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Kaplan Publishing has recently released several anthologies aimed at a nursing audience or perhaps at a reading audience that wants to know more about what nurses think and feel about their professions. This anthology, a collection of poetry and essays, looks at the various reasons these authors went into nursing in the first place, how nursing changed them, and why they either stayed the course or went on to other pursuits. As the editors say in the Introduction, "nursing abounds with experiences that can either reinforce our vocational commitment or cause us to reconsider it" (p. xi).
In the first section, "The Calling," poems and essays examine "the idealistic reflections of those aglow with nursing's promise of intimacy and connection" (xii). Here we meet student nurses with a true calling who are "living, breathing and sleeping nursing" (p.5), and students who are sure they are going "to murder someone" (p. 6). Like most professionals, nurses often have mentors, and those mentors--"brisk, frank, fast, sometimes sharp" (p. 30)---are honored in this section as well. Readers, upon completing this section, will be moved and cheered by the poems and essays that reflect the romance of nursing and the intense drive that many nurses have to give of themselves to others.
The editors, however, are no Polyannas. They know that a student's illusions and dreams will run right smack into reality. While the rewards will certainly be many, the discouragements will be present as well. The fact that both experiences---the highs and the lows---can occur within a single day is reflected in the collection's second section, "The Reckoning." Here the realities of death, exhaustion, burnout and doubt are faced full on. Some of the works in this section are by nurses who have chosen to leave the profession: "Brazil, the new hospital. We have no water. Doctors protest poor facilities by refusing to see patients and sitting in their cars outside in the parking lot" (p. 81), writes Veneta Masson as she traces her career from 1958 to 1998 when she decides to leave nursing and "use my hands to write and to bless" (p. 84). While some have chosen to leave, other nurses have found ways to survive: "Nursing allowed me to help my mother die; my music has helped me live" (p. 88) writes Colleen O'Brien, and Fr. Robert J. Kus writes about his dual roles, priest and nurse, how they balance and enhance one another (pp. 102-110). The works in this section remind readers of the sacrifices caregivers must make every day. As Jo Ann Papich writes, "Please appreciate your nurse while you still have one" (p. 99).
Section Three, "Reincarnation," tells of the "informed commitment that arises after sustained trial" (p. 165). Here nurse-writers talk about survival and the oddly comfortable balance between stress and transcendence that comes, at last, after many years in nursing. In "Why I Like Dead People," Sallie Tisdale takes a wry look at death, nursing homes and their "cockeyed logic" (p. 175). Anne Webster, in "Slow Night in the E.R." talks about doing what you must do to help others even when you "can't do it," when you "stand outside the curtain, shaking" until the patient asks, "Are you there?" (p. 186-7). Kathryn Gahl, in "The Reason Nurses Write Mostly Poetry" says it's because nurses "convert heart sounds // and hard words into art before the next patient / arrives, hemorrhaging, counting on that nurse / to flow like a pen, bleed for both of them" (p. 195). And in the book's final essay, "I'm Staying," Shirley Stephenson offers a series of lovely statements about why she, and others, might continue in the frustrating, tiring, challenging and miraculous profession of nursing. "Because I have been in the bed, and beside the bed. Because I have waited. Because I believe any one of us could face the circumstances of those for whom we provide care, and we're much more similar than different. Because this is where the rhythm is loudest---yes this yes this yes this yes this" (p. 246).
In the Introduction the editors describe the "day of reckoning" they each experienced at one point--the sudden realization that they were "fat." Prior to this insight, they had identified fatness with negative characteristics, like being funny or undesirable; the breakthrough came when they were able to experience fatness as simply factual and not value-laden. This freed them to enjoy their lives without looking over their shoulders, so to speak, to see how other people reacted to them. Their liberating insight led to this anthology, which consists of "works of notable literary merit...that illustrate the range of ’fat’ experience." (p. xiii)
A number of the stories and poems in Who Are You Looking At? have individual entries elsewhere in this database. These include: Andre Dubus, The Fat Girl; Stephen Dunn, Power; Jack Coulehan, The Six Hundred Pound Man; J. L. Haddaway, When Fat Girls Dream; Patricia Goedicke, Weight Bearing; Rawdon Toimlinson, Fat People at the Amusement Park; Monica Wood, Disappearing; and Raymond Carver, Fat (annotated by Carol Donley and also by Felice Aull and Irene Chen).
One of the outstanding pieces in the anthology is a long story by Junot Diaz entitled "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" (42 pages). Oscar is a Dominican boy who is both fat and a nerd. He is obsessed with girls, but none will have anything to do with him, until he meets Ana who becomes his (platonic) "best friend" until her boyfriend Manny returns from the Army.
As narrated by Oscar’s sister’s boyfriend, things go from bad to worse until Oscar spends a summer in Santo Domingo and meets Yvon, an older woman whose former boyfriend, the Captain, is a cop. When Oscar pursues Yvon, he first gets beat up and later the Captain kills him, but before the end he actually makes love to Yvon. In his last letter to his sister, Oscar writes, "So this is what everybody’s always talking about! Diablo! If only I’d known. The beauty! The beauty!"
