Showing 1 - 3 of 3 annotations associated with Studer, Constance
In "Shelter" (page 21), a homeless vet who served in the Gulf War struggles with PTSD, the difficulty of obtaining permanent disability, the inability to find work or a suitable living space, and his quest to find treatment for his many physical problems after chemical exposure during Desert Storm. He sees a different doctor at each appointment and no one truly helps him. "Finding today's meal or bed or beer takes all my energy, leaving me nothing left over for thinking about next week. I am a veteran and can no longer vote because I have no home" (page 27). Studer takes us into this man's life and struggles with clarity and empathy.
"Think Beauty" (page 37) questions what makes a woman beautiful (or believe she is beautiful) against a back story examining friendship and all that entails. "This Middle Kingdom" (page 58) tells a story that encompasses both the heroics of a ski team that saves skiers in distress and how difficult it can be to feel compassion for those who end up in trouble because they flaunt the rules or advice of the experts--a theme quite relevant for our times.
The book's opening story, "Mercy" (page 3) explores a nurse's various reactions after she makes an error while dispensing medication. As in every story in the collection, multiple themes weave in and out, driven by a character's decision or dilemma. In "Mercy," we see how medical personnel can truly care for and worry about their patients; how even a small error may cause a nurse deep distress, both for her patient and for her future; how the nursing shortage leads to burnout; and how "real life" continues on in the background, in this case, a passionate love affair that leads both to marriage and to grief. "Grief is a train that doesn't run on anyone else's schedule" (page 15).
"Shift" (page 76) tells of a physician who is devoted to his work and his patients in the ER ("His white coat flaps, stethoscope bounces as the doctor runs, its weight a comfort, like a rosary for a priest" page 76) while his wife feels neglected. The story moves between the chaos of the ER and the story of his marriage, a love that began when the doctor was in medical school. After his wife leaves him, the doctor sleeps with the lights on, hoping she will return. But whenever he closes his eyes, he only sees scenes from the ER. The story ends with words the doctor has said so often to a patient: "Please sir, lie still. I'm going to numb you now. Hang on, man. Soon the pain will be gone" (page 93).
"The Isolation Room" (page 94) follows a woman, a writer, who has been, she believes, placed unnecessarily and mistakenly in a psychiatric ward. As we read, we wonder if this woman is truly afflicted with a mental disorder or if she is simply extremely imaginative, perhaps betrayed by her husband who arranged for her admission. The main character is likeable, often seemingly sensible, perhaps incredibly but differently talented: "Maybe to be out of her mind meant she'd finally make the leap from logical to intuitive, into her true skin, a room all her own ... a writer, that teller of lies, pursuer of truth by means other than logical, that follower of breadcrumbs through the scary forest wherever they lead?" (page 97).
"Testament" (page 112) follows a student nurse in her first month of training and touches on the care of difficult patients, their various religious beliefs, and how healthcare providers' families are not immune to illness. "Special Needs" (page 121) follows Maria, a waitress with an unexpected pregnancy and wheelchair confined brother. The title story, "Queen of the Sugarhouse" (page 137) is a poignant examination of breast cancer; the terrible trial of chemo and radiation; the complex relationship between the suffering mother and her daughter, a nurse; and how life changes when the drama of uneasy but genuine love and relationship ends. "I think I hear Mama's voice, then realize it's only the sound of water over rocks. Tears are this river carrying me forward" (page 153).
Body Language, a beautifully crafted and expansive memoir by retired nurse Constance Studer, spans a range of issues within the narrative of the author's life: a childhood marred by a medical procedure--a hasty frontal lobotomy that left her father incarcerated in a mental institute-- and, in later years, by her own illness, one caused by the Hepatitis B vaccine. These two events are the bookends that frame Body Language, a memoir that examines family life, nursing, medicine, medical ethics, personal survival and illness in language that is poetic and compelling. Studer, a writer as well as a nurse, intersperses her own story--which is novel-like in its intensity--with literary allusions, research material and knowledge culled from her years as a nurse in Intensive Care. In her memoir, she writes not only with the authority of one who has been on both sides of the bed, as professional caregiver and as suffering patient, but also as a family member who has witnessed how unwise and unchallenged medical decisions might affect generations.
What I especially admire about this memoir is that it is not simply a "telling about." Instead Studer brings us into the action of the narrative, for example giving us imagery and dialogue as her father prepares for the surgery that he doesn't know will deprive him of memory and sense ("Holy Socks" p. 21). She also intertwines many narrative strands, giving us the fullness of her family history and her professional adventures, so that when we reach the narrative of her own illness we have a sense of a life, a full life, that has been forever altered.
The author of this bold collection is a registered nurse who relates, through her poems, patient and caregiver experiences culled from her own years of working in Intensive Care-Coronary Care. There are 24 poems here, most running two to three pages and most written in short lines, a point of craft that adds to their power. There is not one moment of easy sentimentality in these poems. Instead, the author plunges into the grittier side of nursing and illness--and yet, in aggregate, these poems celebrate the embodied and holy work of healing.
In the opening poem, "The-Trickle-Down-Theory-Of-Health," Adam, in the Garden of Eden, is surprised by "The knife" that "separates his ribs." By poem's end, we see health slip "like a ring / from earth's finger" (2), and with this simile we are introduced to the book's underlying metaphor and also to the poet's technique: dense and sometimes near-extreme imagery that ranges, in this poem alone, from encyclopedias to acid rain to barefoot children to librarians to a patient in the dark, "her arteries and shelves / of bone in a ruby gloom" (2). This accumulation of unrelenting, unusual images recreates the world of a patient's pain and suffering and the fierce determination and occasional despair of a caregiver.
"Coma" is written from a comatose woman's point of view, and yet we also see her from the nurse's vantage. In a lovely and surprising twist, the coma becomes, for the patient, a sort of liberation as "Slowly she sloughs, / cell by cell, / the old thorn" (15). This patient is not Sleeping Beauty, who in some fairy tale might be wakened by a kiss. "On the Fireline" becomes a wonderful metaphor for the daily confrontation of illness, for the way the nurse, returning daily to tend her patients, also "coalesces into fire" (16).
The 5-page poem "Intensive Care" perfectly renders the physical sense of being alternately caregiver, patient, and family member within the rarified atmosphere of the ICU (24-28). A patient's blood "pulls against/ the moon, his breath / this tide going out" (26) and, as she comforts a waiting family member, a nurse's eyes "beyond clarity, / unfold a silken language / all their own" (28).
Other not-to-be-missed poems are "The Holy O" (36), "Prayer to a Purple God" (38), "Pieta" (44), "A Riot of Flowers" (52), "What the Body Remembers" (57), and one of my very favorites, "Anesthesia" (59). In "Anesthesia" the caregiver lets an anesthetized patient float like "an embryo / tethered on the end of IV tubing, / floated like an astronaut / in cold stratosphere, / a naked thing / alone / in the universe" (60). But since these poems are finally loving, involved, experienced and hopeful, the patient is told to hush; he is watched over; he is protected. When danger is past, he is reclaimed: "She will hold you / within white-curved wings. / She will reel you back in / when you are healed" (60).