The American Nurses Association has declared this National Nurses Week (May 6-12, 2017) theme as “Nursing: The Balance of Mind, Body, and Spirit” to accompany their designation of 2017 as “The Year of the Healthy Nurse.” To help nurses celebrate the week, a host of businesses are offering “freebies” to nurses, including 1,000 calorie cinnamon rolls. I have nothing against high-calorie baked goods, but to celebrate nurses I recommend books and inkpots. Books, as in real books by real nurses (my current favorites listed below). And inkpots? I explain that in the following excerpt from my upcoming commencement address to graduates of the Yale School of Nursing:
“Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you about a topic I am passionate about: nursing. But not traditional nursing—not the Lady with the Lamp during the Crimean War—and not the white uniform-clad nursing angel of Hallmark moments. About that nurse angel, to paraphrase Virginia Woolf and her similarly stifling angel of the house: whenever you feel the shadow of her wings or the radiance of her halo, take up the inkpot or whatever modern equivalent is nearby and fling it at her. Because nurses are flesh and blood people. Nurses are not supernatural beings. We, as nurses, are human beings. Today, I want to talk to you about the real life transforming and transformational nursing of which you are all a part. I want to talk to you about radical nursing. And about the radical self-care it takes to be a radical nurse.”
I have always bristled at the mention of nurses as angels and included this pet peeve of mine in a previous blog post from January 10, 2016: “Sick Nurses.” So I was delighted to run across a poem, “Killing the Nurse in the House,” by nurse and poet Cortney Davis. I had the pleasure of reviewing her forthcoming collection of poems, Taking Care of Time (Michigan State University Press), which won their Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize. This is the endorsement I wrote: “Searing and unsentimental, the poems of Cortney Davis serve as haunting and truth-telling companions. Whenever I am in need of inspiration or of reconnecting with compassion and with all it means to be human, I return to Davis’s ’stories tamed on the page.’ Although, as in her poem ‘The Snake Charmer,’ Davis knows her poems connect us with the wild, untamable places of our lives.” Taking Care of Time avoids the overly religious (to me) themes that have appeared in some of Davis’ recent writing. It will have a permanent place in my home library once it is published.
My current favorite “Real Books by Real Nurses” (and yes, I do include my own and yes, I do realize that this is not a very diverse group of authors and welcome suggestions of books I may not know about):
- Laurie Barkin. The Comfort Garden: Tales from the Trauma Unit. (San Francisco, CA: Fresh Pond Press, 2011).
- Cortney Davis. The Heart’s Truth: Essays on the Art of Nursing. (Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 2009).
- Cortney Davis and Judy Schaefer, editors. Between the Heartbeats: Poetry and Prose by Nurses. (Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 1995).
- Josephine Ensign. Catching Homelessness: A Nurse’s Story of Falling Through the Safety Net. (Berkeley, CA: She Writes Press, 2016).
- Lee Gutkind, editor. I Wasn’t Strong Like This When I Started Out: True Stories of Becoming a Nurse. (Pittsburg, PA: InFact Books, 2013). Note: Even though I abhor this book’s/collection of essays’ title, they included one of my earliest written (and still close to my heart) essays, “Next of Kin,” as well as a good variety of essays by other nurses.
- James Kelly. Where Night is Day: The World of the ICU. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013).
- Veneta Masson. Ninth Street Notebook: Voice of a Nurse in the City. (Washington, DC: SageFemme Press, 2001).
- Mary Jane Nealon. Beautiful Unbroken: One Nurse’s Life. (Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press, 2011).
- Judy Schaefer, editor. The Poetry of Nursing: Poems and Commentaries of Leading Nurse Poets. (Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 2006).
- Sally Tisdale. Violation: Collected Essays. (Portland, OR: Hawthorne Books and Literary Arts, 2016).
- Virginia Woolf and (her mother who was a nurse) Julia Stephen. On Being Ill and Notes from the Sickroom. (Ashfield, Massachusetts: Paris Press, 2012).
- Jennifer Worth. Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times. (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2002).