Editor's note (4/14/09): The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was published as a full-length book in 2007 and won the Pulitzer Prize.
Summary:This is a collection of approximately 45 pathographies-essays, memoirs, biography, autobiography, poems, and reflections on illness experiences -grouped loosely into four categories of related subject matter. These categories are: Illness and Identity: Dynamics of Self and Family; Concealing Illness, Performing Health; Agency and Advocacy; Medicine at the Margins. The majority of the pieces are written by non-health care academics about their experiences with a wide variety of illnesses. A few have been written by or with health care professionals.
First published in 1991, and available in reprint edition, this is a compendium of selected artworks and excerpts of diverse medical and literary writings from pre-Hippocratic times to the end of the 20th C. Each chapter integrates selections from medical or scientific treatises, with commentaries written by historians, essays by physicians and writers, and prose and poetry by physicians and by patients. The 235 images in this book include illustrations from medical textbooks and manuscripts, as well as cartoons, sculptures, paintings, prints and sketches. The colour illustrations are stunning and copious, and provide a visual narrative that resonates with each chapter of the book.
The first part of the book, Traditional Medicine, includes chapters on Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance, and Enlightenment medicine. These serves as a preamble for the second part, Modern Medicine, which includes art, medicine and literature from the early 19th century to the end of the 20th century.
The chapter “From the Patient’s Illness to the Doctor’s Disease” illustrates the rise of public health and scientific research with excerpts from works by Edward Jenner, John Collins Warren, René Laënnec, and John Snow, together with experience of epidemic diseases described by writer Heinrich Heine in his essay on “Cholera in Paris”. The chapter on “Non-Western Healing Traditions” includes botanical research by Edward Ayensu, a short story by Lu Hsun and the writing and paintings of George Caitlin on North American Indian healing.
In the patient-focused chapter, “Patient Visions: The Literature of Illness,” are stories of sickness by Thomas DeQuincey, Leo Tolstoy, Giovanni Verga, Katherine Mansfield, André Malraux, and Robert Lowell. The chapter which follows, “Scientific Medicine: the Literature of Cure,” provides the medical counterpoint with personal correspondence by Freud, medical treatises by Wilhelm Roentgen and Louis Pasteur, an essay on surgical training by William Halsted, and an excerpt from George Bernard Shaw's play, Too True to Be Good, in which a microbe takes centre-stage.
There are chapters on “Medicine and Modern War,” which includes personal writing by nurses Florence Nightingale and Emily Parsons, and poems by Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson, and “Art of Medicine,” with works by Arthur Conan Doyle, Anne Sexton, James Farrell and W.P. Kinsella.
The final chapter, “The Continuing Quest for Knowledge and Control,” contains no medical treatises but rather ends with personal reflections by the writer Paul Monette on AIDS, and by physician-writers, John Stone, Sherwin B. Nuland, Lewis Thomas, Dannie Abse, and Richard Selzer.
Summary:This remarkable collection of short writings, introduced by renowned poet Naomi Shihab Nye, who visited the Sutterwriters (of Sutter Hospital in Sacramento, California) to offer a workshop, provides a broad, compassionate, imaginative window into the life inside and around an urban hospital. Patients, staff, and all interested in healing through writing are invited to come and participate-with an accent on the latter: no one is invited who isn't willing to write.
This fine collection of short memoirs and stories by doctors offers a variety of narratives about memorable moments in medical education and practice that raise and explore practical and ethical issues in medicine. An explicit aim of the editors was to focus on some of the rewards in medical life as well as the struggles it entails--those often being inseparable.
Starting with a section on medicine and poetry which includes memories of William Carlos Williams by two of his well-known students, Robert Coles and John Stone, and a reflection on illness in poetry by Rafael Campo, the collection is then divided into two major sections: "Grand Perspectives" and "Intimate Experiences." The former includes narratives that show the development of practices, conflicts, or learning over time spent in hospitals and clinics, observing the careers of elders in the profession or the parade of patients whose expectations and needs stretch the physician's creative resources. Several, including Perri Klass and David Hilfiker write about particular patients whose cases became personal landmarks.
In the latter section, stories focus on single cases or incidents in the lives of doctors, some humorous, some tragic, some bemusing, all attesting to the chronic ambiguities of the work of healing and to the very human tensions that arise in institutions that both enable and inhibit the compassion all good doctors want to exercise.
This fine collection of writings by women involved in health care stems largely from a writing group cosponsored by the Nebraska Humanities Council and the Creighton University Center for Health Policy and Ethics. However, other writings also appear in this volume: in all there are 40 pieces by 16 authors. Writing genres include essay, short story, and poetry. The works are divided into three sections: Power and Powerlessness, Vulnerability and Voice, Connection and Disconnection. As noted in the introduction, these are "major themes in feminist perspectives in ethics" and the works are offered as reflections on modern ethical dilemmas in health care.
