My Blog, Nursingstories.org, was selected by Nurse Buff: Nursing Humor & Lifestyle Blog as one of the best 100 Nursing Blogs and/or Websites in 2020. While I am honored with this selection, I am also so impressed that we nurses are now publishing our stories on the internet in impressive numbers.
Rather than add an URL I am listing all 100 on my site for your review.
Why It Matters: The Nursing Site specializes in posting about the latest topics regarding the nursing profession, boasting a wealth of content available for multiple different audiences such as newly licensed nurses, student nurses, and even seasoned or veteran nurses.
Great Read: “Healthy Eating for Nurses Who Work Long Hours” is a great article for nurses who may be neglecting a healthy diet because of their long work hours or erratic schedules. It also talks about how nurses should also prioritize taking care of themselves in addition to taking care of others.
Why It Matters: Elizabeth Scala is a nurse who is confident in her knowledge regarding nurse burnout. She is also a Nurse’s Week online program host as well as a bestselling author who often partners with nursing schools and associations in order to help bring about a positive change in the nursing field.
Great Read:“The Physical Benefits of Positive Thinking” talks about how important it is for nurses to think positively and the various tangible benefits that could come as a result of that. Some examples of this are patient pill compliance, appreciative inquiry, and other general physical benefits such as lower stress levels and better cardiovascular health.
Anthony Langley contacted me to ask if he could send me a copy of his book to review and possibly discuss on my Blog. I am always happy to support a fellow nurse who takes the plunge and writes a book about nursing, so I said sure.
About the Author
Anthony Langley has been a registered nurse for twenty-nine years. He also has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. His interest in nursing started after getting a job as a security officer in the emergency room of a hospital. A male nurse who worked in the emergency room showed him the things that nurses did, which got him interested in nursing.
He got his bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1990. At his first job, he started on a medical-surgical unit. He has worked in many areas of the hospital, which include surgical stepdown unit, surgical intensive care, same-day surgery, and the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) recovery room.
Last Friday I discussed my book, Stories from theTenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers at the Wonderland Book Club, which was held at a local independent bookstore. The audience was quite engaged and we shared discussions not only of my book but of the status of nurses, problems within the health care industry in general and in North Carolina in particular.
Here are some of the questions/comments:
How do you deal with the stress of caring for patients? Do you take these problems home with you?
Me: I have always taken home patient problems as evidenced by what I wrote in my journals. Journaling was a way I dealt with problems at work. The more difficult the patient issues, the more time I spent writing in my journal. A lot of the stories from the book have been documented in my journal. In fact, the last chapter, Playing Sheriff, was written before I found the journal from that time period. I was surprised to find the story closely paralleled the journal entry.
How brave you were to write about your mother. (I’ve had this comment before. The first time, I really didn’t understand what the person was talking about)
Me: It was difficult to write about my mother. We didn’t get along. It was especially disturbing that I was a gerontological specialist and couldn’t get along with my own elderly mother. But it was truth and I felt it was part of my story. (At another reading, I was asked what happened to my mother when she had a place of her own. I told how my mother found a boyfriend. Wish I had thought to add that to my response.)
How do you deal with writing about yourself? (Asked by someone who doesn’t write non-fiction)
Me: I look at this book as a story about someone I know. I tried to dissociate from myself so it was easier to be honest about my actions.
Who was your most memorable patient?
Me: Helen Stoltz. She lived in the apartment next door to the clinic. When I wasn’t busy, she would drop-in and sit a few minutes beside my desk and teach me about aging. Of course, she didn’t know that what’s she was doing. She talked about getting older and eventually dying, which showed me that older folks aren’t afraid of talking about death. She was ready to die. However, she was cheerful and upbeat and accepting of her life until her time came.
What was the most memorable line your wrote in your book?
Me: I didn’t write it but it came verbatim from my notes at the time. The funeral director told me how to go about purchasing a grave site for the Pigeon Lady: The Greeks are tight but the Catholics will give you a break. (page 96). I’m thankful that I wrote down what he said. He was such a character—embodied with Chicago smarts and a big heart.
What I didn’t say was that “I killed all my darlings.” Therefore, there are no “precious” sentences that have survived my editing, thank goodness.
How serendipitous is this? I wrote this post back on April 15, 2012 about how I hesitated to include into my memoir, Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers, a story of three men who had cancer and lived near each other.
