A riveting personal exploration of the healthcare crisis facing inner-city communities, written by an emergency room physician who grew up in the very neighborhood he is now serving
Sampson Davis is best known as one of three friends from inner-city Newark who made a pact in high school to become doctors. Their book The Pact and their work through the Three Doctors Foundation have inspired countless young men and women to strive for goals they otherwise would not have dreamed they could attain. In this book, Dr. Davis looks at the healthcare crisis in the inner city from a rare perspective: as a doctor who works on the front line of emergency medical care in the community where he grew up, and as a member of that community who has faced the same challenges as the people he treats every day. He also offers invaluable practical advice for those living in such communities, where conditions like asthma, heart disease, stroke, obesity, and AIDS are disproportionately endemic.
Dr. Davis’s sister, a drug addict, died of AIDS; his brother is now paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair as a result of a bar fight; and he himself did time in juvenile detention—a wake-up call that changed his life. He recounts recognizing a young man who is brought to the E.R. with critical gunshot wounds as someone who was arrested with him when he was a teenager during a robbery gone bad; describes a patient whose case of sickle-cell anemia rouses an ethical dilemma; and explains the difficulty he has convincing his landlord and friend, an older woman, to go to the hospital for much-needed treatment. With empathy and hard-earned wisdom, Living and Dying in Brick City presents an urgent picture of medical care in our cities. It is an important resource guide for anyone at risk, anyone close to those at risk, and anyone who cares about the fate of our cities.
Praise for Living and Dying in Brick City
“A pull-no-punches look at health care from a seldom-heard sector . . . Living and Dying isn’t a sky-is-falling chronicle. It’s a real, gutsy view of a city hospital.”—Essence
“Gripping . . . a prescription to help kids dream bigger than their circumstances, from someone who really knows.”—People
“[Dr. Davis] is really a local hero. His story has inspired so many of our young people, and he’s got his finger on the pulse of what is a challenge in Newark, and frankly all across America. . . . I think his book is going to make a big impact.”—Cory Booker
“Some memoirs are heartfelt, some are informative and some are even important. Few, however, are all three. . . . As rare as it is for a book to be heartfelt, well written and inspirational, it’s even rarer for a critic to say that a book should be required reading. This ought to be included in high school curricula—for the kids in the suburbs who have no idea what life is like in the inner cities, and for the kids in the inner cities to know that there is a way out.”—The Star-Ledger
“Dramatic and powerful.”—New York Daily News
“This book just might save your life. Sampson Davis shares fascinating stories from the E.R. and addresses the inner-city health crisis. His book is an important investment in your most valuable resource: your health.”—Suze Orman, author of The Money Class
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying.…
—Marvin Gaye, 1971”
The name stopped me cold.
I knew a Don Moses. And I knew right away it had to be him.
I’d been in my residency for several months, but this was my first day on duty in the trauma unit at University Hospital, one of the training centers in Beth Israel’s network. I’d made it to the conference room early for the morning report, coffee cup in hand, my green scrubs and white lab coat spotless. The least I could do was look polished. There would be lots of gray hair and experience in the room, and I’d heard that these sessions could be brutal. Word was, the senior surgeons often challenged the medical actions taken the night before by their less-experienced colleagues, and they didn’t think twice about knocking an ill-prepared resident down to size. Fortunately for me, as a newbie I wasn’t on the hot seat. My plan was to lie low, watch, and learn. But I couldn’t take my eyes off the green chalkboard at the front of the room—and that name, in white chalk, crossed out, with a word written next to it in all caps: “DECEASED.”
It jumped out from the long list of patient names and data. The age seemed about right, thirty-one, just four years older than me. And he probably would have come to this hospital, since it was close to the old neighborhood. He’d been shot several times, had made it through surgery, and had been in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit. And then, that line through his name. My eyes froze there, my knees went weak, and I eased into my seat for the morning report. Suddenly, my cool began to melt. The cotton lab coat that I’d pulled on just moments earlier now felt like wool, and the once ice-cold conference room was starting to feel like a sauna.
