Canary in the Coal Mine: A Forgotten Rural Community, a Hidden Epidemic, and a Lone Doctor Battling for the Life, Health, and Soul of the People

Canary in the Coal Mine: A Forgotten Rural Community, a Hidden Epidemic, and a Lone Doctor Battling for the Life, Health, and Soul of the People

by Dr. William Cooke, Laura Ungar (With)


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One doctor’s courageous fight to save a small town from a silent epidemic that threatened the community’s future—and exposed a national health crisis.
When Dr. Will Cooke, an idealistic young physician just out of medical training, set up practice in the small rural community of Austin, Indiana, he had no idea that much of the town was being torn apart by poverty, addiction, and life-threatening illnesses. But he soon found himself at the crossroads of two unprecedented health-care disasters: a national opioid epidemic and the worst drug-fueled HIV outbreak ever seen in rural America.

Confronted with Austin’s hidden secrets, Dr. Cooke decided he had to do something about them. In taking up the fight for Austin’s people, however, he would have to battle some unanticipated foes: prejudice, political resistance, an entrenched bureaucracy—and the dark despair that threatened to overwhelm his own soul. : Canary in the Coal Mine is a gripping account of the transformation of a man and his adopted community, a compelling and ultimately hopeful read in the vein of Hillbilly Elegy, Dreamland, and Educated.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496446480
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date: 06/22/2021
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 197,784
Product dimensions: 8.40(w) x 5.80(h) x 1.10(d)

Table of Contents

Author's Note ix

Introduction: Forged by Fire 1

1 Welcome to Little Hazard 7

2 Blood and Tears 16

3 Too Close to Home 32

4 Sharks in the Water 42

5 Forsaken 53

6 Surrender in the Amazon 66

7 Lessons Not Learned 74

8 Scarlet Letters 87

9 Love versus Fear 97

10 The Law of Love 115

11 Voices 126

12 Any Positive Change 139

13 The Other Side of Hell 155

14 A Broken Ballerina 165

15 Undone 181

16 The Tragedy of Bias 193

17 Stubborn Roots 210

18 A More Excellent Way 221

19 Learning to Thrive 234

20 Golden Scars 250

Epilogue: Hope Revealed 264

What People are Saying About This

Jayne O'Donnell

You couldn’t find more authoritative tour guides of rural America than Dr. Cooke and Laura Ungar, who have lived and worked among its people—their people—for decades. The pair’s medical savvy and crackling prose can compete with the best out there. . . . This gripping, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful book is about far more than a tiny town and its hardscrabble people, many of whom were affected by one of the biggest HIV outbreaks in US history. It’s a look at where so much of America has been heading when so many others weren’t watching.

Jim Curran

I found this book to be an inspiring autobiography of how one committed physician truly made a difference in addressing an urgent public health problem through partnerships, persistence, and compassion.

Carrie Foote

A very powerful and immensely moving must-read for anyone working to end the syndemics of opioid use disorder, poverty, and the HIV/hepatitis C epidemics among people who inject drugs in rural America. . . . This book is a major contribution that challenges us to see the humanness in everyone and inspires us to care and work to end the suffering caused by the opioid crisis!

Dr. William l. Yarber

What a fantastic, inspiring, and informative book on how one person made the difference in leading a rural community from a devastating HIV outbreak and opioid addiction problem to a community of hope and healing. Dr. Will Cooke superbly tells the story of how he, the only physician in the community, guided a small rural town in southern Indiana to recovery by focusing on compassionate, person-centered care. This book is a must-read for all medical students and other health-care professionals. Once you start reading it, you won’t be able to stop.

David A. Fiellin

People who use drugs haven’t changed. What has changed is the way physicians and society have become more willing and able to see the humanity of people instead of only their disease and substance use. In his book Canary in the Coal Mine, Will Cooke reaches inward and articulates the steps of his change in a personal treatise of a family physician working to care for an onslaught of opioid injection–related HIV and hepatitis C infection in a small rural town. A black doctor in Chicago reminds Dr. Cooke that blacks have been in the midst of a heroin and HIV epidemic for years. Society was too ready to see this as a problem of “other” and embark on a drug war instead of a treatment war. Dr. Cooke’s care transforms to embrace the tenets of treatment and harm reduction that characterize the care of most diseases, and he articulates their application to mental health and addiction. Primary care serves as the de facto mental health and addiction treatment system in the US. Canary in the Coal Mine reminds us how woefully unprepared and under-resourced these front-line clinicians are. His book provides a wake-up call to the structural violence suffered by too many and should serve as a humanitarian roadmap to address these challenges.

Gabor Maté

From the first poignant vignette through many dramatic moments to its inspiringly compassionate conclusion, Dr. William Cooke’s book is a gripping medical chronicle infused with wisdom, science, and deep humanity.

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