Their stories didn’t make the cut, after all, because I had narrowed down the scope of the book to include just the time I spent at the clinic. I put their stories on the shelf and, now, I want to write about them in my new book, which is going to be about making home visits.
Truth be told, I have been successfully avoiding writing the manuscript. I’m not sure why.
I plan to meet with my mentor and good friend after the holidays to help me explore what I’m afraid of.
I didn’t attend the 2011 Fall Conference in Asheville sponsored by the North Carolina Writers Network but I kept this description of one of the master classes: “If You’re Afraid to Write About It, You Probably Should Write About It”
Often a writer’s breakthrough comes when he finally faces up to material he’s been avoiding. Maybe it’s too personal or too painful or maybe he assumes it just wouldn’t interest anyone else. Whatever the reason, we writers often overlook our own obvious strengths, dismissing the very things that are central to us. Consequently, we write around the edges of our lives or our characters’ lives, so that our stories are pale imitations of what they could be. They may be well-written, they may even be entertaining, but they lack heart. As a writing teacher, I spend a good bit of time helping students recognize and appreciate their own writerly…
I believe nurses are best poised to change the future of healthcare.
Today, registered nurses spend more time physically present with patients than any other healthcare professional, and as a consequence we see and hear a lot. We maintain a vantage point markedly different from that of the MD, the scholar, the journalist, and the policy maker. We are intimately familiar with the complexity and multiplicity of the patient experience, as well as the systems in health care that fail to acknowledge it. We witness the system’s barriers regularly, and in turn we come up with creative solutions to side step its most vexing realities.
(Sana Goldberg, How to be a Patient: The Essential Guide to Navigating the World of Modern Medicine, page XXIV)
Doesn’t that last sentence remind you of Teresa Brown’s New York Times Op Ed essay that I posted just last week? Side stepping vexing realities is another way of describing the “workarounds” that Brown described.
I’m using another book written by a nurse for my talk. Finish Strong: Putting Your Priorities First at Life’s End by Barbara Coombs Lee, who besides being a nurse is a lawyer and President of Compassion and Choices.
Both books are well written and easy to read and full of great information that older readers will find helpful. And, of course, I am pleased that they are written from a nursing perspective.
A latte and croissant at Firehook Bakery near our hotel before heading home on Amtrak.
Not being one to enjoy formal celebrations (I didn’t attend either my undergrad or graduate ceremony), I’m glad that I traveled to Washington DC for the INDIE Book Awards. I’m so proud to be part of the community of authors that night who were celebrated for their achievements, whether they won a Grand Prize, or like me, one of the many Finalists awards. It’s a night I won’t forget.
I was one of about thirty authors who attended the program, Authors in Your Backyard: A Celebration of Local Writers, held at my neighborhood library on a Sunday afternoon not too long ago. I arrived with copies of my book: Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic, and the syringes
to lure readers to my table. I didn’t know to bring a pretty colored cloth to cover my part of the table that I would share with another writer. Before the program started—a keynote address by a well-known mystery writer and five randomly selected readings—I roamed the room meeting the other authors.
At the very first table by the door, a woman about my age set up her books beside a poster publicizing her work. She had brought a table cover onto which she pinned a large sheet that announced: “Nancy Panko, author of Award Winning “Guiding Missal.” Her display could have been inside a book store. She had done this before.
While Nancy’s book was not about nursing, we soon discovered we were both nurses. She became a nurse in her late 30’s. She has been published 10 times in Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her 11thwill be in the next Christmas edition.
Nancy Panko epitomized the type of nurse I have long promoted. One who writes about her life as a nurse. Plus, she is an older woman. A great role model.
So, I asked her if I could spotlight her in my next post.
Here are two of her Chicken Soup stories and a link to her award-winning book: Guiding Missal.
At the end of the stories, Nancy answers two of my questions:
Why do nurses need to publish their stories?
What has nursing done for you?
A Journey of Healing
On a sunny July day, my younger brother Terry was killed as he attempted to cut down a tree. He died instantly of traumatic head injury. In the blink of an eye, I no longer had a brother. He wouldn’t be in my life to tease me, give me advice, or to make me laugh. He was just gone, leaving a huge hole in all our hearts. The pain was unbearable.
