A. M. & Brown, K. H., eds. Haddad
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- Shafer, Audrey
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.