (April 12 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307718999
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307718990
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 2.7 x 24.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 454 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #769,304 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

“The story of Dr. Christensen’s care for homeless teenagers is heartbreaking, but it highlights the everyday tragedies and suffering happening in the shadows of our great country’s accomplishments. Dr. Christensen’s recounting of his work and the stories of his patients reminds us again and again that these are our children and that we must do better by them. This is a must-read for policymakers and anyone who cares about children’s health.”
—Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO, Harlem Children’s Zone

"Dr. Randy Christensen has provided us with a book that is proof positive that there are still heroes among us. These doctors, nurses and social workers labor tirelessly to look after some of our most vulnerable patients - homeless children. In this sensitive and moving portrayal of caring for those most in need, Christensen shows us that it is still possible to make a difference in the world, one patient at a time." 
—Lisa Sanders, M.D., author of the New York Times bestseller Every Patient Tells A Story, and New York Times Magazine "Diagnosis" Columnist

"This is a remarkable story of what it's like to be on the front lines of medical care for extremely disadvantaged kids.  Dr. Christensen brings to life the realities of America's forgotten and bypassed street youth who struggle to survive.  At the same time, this story is a powerful glimpse into the extraordinary work of doctors and nurses who have devoted their careers to caring for people who have no where else to turn." 
—Dr. Irwin Redlener, President and Co-Founder of the Children’s Health Fund
 
“Dr. Randy cares more about distressed kids than anyone I have met in 44 years of worldwide reporting.  His moving stories of treating runaways are both comical and heartbreaking.  He is a remarkable Doc!!!”
—Fred Francis, Senior Correspondent NBC News

“[An] inspiring account of a doctor who truly puts his patients’ needs first… With just the right blend of personal history, patient anecdotes, and relevent suggestions for health care improvement, Christensen’s memoir is an uplifting yet sobering read.”
Publishers Weekly

"In 2000, while working at Arizona's Phoenix Children's Hospital, Christensen asked to be assigned a daunting task—leading a mobile health-care unit aimed at serving homeless children. In the world of modern medicine, this was not the obvious way to climb the career ladder toward regular hours and a hefty salary. With a small group of passionately committed providers, Christensen turned this small community-service unit into an integral part of the urban medical landscape. Along the way, he struggled to balance the emotional and psychological demands of treating vulnerable children with the pressures placed on his marriage and family life. Ultimately, the children he encountered on the streets of Phoenix become the real subjects of his memoir, co-authored with journalist Denfield (Kill the Body, the Head Will Fall: A Closer Look at Women, Violence, and Aggression, 1997, etc.). Christensen’s many subjects include: Sugar, the pregnant young prostitute who found her way to new life; the abused and neglected young man who discovered love in a community home; and a mentally ill young woman whose tragic murder resulted in part from the bureaucratic tangles that prevented anyone from truly helping her. The title of the book comes from the bracelet worn by one patient who was unable to tell the story of the systematic abuse that left her homeless. The author provides numerous heart-rending stories, yet, for such a serious subject, the narrative is written with obvious joy and an impassioned optimism for what health-care providers and communities can achieve."
—Kirkus

About the Author

RANDY CHRISTENSEN, M.D., is a staff physician at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Since 2000, he has been the medical director of Crews’n Healthmobile, a mobile medical clinic that provides primary and comprehensive medical care to homeless children. Dr. Christensen has been the recipient of several awards for his work, including the CNN Heroes award and People Magazine’s “Heroes Among Us.” He lives in Phoenix with his wife, Amy, also a pediatrician, and their three children.

RENE DENFELD is the author of three books, including the international bestseller The New Victorians (1995) and has written for The New York Times Magazine, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Oregonian. A passionate advocate for the adoption of foster children, she lives in Portland, Oregon, with her three children, all adopted from foster care.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  63 reviews
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The boundless energy of Randy Christensen, M.D. March 11 2011
By N. B. Kennedy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I don't think I've ever read a book that made me feel more like a slug than this story of Dr. Randy Christensen and his work among homeless teens in a mobile medical clinic in Phoenix.

When his hospital begins to talk about founding a mobile medical van to reach homeless children, Dr. Christensen jumps at the chance to start the work. He motors around the bad parts of town aboard his converted Winnebago, battles skeptical medical and government bureaucracies and fundraises for grants and donations to keep the perpetually cash-strapped medical van going. He works at a camp for diabetic children and dutifully does his rounds at the hospital. He works from sunup to way past sundown, dragging his tired and hungry self home day after day, burdened by the sorrows he sees on the street.

What amazed me most was that Dr. Christensen came to his calling in his 30s, after he has finished his medical training, married and is starting his practice and a family. While your 30s can certainly be considered young, it is also the time of life when most of us have already immersed ourselves in our marginally meaningful lives and couldn't summon up the energy to do just one of the things Dr. Christensen does with his life. More power to him!

This is an inspiring story of one man's battles with the pull of the street, the intractability of the healthcare system and government safety nets that are failing his kids, and the daily challenges of a cutting edge medical mission. His stories of kids like Nicole, Sugar, Matt, Donald and Nizhoni will linger in your heart long after you've closed the book. The stories of their successes are inspiring, but the stories of lives that end in tragedy are equally heartwrenching.