We called him Snake. A decade had passed since I’d seen him dashing past me with the police on his heels one wild summer night. I’d lived across the street from the eight-story Dayton Street projects, one of Newark’s most notorious housing developments, and I hung out there practically every day. As a teenager, Snake had moved to the Seth Boyden projects, a short walk away. His fearless swagger and willingness to scrap with anybody who got in his way quickly earned him the respect of the toughest dudes around. The Dayton Street grammar school sat between the two housing projects, and from the time my friends and I were old enough to play outside alone, the schoolyard was our main hangout. We grew up playing hide-and-go-seek and shooting hoops there. Then, as teenagers, we’d sit on the concrete steps and pass the time listening to music, rapping, and talking about girls. I held a gun for the first time one summer night on that playground. I was seventeen. Snake, Duke, Manny, and I took turns passing around the cold, hard steel. It was Duke’s gun; he’d bought it off some kid on the street. Duke was the one who’d introduced us to Snake. Both were in their early twenties. The night Duke brought the gun to the yard, he and Snake took practice shots into the school’s metal door. Holding the nine-millimeter pistol was enough excitement for me. It just didn’t feel right blasting bullets through a schoolhouse door. But that night sealed our bond. The four of us became a team, with Manny and me as the eager-to-please little brothers.
We looked up to Snake. He was a mysterious dude, about five feet ten inches tall and two hundred pounds of solid muscle. He was smooth on his feet, although he moved through the neighborhood with a huge walking stick. His friends knew its real purpose: It would double as a whipping stick for the fools who dared to try to catch him off guard. He usually wore baseball caps to cover a patch of missing hair from a permanent scalp injury, which probably happened during a street fight. “Snake was always down to fight. But his allegiance was flighty at best. He’d scrap one-on-one against a neighborhood rival or battle with a group targeting another gang. But he’d sometimes do an about-face and attack guys I thought were his boys. You never knew what to expect from Snake or how far he would go. During battle, the dude seemed to have no emotions; he’d beat an opponent mercilessly, past the point where even a little bit of human empathy might have said, “That’s enough.” In that sense, he was a real warrior, and back then it felt good to be on Snake’s side. There was a fun part of him, too. He was the first to pull a prank or talk music and girls, but even then he never revealed much about himself. I sometimes saw him with his sister, but he never talked about his family or home life.
I don’t know whether Snake ever finished high school, but neither he nor Duke worked a real nine-to-five; they mostly hustled drugs and did odd jobs to keep cash and make themselves appear legitimate. The summer before my senior year in high school, the four of us were hanging out in the schoolyard one night as usual, when Duke came up with a moneymaking scheme to rob drug dealers. I knew it was wrong, but we wouldn’t be hurting anybody, I reasoned. They were just drug dealers. And something about the idea made me feel powerful and strong. At fifteen, Manny already had some prior arrests; he was game right away. Part of me was becoming as comfortable as my friends with this thug life, but there was another side of me, too.
As quiet as I’d kept it, I was also an honor student at University High School, where I’d become best friends with two other guys, Rameck and George. We’d ended up in some of the same classes and clicked right away because all three of us did well in school and still managed to be popular and cool. At the end of the previous school year, our junior year, George had talked Rameck and me into applying together to a scholarship program that would provide almost a full ride to college and medical school if we wanted to become doctors. None of us could have afforded college otherwise (even if the medical school part still seemed iffy for me), and so we’d taken the leap, sure of just one thing: Whatever we didn’t know we could figure out together. I hadn’t dared to mention any of those plans to Snake and the boys, though. They would have laughed me off the stoop: Marshall, going to college? Becoming a doctor? Who did I think I was? Some rich white dude or one of those Cosby kids on TV? Around my way, it was all about the here and now. Tomorrow wasn’t promised, and you did what you had to do today to survive.
