When Chicken Soup Is Not Enough

Nursing Book Club

When Chicken Soup Is Not Enough

Stories of nurses standing up for themselves, their patients, and their profession

By Suzanne Gordon (Cornell University Press, 2010)
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Reviewed By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN

Suzanne Gordon has been writing about the nursing profession for over 20 years. And even though she is an outsider to our group, she is a huge cheerleader for who we are and what we do. At the same time, she can be razor-sharp in her analysis of the profession. We are our own worst enemy at times, and we do not often come to each other’s defense.

Her two earlier books, Nursing Against the Odds and From Silence to Voice, were about the nature of nursing in general; but in this new book she takes a fresh approach. When Chicken Soup Isn’t Enough collects the stories of nurses from all over the world who, one way or another, spoke up to insensitive administrators, arrogant doctors and careless fellow nurses.

Some of the stories are funny, as is Madeleine Spiers’s tale of how she handled a pharmacist and a doctor who insisted she give a patient antibiotics that were six months out of date. And check out how Swiss nurses used a cartoon image of Power Nurse (a twin to Superman) to convince their reluctant legislature to improve working conditions, and at the same time winning an amused and admiring public.

Just a Midwife?!

Not every story is about contending with powerful groups. In one anecdote, a nurse reveals how she politely but effectively set a fellow dinner guest straight. He had said that a woman had given birth all alone, “It was just a midwife, or something like that; there weren’t even any doctors there.” Elizabeth Kosub decided that nursing needed to be made visible and that she was the only one there to do it.

We’ve all had moments like that. How did you handle it? Or what would you do if, like Bernie Gerard, you were asked, in your third week of orientation, to float to an intensive care unit with no assurance of help and supervision — and to top that — having your reluctance characterized as refusal of an assignment.

Some of the stories are sad and familiar to us all. Patients who cannot get the care they need because of bureaucratic bumbling are compelling. Gordon rightly confronts head-on the misunderstanding that patient advocacy is a special purview of nurses, and that even though a feature of all nursing education, many nurses feel advocacy is only to want the best for the patient. Many do not appreciate the public nature of advocacy — the requirement to speak up.

But Suzanne Gordon’s nurses do get it, and they did speak up. Not every episode is a tale of triumph, and significant failure marks many efforts. But they usually are a step in the right direction. Gordon strongly supports organized nursing, and many stories come from collective bargaining wars. You may not agree with her in every instance, but she always writes compellingly about our profession, warts and all.

So on that day when syrupy encouragement doesn’t quite work and you swear you will never volunteer for a task because it is part of your “calling,” on that day when chicken soup is not enough, pick up this book. You’ll discover what another nurse has done in a similar situation. You have nothing to lose and much to gain.


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Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN is a Working Nurse staff writer with extensive hospital and community-based nursing experience.

This article is from workingnurse.com.

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