Toward the end of the book, I began to feel sorry for the doctor's family, as his wife and three kids obviously took a back seat to his work. I could barely read the story of one of his wife's miscarriages and Dr. Christenson's near-fatal neglect. I'm glad I read to the end of the book, though, as on the tenth anniversary of the mobile clinic he seems to have realized that he needed to cut back and attend to his own family. Again, more power to Dr. Christensen!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant memoir demonstrates the need for health care reform March 4 2011
By Sharon E. Cathcart - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I've become a great fan of memoirs over time, particularly those about people who go about making a difference in the world around them. First-person accounts of the struggles that often come with doing the proverbial right thing are strengthening to me.

Randy Christensen, MD, has written just such a memoir. "Ask Me Why I Hurt" is the story of how he and a couple of colleagues start a mobile clinic to help the homeless youth of Phoenix, most of whom live in dire situations. Some of them are runaways, some of them are thrown out of their homes, some are victims of sexual and physical abuse. The range of illnesses runs from cockroaches embedded in ears to STDs to MRSA.

Christensen is, at first, determined not to become personally involved in his patients' cases, but he fails -- sometimes to the detriment of his own family life (miscarriages and family issues are discussed in the book, too). As he details the Catch-22 of trying to get long-term care for kids in need (e.g., they can't get Medic-Aid or similar assistance without ID, but can't get ID without a copy of an unobtainable birth certificate), Christensen ably demonstrated to me the need for true and comprehensive health care reform in this country.

Christensen's book was almost impossible to put down. He sheds light on the problems of youth homelessness in this country, and shares the story of some real heroes (for example, a pastor who takes in one of the homeless kids who has been so abused that he has brain damage, and the nurse practitioner whom many of the kids come to view as a mother figure).

Highly recommended for memoir fans and others with an interest in the subject matter.

(Review based on uncorrected advance proof.)
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Emotional Account July 27 2011
By VeraP - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
If you're tired of reading books with unrealistically happy endings, you definitely won't find many of those in Ask Me Why I Hurt. Dr. Christensen details the lives of homeless teenagers, and unfortunately, happy endings are hard to come by.

Dr. Christensen describes the work he does with the help of his crew - on the "Big Blue Bus" - with the homeless teens of Phoenix, Arizona. We also get glimpses into his personal life, but the book's focus is on the plight of these children and the effect of the difficult work he does on his family.

Dr. Christensen's writing is honest and candid, making this book all the more heartbreaking. He explores the lives of the teens, the events that led them to a life on the street, and how others can help make a difference. Ask Me Why I Hurt is not an easy read, but one that is very necessary in this day and age.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I wanted to put it down but I couldn't May 13 2011
By EJ - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This book is just a killer, and I mean that in the best way possible. In it, Dr. Randy Christensen describes the first decade in the development of a mobile medical center to care for homeless children in Phoenix, Arizona. The book is devastating but impossible to put down.

The story includes many aspects of the mobile medical center, from obtaining the initial funding, to staffing the van, to various and sundry logistical challenges. But most of all, the book is about the kids that Dr. Christensen meets in his work. Their stories are horrifying, touching, terribly sad, uplifting. The reader is well aware that not all of these stories will end well. But even one happy ending makes the work that Dr. Christensen does worthwhile.

The writing is by no means literary; rather, it is heartfelt. This does not take away from this page-turner of a book, which I finished in 2 days. And these stories need to be read, just as they needed to be told. This book is an absolutely inspiring read, though you may run the risk of feeling the need to go out and help someone when you are finished.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be Required Reading for Lawmakers March 25 2012
By DRob - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Ask Me Why I Hurt is the story of a clinic on wheels in Phoenix, AZ. Started by a young pediatrician, Randy Christensen and an experienced nurse practitioner, Jan Putnam, Christensen learns as he works, discovering that techniques and practices that are standard in clinical practice don't work on the streets where the patients don't have access to refrigeration for liquid medicine, electrical outlets for asthma breathing treatments, or even identification that would give them access to medical insurance.

Christensen's clinic serves the city's homeless adolescents and children, and the doctor soon learns that the needs of this populace are so great that the task of ever satisfying all of their medial needs is next to impossible in today's world. These are the forgotten victims of our society, cast out by their families and falling through the cracks of the safety net that is supposed to be offered by social services.

There are many tears in this book, kids who cannot be saved or, worse, the kids who come in for treatment once or twice and then are never seen again so their stories are never finished. But there are victories as well, Christensen and his staff savor these and realize that all of the long hours they put in are worth it.

It is books like this that make me feel that rather than jaunting off on overseas junkets for drop-in visits, lawmakers should be required to spend at least a week volunteering in these front line agencies so they can see the effect their policies have on the people who are trapped at the bottom end of the spectrum. Maybe when they view the dead body of a schizophrenic teen-aged girl who was horribly tortured by her father, they will rethink the policy that requires that adolescents must have identification before they can access mental health services-- how, exactly, is a child who has completely disassociated from her own identity supposed to obtain identification when she can't even tell anyone her real name or where she is from? Maybe when they look into the mouth of a 17-year-old boy who needs dentures because all of his teeth are shattered from years of abuse and decay, they will find ways to make sure that every child has access to regular dental care.

This is one of those books that will stay with me for a long time. It is a book that everyone should read, but sadly, the ones who need to know the most about the world of homeless adolescents probably won't.

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received from Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

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