LIVING AND DYING IN BRICK CITY: An E.R. Doctor Returns Home. By Sampson Davis with Lisa Frazier-Page. Spiegel and Grau. 256 pages. $25.
Sampson Davis’ “Living and Dying in Brick City” draws in the reader with its detailed imagery, making him feel a part of the story instead of a bystander peering into this intimate world from the outside.
Davis does not come from privilege and seems a bit surprised that he has a parking space in the doctors’ lot, which is far from his poverty-stricken past yet right at its doorway. Perhaps this is why he is qualified to discuss the health care crisis in inner cities, using his city, Newark, N.J., as the setting.
The book opens with Davis discovering that one of his neighborhood idols, only four years his senior, died in the hospital from gunshot wounds. There is a sharp and swift realization that it might have been him had he allowed his brief incarceration in juvenile detention get the best of him. A life of crime would have been easy; death and destruction were a normal part of life.
Next he meets Legend, who does not resemble a stereotypical drug dealer. This encounter leads Davis to ponder why he managed to escape the neighborhood while others did not. He discusses the brutal statistics illustrating that, between 1976 and 2005, African-Americans, who make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population, constituted 47 percent of the people killed in the U.S.
He recalls the pregnant nurse who arrives dead at the hospital after her husband calls 911 numerous times, to no avail. The depth of pain is so thick that the reader’s tears just might flow.
His description of the 700-pound woman is offered with sensitivity. These are real people and he gives them the respect they are due, regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status.
“Living and Dying in Brick City” is less about the failures of the health care system and more a tapestry of compelling human stories. The emotions leap from the page. At the end of each chapter, there is a list of health care resources.
Davis sprinkles snippets of hope, inspiration, teamwork and success that provide some balance and perspective to the gritty emergency room experience. The reader follows an always modest Davis as he buys his first apartment, interacts with his girlfriend and rubs elbows with celebrities.
He is humble and respectful and often a bit embarrassed by his change in circumstance.
If nothing else, this book proves that with desire, hard work and a support system, people can rise above the grim realities of their difficult lives.
Reviewer Doretha Walker is an adjunct professor at the College of Charleston and assistant professor at South University.