Some of the most powerful pieces are stories about being the newcomer--the student or junior trainee. For instance, "Washing Cora's Hair" by co-editor Amy Haddad is a poignant look at the struggle of two young nursing students to wash the long braids of a bed-bound elderly woman in her cramped home, and "The Story of David" by Ruth Purtilo, written as a memoir looking back to when she was a newly graduated physical therapist, concerns her interactions with a young, angry, depressed quadriplegic patient and with her superiors.
Another memorable piece is "The Things You Do" by Kelly Jennings Olsen. This story about being a new volunteer emergency medical technician masterfully controls the tensions of emergency medical care, the anguish of the father whose little girl slipped under his tractor, and the nuances of living in a small town. Several poems also deal with issues of the newcomer and witness to suffering (e.g., "As Ordered" by Ruth Ann Vogel--a poem about shaving the head of a neurosurgical patient on the pediatric ward)
As noted by the multiple keywords listed above, these pieces touch on many topics. Power relations play a key role, both between professionals and between patient and the health care team. For instance, in the polished story, "Procedures" the author Kim Dayton writes from the perspective of a young single mother with a critically ill neonate. This mother is repeatedly prevented from visiting her child because of "important" events like rounds and procedures, and she ironically only gets to hold her baby after the baby dies.
Throughout the collection the patients are described with honesty and vividness. Their suffering can haunt the health care worker ("Maggie Jones" by Veneta Masson) as well as teach ("Back to Square One" by Barbara Jessing). Many of the pieces remind us of our good fortune and the privilege we have in our lives and in providing health care services (e.g., "Spring Semester" by Amy Haddad). Ultimately in this volume our common humanity is emphasized--the connections between people and the remarkable grace that can be exhibited in the face of suffering.
Veneta Masson’s wonderful collection contains 56 "entries," essays, poems, fragments, and articles about her work as a nurse in an inner-city clinic. Her story is offered not as a neat beginning to end narrative, but as a pastiche of observations that range from commentary on how doctors and nurses approach caregiving, to a poem about Maggie Jones, a patient who changed Masson’s life.
As she follows the growth of the clinic and muses about the professionals and patients who give it life, Masson also talks about nursing: how it was, how it is, and why it’s such an important, and sometimes difficult to define, vocation. Some entries were contributed by Masson’s colleagues, Jim Hall, Teresa Acquaviva, Sharon Baskerville and Katrina Gibbons, but the best are Masson’s own.
This book should be required reading for nursing students, especially entries, "Nurses and Doctors as Healers," A Case for Doctoring Nursing," "Pushing the Outside of the Envelope," "If New Graduates Went to the Community First," "A Good Nurse," "Nursing the Charts," "Tools of the Trade," "Bring Back Big Nurse," "A Ready Answer," "Mindset," "Seven Keys to Nursing," and "Prescriptive Ambivalence." This book, especially for the essays "Nurses and Doctors as Healers," "A Case for Doctoring Nursing," "Prescriptive Ambivalence," and "If New Graduates Went to the Community First," should also be slipped into every medical student’s pocket.
This collection of nonfiction writings by fiction author Amy Tan includes multiple genres: essay, email, responses to journalist's questions, eulogy, love poem, university presentations, travel journal entries, and a commencement speech. Hence Tan terms the work "musings." Consonant with the multiple genres are multiple topics, ranging from memoirs of childhood and young adulthood, writing tips, fun portraying a dominatrix in a writers' rock-n-roll band, work on the film version of The Joy Luck Club, and past and present tragedies and struggles.
Much of the book, however, centers on medically-related themes. Prominent themes are: her diagnosis of neuroborreliosis--a form of late-stage Lyme disease--detailed in the final essay entitled "The Opposite of Fate"; her traumas such as the torture and murder of her best friend; the death of her father and brother from brain tumors; a car and a skiing accident; the cancer death of her editor and, woven throughout, the complicated psyche of her mother, Daisy Tan.
Daisy's extreme emotions ruled the family, and her behaviors, such as threatening not only suicide but also murder (she held a knife to Amy's throat), caused profound responses in her daughter. Probably one of the most adaptive responses was Amy Tan's use of their complex relationship in developing the nuanced mother-daughter relationships that characterize her fiction. Daisy's decline and death from Alzheimer's disease are also detailed here.
The first sentence of the introduction indicates the author's intention to talk about "how we do it--and how we could do it". Ending life, she says, is an issue under sustained debate in the United States and in much of the developed world. The argument over physician-assisted suicide is the central framework. The described debates on euthanasia and suicide include two pro and three con arguments in American and international contexts. This collection includes essays, practical notes, historical explorations, policy analyses, fiction, and creative non-fiction written by the author.
The author describes the role of fiction and creative non-fiction as offering a recognition of narrative as a respected form of investigation of social issues. Included are two selections that are in this genre and they are very powerful. The essay on the ethics of self-sacrifice is timely and well written. The author's final conclusion is that Stoic and Christian thinking are still in active collision in much of our consideration of these issues and that this means that advance personal policy making remains in the fullest sense an exercise for each individual.