Nursing Book Club

Rowing Without Oars: A Memoir of Living and Dying

An emotional and graceful first-person story of living with a debilitating disease

By Ulla-Carin Lindquist, Viking, 2006
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Reviewed by Christine Contillo, RN, BSN

Rowing Without Oars is a small book with a very large message. Author Ulla-Carin Lindquist was best known as a Swedish television news journalist. As she neared her 50th birthday she realized that she was subtly losing strength in her hands. At the same time she found herself occasionally stumbling. Out boating with her husband one day in fierce weather she was surprised to find that she was unable to help him row, and together they began to understand the enormity of the problem they faced.

Medical testing proved that she suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is a debilitating disease resulting in progressive paralysis without hope of cure. The short remainder of her life was spent gracefully facing the accommodations that were made to the physical changes forced upon her.

Fear of pain and fear of death are universal. Nurses know this better than most, and until we examine our own feelings about these, we are unable to honestly help our patients. Reading Ms. Lindquist’s small quiet journal allows us to see how one very brave woman dealt with a degree of infirmity most middle-aged women would never be called upon to face.

She reflected on her past and future, even while her thoughts became all that she had left. Without bitterness she graciously shared these reflections with the reader as she thoughtfully asked for and accepted help from her community. Her home was made handicap-accessible, caregivers took over the activities that she could no longer do for herself, and friends and loved ones continued to visit long after her speech became unintelligible.

It’s sad, of course, to know that she must say goodbye to family and friends, but she does so with an emotional maturity that never emphasizes loss and continually values the love and kindness she has known. This tiny volume is so powerful in its examination of what we experience within the boundaries of an introspective life, that it may change the way we view death. The insights may help the ways we care for terminal patients, while allowing us to gratefully savor every second of our own lives.

Christine Contillo has worked as a nurse since 1979, and has written extensively for various nursing publications, as well as
The New York Times.

Purchase Rowing Without Oars from Amazon

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