For the moment, robbing drug dealers was the plan. What happened next seemed part of some bad dream—from us jumping out one night on the young Montclair drug boys to Snake and Duke brandishing the firepower to my patting down pockets and snatching jewelry and cash. All four of us had dressed in black to blend in with the darkness. We were just about to make our getaway when I noticed a brown four-door Chevy Citation pull up to the curb on the street in front of us. Two men in jeans and polo shirts shouted some questions about being lost. I moved discreetly toward the car and noticed a police radio on the floor. I immediately began backing away from the scene, yelling: “21 Jump! 21 Jump!” Undercover cops. We’d taken the code from the name of a popular television series.
Within seconds, we were practically surrounded by police cars. My ten-second jump-start helped me distance myself from the scene and appear more like a spectator. The police focused on my three friends. As Snake sprinted past me, his sweaty face glistening, his gold chain bouncing on his chest, he looked shocked and desperate. It had never occurred to us that we might get caught. Keep your head straight, Sam, I told myself. Keep walking. Don’t run just yet. Blend in with the surroundings. You’re seconds away from freedom.
All three of my boys were arrested that night, and their loyalty ended there. Police found my ride, the would-be getaway car, at the scene and put out the word that they were coming for me. I turned myself in the next day. Because of their ages, Snake and Duke were taken to jail. Manny and I were transported to a juvenile detention center. To this day, I thank God that I was only seventeen and a half. If this had occurred a few months later, my future would have been a very different story. Since all three had serious priors, Snake was sentenced to seven years, Duke got five years, and Manny four. With just a misdemeanor shoplifting charge to my name, I got probation and, after four weeks in juvenile detention, another chance.
Table of Contents
1 Brothers 7
2 Hidden in Plain Sight 25
3 Brick City 43
4 Love Hurts 53
5 Dying for Love 75
6 Baby Love 95
7 Clubbing 117
8 The Fear Factor 133
9 The Fish Bowl 150
10 Russian Roulette 161
11 No Air 172
12 Killing Us Softly 183
13 Reaching Out 195
14 Unexpected Twists 206
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
“Living and Dying in Brick City” is an eye-opening book by Dr. Sampson Davis, previously best known for co-writing “The Pact.” In “The Pact,” Dr. Davis described the bond that he made with two other kids with whom he grew up in the inner city. They decided that they would all rise out of their difficult surroundings and become physicians, and all three have lived up to that promise. In “Living and Dying” Dr. Davis returns back home to Newark as an Emergency Room attending physician, where he works in Beth Israel Hospital, a tough inner city hospital that sees its share of drama and tragedies. He tells the gritty and affecting stories of many of his memorable patients. Their stories are at times uplifting and at times sad reminders of how our society sometimes fails its least fortunate. One fascinating story involved a young man who arrived in the ER with critical gunshot wounds. He was transported to the ICU where he died. Dr. Davis recognized his name on the patient list as a kid who accompanied him when they committed an armed robbery at the age of 17. Unlike Dr. Davis, who went on to success as a physician, this young man went in a completely different direction. It’s stories like these that make one realize the small forks in the road that can determine our lives. Unlike most other medical memoirs, this book also gives practical advice to people who are trapped in the difficult situations of many of the patients in his stories. It’s a wake-up call for people to learn about the difficulties and failings of health care in major urban settings. I really enjoyed it. This book is the latest in what I consider a recent renaissance of medical memoirs. If you enjoy this book, I recommend two others that are fascinating reading. Dr. Anthony Youn’s "In Stitches" is a riveting and enjoyable read about one man’s journey through medical school. It’s filled with some of the most memorable stories of patient encounters I’ve ever read, and was the rare medical memoir that made me laugh out loud. It’s a must read for anyone interested in medicine and physicians. "Twelve Patients" by Dr. Eric Manheimer tells the stories of patients at the famed Bellevue Hospital, written by the former medical director there. The author pulls no punches in describing these affecting and often unusual patients in sometimes terrifying detail. Very recommended.