As I grieved, I found I wanted to pay tribute to my brother’s life. At the age of 14, I announced to my parents that I wanted to be a nurse. As I grew up that goal got pushed aside, I got married and had children. I prayed that somehow I could find a way to go back to school to realize my dream of being a nurse. My husband and children were very supportive and we all prayed that God would show us the way…and he did.
I enrolled in nursing school, achieved good grades and made Dean’s List. In my Junior year, I began carpooling with Jeanne, one of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) instructors. Driving fifty miles a day, we shared confidences and family stories. She became a mentor and a friend. I explained how Terry’s death affected my decision to return to school and how fragile I was just thinking about treating a traumatic head injury patient. She listened intently and seemed sympathetic.
The day before our senior year ICU clinical experience, Jeanne, my mentor and car pool friend, assigned me a traumatic head injury patient. I was in shock and disbelief. I prayed silently for help. I could not let my emotional, personal experience interfere with giving this patient the best care possible.
Upon entering the ICU, I learned that my patient was in surgery, having his second operation to relieve pressure from a blood clot on his brain. The doctors had given him little chance of survival. Terry had no chance at all, but this guy does, I thought. He’s still here, fighting for his life, and I’m going to do everything in my power to help him. I prayed for my patient and his family in the waiting room.
That afternoon and evening I studied the patient’s chart. His name was Sam, he was nineteen years old, the youngest child of a large close knit family and his accident was eerily similar to Terry’s. He worked for a tree-trimming company and while strapped in his safety harness perched in the tree to trim branches, he was hit in the head by a falling branch. He hung upside-down in the tree for nearly an hour before being extricated. He suffered a fractured skull with a large blood clot on his brain. A device was in place to relieve and measure the pressure inside his skull. A ventilator helped him breathe, he had arterial lines, IV’s and a urinary catheter. He had been given The Last Rites. Twice.
The next day, just after dawn, I saw Sam for the first time. His head was swathed in bandages, he was unresponsive and motionless. His tall frame completely filled the length of the bed, no sign of awareness in that young body.
My knees were weak, but I knew every detail about his physical condition, medications, procedures and his monitors. In ICU, the details can mean the difference between life and death. I can do this, I said to myself. All my hard work to this point comes down to this day and this patient. I laid my hand on Sam’s arm. “Good Morning Sam. I’m your nurse for today, my name is Nancy.” I told him the day of the week, the date, the time, what the weather was like. I chattered on while gently caring for him. There was no response. After morning care and charting I took time to speak to his family.
Out in the waiting room, I approached a tired-looking woman and introduced myself to Sam’s mother. She told me all about Sam and the family. I asked her to join me in a plan to stimulate her son and, hopefully, lighten his coma. I asked her to bring in a radio to play his favorite music and family pictures to tape in easy-to-spot places around his cubicle. I shared my nursing care plan with her and she felt included. This plan was also a prayer. Sam’s mother had a glimmer of hope and was pleased that she could help.
Each day we carried out the plan. I talked to Sam and played his favorite music. While completing all my nursing duties, I told him about the leaves changing colors and about the apples and cider for sale along the roadside. His vital signs were stable, no signs of infection but there was no response. It was hard to see this young man remain so still.
One day, as I struggled to put one of his heavy, long legs into his pajama bottom, I said, “Sam, it would be great if you could help me. Can you lift your leg?” His leg rose five inches off the bed. I tried to remain calm. “Thank you, Sam. Can you raise the other leg.” He did it! He could hear and follow commands, he had bilateral lower extremity movement, still, he had not regained consciousness or opened his eyes.
The next morning, I was told that during the night Sam had started breathing against the ventilator. As I came into his cubicle, I put my hand in his and told him I was there for the day. Sam squeezed it! I grabbed his other hand and asked him to squeeze again. He obeyed. Both hands and arms working on command. Praise God! I encouraged Sam all day. By the afternoon, he was breathing totally on his own and no longer required the ventilator.
Still his eyes remained closed. As I worked with Sam the next day, he turned his head from side to side to follow my voice wherever I was. I brought his mother into ICU. “Sam,” I said, as his face turned towards me, “Your mom is here.” A tear slid down his cheek. “Sam,” I repeated firmly, “your mom is here. Please open your eyes.” We watched him struggle to lift his eyelids. Finally, his eyes fluttered open, but he looked toward the sound of my voice. “Sam,” I said, walking around the side of the bed to stand behind his mother, “look at your mom.” Suddenly, recognition dawned in his eyes as he gazed at his mother’s face and began to sob. The staff and my instructor, Jeanne had gathered to watch this miracle unfold, they were all crying. I partially lowered the bed’s side rail for a long awaited mother and son embrace. I felt so blessed to be a part of this journey of healing.
