A trip to the doctor’s office is rarely fun, but imagine if you’re sick and you also have no money, no family, no home, no identification — and you were still a child. These are the patients Phoenix doctor Randy Christensen sees every day. The Medical Director of the Crews’n Healthmobile, a moveable health center, Christensen has penned a new memoir, “Ask Me Why I Hurt: The Kids Nobody Wants and the Doctor Who Heals Them,” which chronicles his work in treating homeless children.
What’s the main reason most of the children and teenagers come to see you?
Same as most doctors’ offices. The most common presenting illness is some cold or infection — skin, throat, sinus or upper respiratory. But once they get here is when we do a thorough screening of the whole patient and find out they’ve had all of their teeth knocked out. Or horrible cavities. Or they broke their glasses. Or they have terrible untreated athlete’s foot. When they come in for the “simple” things, that’s when we find out they have a whole host of mental, physical and dental complaints. The under-treatment or no treatment is always clearly evident.
What do you hope readers will gain from your memoir?
I think there has always been great power in the story. Already we’re starting to see people react; the first thing they do is look at the website and how they can help. Hopefully, they’ll volunteer in their own city or make a donation or talk to their kids about what is happening. I hope people will learn about homeless adolescents and understand more about them. So many people just think they’re lazy or they don’t want to do anything. But what I hope my book shows is what tremendous survivors they are. If we were put in the same position, I doubt we’d be able to get up in the morning.
If you could eliminate the biggest cause for homeless teenagers, what would it be?
Why are these kids out there? Well, I always see some history of abuse — physical, mental and substance. But what I’d really like to get rid of is the idea [that] you cannot treat these issues; that you can’t move forward. People can do well after substance abuse. They can do well with mental-health issues. What I would get rid of is the notion that these kids are unsavable.
Follow Dorothy Robinson on Twitter at @DorothyatMetro.