Gateways Hospital and Mental Health Center
Gateways Mental Health Hospital
City of Hope
Barlow Respiratory Hospital
Nursing Book Club
Between the Heartbeats: Poetry and Prose by Nurses
Vivid tales of pain and triumph
Reviewed by Christine Contillo, RN, BSN
Nurses necessarily interact with those who are ill or frightened, and those encounters can leave raw emotions on both sides. Patients may express their feelings immediately, to whoever happens to be by their side. They may be grateful, demanding, or even wish that we would just go away. For the nurse it may take longer — maybe until the end of the shift, later in the week, or it could be years before she is able to process what has happened.
Storytelling might be one way to reach some closure on the events we become a part of. Because nurses see what happens behind closed doors and spend years writing narrative notes for patient charts, they have learned to say exactly what it takes to hold the physician’s attention. It will grab ours, too.
Between the Heartbeats: Poetry and Prose by Nurses and Intensive Care: More Poetry and Prose by Nurses, are both collections by editors/nurses Cortney Davis and Judy Schaefer, who additionally contribute some of their own fine writing. In our clinical work, we have always told our war stories during quiet minutes, but these editors encourage nurses everywhere to polish those words and put them down on paper to share. Caregivers from every type of practice and every part of the world are represented, and they bring us vivid images of pain and triumph.
Through these pages we read stories of mercy and compassion and we bond with the type of nurse we are or wish we could be. Abused babies are rocked in noisy ICUs, nurses in war zones identify with boys from home, favorite patients are mourned, and we learn valuable life lessons from those on the cusp of leaving theirs behind. Some sections are difficult and painful to read, and some need to be carefully thought over. Some stories will bring up sad memories of patients long forgotten, while others will bring the joy of knowing a job well done. Short biographies of each contributor help to place the passages in context.
You may well recognize the evolution of your own career as you read about the training, testing and teaching the tricks of the trade to each other — all steps that become so necessary in continuing the art of caring for the sick. We may not be the authors, but we have walked these halls, cared for these patients, and lost sleep along with these families, even while we fumble through our own daily problems.
Nurses know life in an intimate way that others may only be able to glimpse. It would be wonderful if these collections were read by the public in order for them to understand what it is we do so well — but we would do well to read them ourselves and know that we are not alone in our experience.
Christine Contillo, RN, BSN, a nurse since 1979, has written extensively for various nursing publications, as well as The New York Times.