I could not put this book down. These are amazing stories and they are well written. Dr. Sampson Davis also wrote The Pact and after reading this, I am going to have to read that too. Growing up in New Jersey, Dr. Davis made a pact with two friends that they would become doctors and then he returned to the area to practice. This book is a collection of stories from his experience in the emergency room. Following most chapters is a concise summary of medical advice. Of particular interest to me was the section on birth control and adoption following the very different stories of Mrs. Harris and Mrs. Givens. Maybe his next book could be a story about Mrs. Jackson? I would be love to hear more about her.
And additional life skill information. A caring and intelligent author. Thank you for your time and energy in compiling.
g and Dying in the Brick City, is a phenomenal, life changing, impactful and super AWESME book, by Dr. Sampson Davis; as he shares his personal life-changing experiences as a self-motivate with the outcome of extraordinary success, as a African American male of a despondent inner-city community. This book is super intriguing, as he revels the reality issues concerning the healthcare field generally, and within the inner-city communities; whom is a passionate physician, which chosen to serving in his local community. This book is an affordable MUST have, and as your turn the pages of this book, you will become highly inspired, positively influenced, and greatly enlighten. This book will also leave you with hope, and endless possibilities…and I look forward to reading his next book!
Excellent book! Should be a must read for all.
I have read all the books by the Three Doctors and they were riveting. This one?! took the cake! I read this book in 5hours straight! I only stopped to eat or rather took a snack. I could not put it down! I felt addicted! Great book for all who can read. I would love to hear the experiences of the other two doctors.
This book can hold its own against any other form of medical drama, a genre very popular in print and television. If that was all it was, it would make for an exciting reading experience, but then disappear down the rabbit hole of memory. There is however much more to the book which makes it unforgettable. The book is divided into thematic chapters with cryptic titles such as “Love Hurts” and “The Fish Bowl”, that leave one guessing what they might signify. Each chapter uses actual cases that Dr Davis has encountered in training or in practice, but supplements the narrative with commentary on public health and social issues as well as personal biographical references. These three elements blend seamlessly and skillfully into each other effortlessly moving between them and yet creating a cohesive unit defining a specific problem. The descriptions of the medical cases are exciting, with all the drama encountered in an emergency room setting. The public health issues and problems are usually clearly defined and backed by statistical data that are sometimes alarming. The most gripping portion of each chapter, however is the biographical linking of the episodes and situations to the author by references to his personal story. This is the most poignant and heartwarming aspect of every chapter. Very few persons, if any, describing such events can really say “Been There, or Done That.” A constant theme is “Look at me now. If I can do it, so can You.” This book should be required reading as part of all Medical School Curricula or in any form of training associated with the Health Profession. In these days of Impersonal Medicine fuelled by avarice and a push by most medical students towards the most lucrative specialities, it may important to be reminded that unlike many professions, the practice of Medicine is really about helping others. If you live in an area of the country similar to Newark, and there are many such areas in Urban America, this book may help you deal with your problems. It may offer you some hope, realizing that there may be a way out, and there are resources you can turn to for help. If you live anywhere else, you will learn about a part of the country you probably had no idea existed. It will give you something to think about when you are forced to make a detour through an area you would never venture into. It may even inspire you to want to do something about the problem. The costs of urban neglect are astronomical and are borne by the community at large, and so it makes good economic sense to do something about it. This book will make you laugh. It will make you cry. It will make you sad. It will make you mad. It will however warm your heart and perhaps inspire you. Every penny you invest, (not spend), in purchasing the book will return more than you paid. If you like the book, tell your friends and neighbors about it. Donate or circulate your copies. Lead book club discussions in your community and make sure your library and schools carry it. If you hate the book, you probably hate kittens, puppies and babies and need a nice big hug to warm your heart.
This was even better than "The Pact" - so heartfelt and soo much to learn from this wonderful man.