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Publisher's Summary

One doctor’s courageous fight to save a small town from a silent epidemic that threatened the community’s future - and exposed a national health crisis.

When Dr. Will Cooke, an idealistic young physician just out of medical training, set up practice in the small rural community of Austin, Indiana, he had no idea that much of the town was being torn apart by poverty, addiction, and life-threatening illnesses. But he soon found himself at the crossroads of two unprecedented health-care disasters: a national opioid epidemic and the worst drug-fueled HIV outbreak ever seen in rural America.

Confronted with Austin’s hidden secrets, Dr. Cooke decided he had to do something about them. In taking up the fight for Austin’s people, however, he would have to battle some unanticipated foes: prejudice, political resistance, an entrenched bureaucracy - and the dark despair that threatened to overwhelm his own soul. Canary in the Coal Mine is a gripping account of the transformation of a man and his adopted community, a compelling and ultimately hopeful story in the vein of Hillbilly Elegy, Dreamland, and Educated.

©2021 Dr. William Cooke and Laura Ungar (P)2021 Tyndale House Publishers

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My home town is the subject of this book!

The simple errors annoyed me. Dr Bogardus was NOT Austin's last doctor before Cooke. Dr. Benjamin Roberto practiced in Austin until approximately 1989. Another doctor named Quarishi was also there after Dr. Roberto. The author, Dr. Cooke, repeats this mistaken assumption over and over. Harvey Goodin was never our mayor. We had no mayor. We were a town then and only became a city a few years ago. Mr. Goodin was on our town board. A simple trip to the library or asking a local person would've prevented these mistakes in facts.That was only one issue I had with the book which was, at times, more of a fictional story than factual. When I encountered glaring mistakes like these early and they were repeated over and over, it made me doubt many of the personal stories and private conversations Dr. Cooke talked about. The patient's names were changed but details given about them or their parents were so specific, I knew exactly who they were. I hope they waived their HIPAA rights.
I grew up in Austin and still live only 7 miles away. My mother lived there until her death in 2019 and I was in Austin daily. Being a native of Austin, I've seen many outsiders take advantage of the town's problems for their own benefit. Millions of dollars in grant money has been misappropriated and outright stolen through the years. The director of AREC, who Dr. Cooke mentions leaving town along with the AREC grant money, was only one instance of that. She was terminally ill at the end and after years of mishandling and stealing funds, she just took what was left and left town. She was so near death when charges were filed, not much was done. That's how it's been with grant money in Austin. The average, hard working citizens of Austin are not dirty, uneducated, or drug addicted. " Hillbillies" don't shoot their spouses, marry their cousins, or lose all their teeth at 25. Those are STEREOTYPES and do not reflect the majority of Austin citizens. Between the burden of generations of the same families being on public assistance and refusing to work , being so hard hit by this epidemic among the needle users, and the outsiders coming to profit from our problems, many decent and productive citizens have simply left and moved outside the city limits or to neighboring towns. Everyone has challenges. Difficult or even abusive childhoods doesn't make every one an addict but it could make for good fiction. The spirit of the Appalachian coal miner still burns in Scott county and in the spirits of their descendants. But that spirit isn't of laziness, child abuse, and drug addiction. These are problems in our society as a whole. Most hard working people in Austin had and still have jobs and health insurance. We didn't have to go without Pap smears or mammograms. Some did but usually they were covered by Medicaid who provides transportation as far as Louisville for patients. Maybe medical care isn't a priority for a drug addict. My heart bleeds for those struggling to recover but drugs steal who you are and things like health and family sometimes take a backseat to addiction. There's no zip code for addiction. Austin is just a small concentrated pocket of high needle use. Testing was done door to door during epidemic thanks to grant money and other communities didn't get that type of testing. The more tested, the more positive results may be uncovered. Needless to say, I was not impressed by this book. I'm glad I listened FREE on an Audible trial membership! Just take this book with a grain of salt and know that Dr Cooke's practice was struggling at first. I drove by there daily and suddenly people were waiting for doors to open after being mostly vacant since his opening. A few patients coming to him for nondrug issues say patients were waiting at door 2 hours before opening and were banging on glass in waiting room demanding their medicine. Many existing patients were terrified and sought medical care elsewhere. It's pretty common knowledge methadone was being prescribed there which people usually had to go to special clinics out of Austin for. Controlled substances were prescribed there and all over Scott County. This was right BEFORE the epidemic folks. I do know Dr. Cooke refused a gentleman with shortness of breath a chest X-ray while on duty In ER. This was when, by his own account, he was working in ER alot and struggling financially. The ill gentleman was employed and insured. Dr Cooke stated both times the man requested a chest Xray "You smoke. It's COPD". No breathing tests supported his incorrect diagnosis. His refusal to X-ray both times was accompanied by a demeaning sneer. Cigarette smoking is an addiction. It's legal and doesn't cause victim to steal or sell their body. I'm not sure when Cooke's compassion for the addicted began but it wasn't present either time this gentleman sought help. After finding Cooke working ER the second time and getting refused help but having his insurance he purchased through his JOB billed anyway for absolutely no care, he sought help at Columbus Regional Hospital upon his next episode of not breathing well. At that first visit, a chest Xray revealed a softball size mass in gentleman's left lung. After chemotherapy and radiation, the gentleman died 4 months later of lung cancer. Dr Cooke's first prejudiced attitude and refusal to xray the man addicted to cigarettes had been 8 months earlier. The 2nd visit to only be refused by Cooke again was 2 months after that. That delayed the gentleman's accurate diagnosis 8 months. Probably wouldn't have saved him but treatment could have began much sooner. No grant money, news interviews, notoriety, or financial gain would have come from showing the cigarette smoker kindness and providing basic competent care. People here who aren't receiving medication through Cooke's clinic or working for the many business interests he's acquired from the epidemic discuss his lack of patients until he began prescribing methadone and occasionally opioids. The incompetence and lack of compassion the smoker witnessed on his 2 visits to ER was why Cooke had so few patients. He worked nearly nightly in ER, as he himself says, to make ends meet. The epidemic changed all that. Nearly ALL his patients now are needle addicts or recovering needle addicts. He doesn't have a wide variety of patients. I assume he still prescribes methadone and now suboxone too. Addicts not interested in quitting use those when they don't have heroin or their drug of choice and sell them to buy their drug of choice. Not all addicts do this ( and are really are trying to recover )but many do. Unfortunately the nightmare of the epidemic was the best thing that ever happened to Cooke's wallet and his practice. Compassion for the addicted? ONLY WHEN IT'S PROFITABLE.

