As Joanne Trautmann Banks indicates in the Foreword of this fine anthology, "when we are sick, very sick, it is often the nurse who is closest to our bodies, minds, and souls." This experience of closeness to suffering is well-reflected in the poetry and prose of the 49 nurses whose work is collected here. While these writings vary widely in form and style, they focus almost exclusively on the nursing interaction; they are nurses' stories of patients and nurses' reflections on nursing. Two major themes pervade the book. One is the powerlessness of nurses in the face of illness and suffering. The other is their tough, unsentimental devotion to their patients and the profession.

Of the poetry, particularly fine pieces include: "Raiment" (Carol Brendsel); "Daffodil Days" (Celia Brown); Butterfly (Jeanne Bryner; see this database); "What the Nurse Likes" and The Body Flute (Cortney Davis); "Hospital Parking Garage" (Jeanne LeVasseur); and "Euthanasia" (Belle Waring). Among the excellent prose pieces are "Nighthawks" (Carolyn Barbier), a tale in the voice of a ventilator-dependent woman who has elected to discontinue treatment and die; "While His Life Went on Around Him" (Angela Kennedy); "Wisteria" (Leslie Nyman); "Where Are You Now, Ella Wade?" (Joyce Renwick); and "Bev Brown" (Sybil Smith).


In "Wisteria" by Leslie Nyman, the narrator comments about another nurse, "She possessed the emotional distance that I believed distinguished the most competent nurses" (p. 139). This anthology drives home again and again the tension that exists between distance and compassion in the nursing profession.

In an Afterword, Cortney Davis notes that there is a varied and robust literature by physician-writers who reveal their experience of doctoring. The emotional connection that these physicians have discovered in caring for patients is something "most of them had not been trained to seek and were surprised to find" (p. 211). This type of connection is to be expected in nursing, yet relatively few nurse-writers have emerged to articulate it. This anthology demonstrates that, in fact, the writing is out there. The editors have presented us with a fine sample of it.


Univ. of Iowa Press

Place Published

Iowa City, Iowa




Cortney Davis & Judy Schaefer

Page Count