Ask Me Why I Hurt is the memoir of a pediatrician who operates a mobile medical van providing treatment to homeless teenagers. It covers his marriage to fellow pediatrician Amy, family life over a decade, the growth of his van endeavor to eventually provide more services, and a number of stories of the kids he sees on the van.
How am I supposed to review a book like this? On its own merits, it simply isn’t a very good book. Dr. Christensen seems to be a great person and surely a good doctor, but writing is not necessarily one of his talents. And that’s okay! He obviously has plenty of other things going for him, writing is not for a lot of people. But, ya know…he wrote a book.
I can’t in good conscience not mention the bad. There’s plenty of telling when there should be showing. “I felt despair.” “As I drove, sadness registered.” The dialogue doesn’t ever really sound like real people, and his relationship with his wife is just weird. He spends most of the book not wanting to tell her things because he’s worried that they’ll make her sad, and let me stress again, she is also a doctor. He actually spends just about the entire book worrying about her for one reason or another – is she going to leave him over the van? Is she sad? Is her health okay? (In fairness, that one is founded.) Is she too tired? Will she be alright while he’s out of town? Amy sounds like a very competent woman, more competent than him, honestly. But he hangs on to this weird 1930s thing with not talking to your wife. Fortunately, this is at least addressed when it becomes an issue for them and he spends the rest of the book trying to resolve it. I really hate memoirs with some glaring relationship dynamic that’s an unaddressed elephant in the room, so I’ll give it that much.
Now, here’s the thing. The medical van is entirely funded by donations, and Dr. Christensen spends a lot of time working on grants, appealing to donors, and speaking publicly, trying to drum up the funds to keep going and purchase desperately needed supplies. And I mean desperately. Kids die, because there just aren’t enough resources. Dr. Christensen is constantly squeezed between being present for his family and the very worthwhile demands of his career, and the time spent trying to gather support is precious time that could be spent elsewhere. I really suspect that that is the purpose of this book, and I respect that. Trying to criticize a book that I believe exists to help generate financial support for homeless teenagers and children who will die without it is like writing a harsh review of a pediatric oncology ward’s Christmas charity play, for God’s sake. So I’ll end on a positive note.
I think Dr. Christensen is probably much more natural-seeming in person, and I think this is a book that’s worth a read. The stories of the patients are very compelling, and toward the end I did find myself wanting to pick it up when I had other things I should be doing, which was surprising given how unimpressed I was in the beginning. It’s not the best medical memoir out there, but it’s written by a good man trying to raise awareness and funds for a good cause. If you want the best of both worlds, just go donate to the medical van.