I first heard of Randy Christensen, MD, when Diane Rehm interviewed him on her show, discussing Ask Me Why I Hurt. “Dr. Randy” is medical director of Crews’n Healthmobile, a mobile medical clinic providing health care for homeless youth in Phoenix, AZ. In this book, Christensen tells the true stories of many of the young people he’s treated on the healthmobile, changing names and identifying characteristics, of course, to protect the privacy of his patients.
We learn early on where the book gets its title, when “Mary” appears outside the van, wearing a beaded bracelet, with the words “ask me why I hurt” spelled out in block letters. Mary nervously avoided the doctor’s direct questions, so it took a while for Dr. Randy to build enough rapport with her to trust he could ask the question, without her running away. When Mary did finally answer him, after several stops to the mobile, he learned she’d been seriously sexually abused by her father. Mary’s and the other teenagers’ stories told in this book are both heartbreaking and heartwarming, as many of them do ultimately find reason to hope and ways to heal.
I take exception to the subtitle: “the Kids Nobody Wants and the Doctor who Heals Them.” To say this book is about the kids nobody wants isn’t the whole truth. Many of the young people seeking health care at Crews’n have experienced serious neglect and/or abuse, often at the hands of family members, that is true. Yet, Mary finds sanctuary and a second chance with her aunt; ultimately, we learn that she goes on to finish her education and complete a master’s degree. Donald—a boy whose father beat him so severely he sustained permanent brain damage--gains a loving family and caring community when Pastor and Mrs. Richardson take him in. Then there are all the workers from HomeBase, a shelter for teens, and UMOM, a shelter for homeless families, who help teens prepare for adult life, via GED and life skills education.
To my mind, the book isn’t really about Randy Christensen. Granted, he shared autobiographical details that help the reader understand the stresses of trying to balance family life with the particular challenges of his chosen career. And yes, as I read the story, I came to care about him, as well as the kids that visit the van. The book is written in first-person narrative, but the main reason for the book is that these young people matter, their stories matter, and Christensen felt they needed to be heard. Christensen shows us that there are a lot of young people suffering, there's a desperate need for more services and protection for them, and yet there are many people who care and are helping teens-at-risk make positive changes in their lives.
Ask Me Why I Hurt