Nursing Book Club

E.R. Nurses: True Stories from America’s Greatest Unsung Heroes by James Patterson and Matt Eversmann

Nurses advocating for their patients and supporting each other

James Patterson is one of America’s finest storytellers, best known for his many popular mysteries and thrillers. For his new book, E.R. Nurses, cowritten with Matt Eversmann, he has chosen nonfiction to tell the stories of 50 critical care nurses from across the country.

Nurses From All Backgrounds

The nurses featured in this book represent a broad section of the nursing profession: They work in cities and rural areas, on reservations, in both large and small hospitals. They include both men and women, young and old. The truths that they bring to the table are powerful and reveal much about what it really means to be a nurse today.

The nurses in this book come from many different backgrounds. Some had abusive childhoods or encountered difficulty in school. At least one remained determined to be a nurse even though she repeatedly failed to win admittance to nursing school.

Some started as EMTs or medics, but those who did often describe a single incident that turned their course towards nursing, whether it was a medical event of their own or just a kind nurse who treated a family member and made a difference in their lives.

Most of these nurses are hardcore, eyes-wide-open types who tell it as they see it (although some of the stories could have been edited so as to be less shocking to those who don’t hang out in emergency departments). All are proud to do what they do, and happy to know that they’ve made a difference, even a small one, in someone else’s life.

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People, Not Politics

Certain common themes recur throughout the book’s four sections, each of which is described as a “shift.”

The stories in this book say little about hospital or healthcare politics, but much about patient advocacy and ethics. E.R. Nurses shows clinicians fighting for their patients, shaming doctors who won’t help, bypassing rules that prevent them from doing all they can for their patients and families, and sometimes becoming too involved and having to step back.

Emotional Support

Another of the things the book highlights is the way the nurses rely on each other. Critical care nurses deal every day with things the rest of the world would rather not know about.

They’re not just personnel monitoring machines and data, they’re taking the emotional temperature of the patient and family and sometimes easing their patient onto their next stage, holding their hands and listening to their last words. The nurses provide each other with necessary emotional support when there’s no one else who understands the day-to-day work of a critical care unit.

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They vent to each other, encourage each other and join each other in finding the humor in dark situations that would horrify anyone else. Nursing is more than just a job for these nurses — it’s a calling.

Not one of the 50 nurses featured in this book said they became a nurse for the money or the chance for advancement. They weren’t looking for fame, fortune or even thanks, although all were grateful when it came their way. Also, no one really complained.

Short but Sweet

The stories are short, most only two to four pages long. While many are accompanied by photographs, some subjects have chosen to use only their first name and the hospital where they work.

Although it does contain a few COVID-19 stories, for the most part, this book was written before America began regarding nursing as the front line in the pandemic war. Thankfully, nurses are now more widely recognized for the hard job they do and thanked more often than in the past.

Patterson and Eversmann did nurses everywhere a favor by writing E.R. Nurses. It’s a reminder that we can all hold our heads up high and be proud of who we are. When I left for nursing school, my father was disappointed that I’d chosen what he considered a blue-collar career.

Years later, after a series of cardiac problems, he couldn’t wait to tell the nurses on his hospital floor that I was one of them. I’ll never be sorry that I joined their ranks.

E.R. Nurses: True Stories from America’s Greatest Unsung Heroes by James Patterson and Matt Eversmann (Little, Brown and Co., 2021)

CHRISTINE CONTILLO, RN, BSN, PHN, is a public health nurse with more than 40 years of experience, ranging from infants to geriatrics. She enjoys volunteering for medical missions.

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