3 people found this helpful

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MIND PROVOKING

Narrator, story, and Dr. Cooke were great. This book changed my mind concerning addiction and sickness caused by underlying life situations. THE LORD WILL SHOW HIMSELF TO BE MERCIFUL TO THE MERCIFUL ALL OF US NEED TO REPENT OF SOMETHING. JESUS HEAL OUR LAND.

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absolutely moving

A true story from our hometown Community. Moving and impactful. We appreciate the work and the sacrifice of so many to complete the good work.

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Informative

An informative and interesting read.
I think healthcare providers could benefit from this book. Kudos 🙌🏻

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Deep insight about a national crisis

A heartfelt and accurate rendering of one communities tragedy and one mans triumph in the ongoing battle of substance abuse disorder.
Insightful, soul revealing , and inspiring.
A story of true Christian love played out in the trenches of our war on drugs, poverty, abuse, and politics.

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Wonderful

Great message and very engaging. The story is tragic but told in a way that keeps the listener wanting to hear more. Thanks for your contribution in Austin, Dr.

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Great Book !

This is a terrific book about a young doctor dealing with a tragedy all too common in many American communities. It involves drug addiction, an HIV epidemic, deaths of despair and vast numbers of people living in poverty with little hope.
Canary in the Coal Mine complements the book Tightrope by Nicholas Kristof. While Kristof focuses on these issues from a national perspective, Dr. Cooke focuses on a single small town in mid-America. Both books address the failure of the War on Drugs and the damage to many American families.
Dr. Cooke talks about spirituality a good deal and the need have more than faith alone. He focuses on the need to do good works, not just for the neighbor, but for the stranger, too.
Canary in the Coal Mine tells a tragic story, but one filled with inspiration and hope. Bob Siegmann

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Awesome

Powerful and true story about my community. I loved the story of hope!!
Great Book!