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Summary:Veneta Masson's latest poetry collection is a clinician's guide not to illness and disease but to the souls touched by illness, both the patient's and the caregiver's. In 45 poems, she reviews her life in caregiving, from her early days in nursing to her work as a nurse practitioner in a community clinic and finally to her decision to use her hands "to write and to bless" (p. 93). Her poems are enhanced by the artwork of Rachel Dickerson, whose woodcuts and etchings are paired with poems to provide another voice, another way of looking into the soul of caregiving. For an example of this wonderful pairing, see the print that accompanies "The Screamer in Room 4" (p. 24). The print allows us to see the frustration of the screaming child, the child's mother, and the caregiver.
As always, Masson's poems center on the patient-caregiver experience; in this volume, as we follow her through her various adventures in nursing we also travel with her through the changes she has witnessed in healthcare and the politics that continue to affect its delivery. "Rx" (p. 22) examines Medicare and Medicaid and the political decisions that often deny medications to the elderly who need them most. "Gold Standard" (p.34) looks again at medicine and money, juxtaposing the medical pill against the placebo of the caring healer. One of my favorite poems, "The Doctor's Laptop" (p. 40) laments how technology might deprive patients of the doctor's time, attention and touch.
Other themes that are central to this collection are the unexpected presence of humor in caregiving (see "Conga! at the Rio," page 50), of spirituality (see especially "Rescue," page 36, "Refuge," page 45, and "Prevention," page 82), and of the personal. In several moving poems Masson looks at her own sister's death and her reaction to it, writing about her conflicting roles as sister and nurse (see, among others, "Matinee," "Hilda and Snow White," and "The Nurse's Job," pages 70, 72 and 74). In an excellent final poem, "Winter Count," Masson takes us through her own nursing history, a chronicle of work, joy, disappointment and survival that any caregiver will recognize.
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 pocket-sized book contains stories from the home front--poems about patients the nurse-author tends in their apartments and in her clinic. Often, the patients speak, teaching us not only what it's like to be elderly and lonely, but also how to view mainstream healthcare from a different perspective.
Most important, we learn about the courage with which these patients cope with illness and poverty, and how nurses honor their patients' choices through non-judgmental caring. Outstanding poems include "The Language of Hearts," "Passages," "Lower Midline Surgical Scar," "The Screamer in Room 4," and "Home Remedies for the Blues."