A License to Heal
by Steven Bentley, MD

"The Emergency Department and its surrounding area was a focal point of activity—some humorous, some tragic."

A retired physician who chose to work in the Emergency Department during his career, Steven Bentley has composed a short collection of medical stories that run the gamut. He tells of his days as an intern and then as an ED doctor, dealing with children’s emergencies, burns, gunshot wounds, mysterious illnesses, highway accidents, and repeated encounters with death. He learned how to function in automatic mode (ED staff were reminded, “it is not your blood”) without becoming distracted by the chaos of the moment. In the ED, patients come through and are gone—healed, improved, or deceased—quickly. But this doesn’t keep dedicated doctors like Bentley from having personal feelings about the many people he treated in various North Carolina hospitals, some in very rural mountain areas. He poignantly recalls, for example, a old man with a terminal condition who, a few hours before his death, declared, in apparent happiness, “I don’t need no doctors now. They are all here.” Bentley felt this was “something far beyond science.”

In the many brief vignettes, the author presents, composed carefully to hide the identities and protect the privacy of those he cared for, he conveys a dramatic sense of the immediacy of ED events and the speed with which life-threatening problems must be solved there. He gives opinions about malpractice, decries the gradual shift of medicine to a business model, and questions why medical dollars are disproportionately spent on people mainly in their last two years of life. After retirement he is able to say that the biggest lesson he learned in his career is that “life is very precious.” A License to Heal is one doctor’s observation of pain, despair, hope, healing, and the importance of respect for human life.

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