Sam continued to improve rapidly and was soon discharged from ICU to the Rehabilitation Unit where he had to learn to walk, talk and perform all his activities of daily living. His mother was at his side every day.
In caring for Sam, I had dealt with my grief, loss, fears and emotions. I was able to do for Sam what I couldn’t do for my dear brother, Terry. Against all odds, Sam survived.
A few weeks later, while walking through the Rehab Unit, I heard someone call my name. It was Sam’s mother. We hugged, she was smiling. I saw a tall, handsome young man standing next to her. His formerly shaved head had grown a crew cut beginning to hide the many scars. I barely recognized him.
“Hi Sam, how are you?” I said. “Do you remember me?”
He cocked his head and spoke haltingly. “Your voice sounds so familiar.”
The lump in my throat only allowed me to respond, “I was one of your nurses in ICU.”
His words came out haltingly, “You..are..Nancy..My..mom..told..me..all..about..you.”
Here was a true miracle standing before me. For two weeks, my life was intertwined with Sam’s as we each experienced joyful healing.
One day, while Jeanne and I were driving to school, I gathered the courage to ask her why she blindsided me by assigning me a traumatic head injury patient, when she knew my story. She explained that she believed in my nursing skills and even more so in my character. She wanted me to face my fear while she was there to watch over and support me. I was emotionally touched to feel her kindness.
A few months later, at my graduation, I received flowers from Sam’s family. The card said,” To our Angel!” On this journey of healing, I believe that both Sam and I had the divine blessing of someone watching over us.
Chicken Soup for the Soul—Find Your Inner Strength, November 2014, 303
A Cast of Characters
It was the first week of September, a beautiful late summer evening that made you glad to be alive. I wanted to be outside, but I sat at the kitchen table studying for a biochemistry exam. George was relaxing, reading the newspaper. Our fourteen-year-old daughter was attending the first high school football game of the season and our seven-year-old son was in the front yard playing soccer with a friend. Suddenly, a blood-curdling scream outside had us jumping up and racing toward the sound. My gut churned hearing the agonizing howl of pain coming from our child.
George and I burst through the screen door running toward our boy who was lying on the ground screaming, “My leg, my leg.”
Rushing to his side, I cradled his head and told him to lie still and not move. Tears streamed down his face, as he reached toward his contorted leg.
“Call 911,” I said to my husband. I was sure his leg was broken.
At the first sound of sirens and sight of flashing lights, many neighbors flooded into the street. The ambulance and EMTs pulled into our driveway and promptly got to work. They splinted the lower half of Timmy’s body and moved him onto a stretcher.
A nurse neighbor approached me and offered to call the surgeon she worked with to meet us in the ER. Gratefully, we said yes. Timmy was loaded into the ambulance. We followed in the car.
The ride was a short one and the surgeon was waiting for us. Technicians whisked our frightened seven-year-old off to x-ray, George and I trailed alongside the litter, holding his hand. Minutes later I stood next to the doctor as we looked at the films. “A spiral fracture of the femur is serious business.” I could see exactly what he meant. There were a good three inches between the ends of the broken bones.
I faced the doctor. “What does this mean as far as treatment and hospitalization?”
“He’ll need a pin in his leg then two weeks in traction. When the bones are aligned I’d put him in a hip spica cast.”
“It’s a little smaller than a full body cast, starting just under his rib cage extending to his toes on the fractured leg and to his knee on the uninjured one. A stabilizing bar will be attached as part of the cast to keep his legs in alignment.”
I felt weak in the knees and my mind was racing. I was in my first full year of nursing school twenty-six miles away. The only prayer I had of staying in school was to have Timmy transferred to an orthopedic specialist at the hospital in which I was doing my training. I could stay with him when I wasn’t in class and do my homework in his room and spend nights in the nurse’s residence. The surgeon respected my wishes and gave the order for the transfer.
That short term plan would suffice as long as he was hospitalized, but what would we do when he was discharged in that hip spica thing? George calmly reassured me we’d take one day at a time.
As soon as our parents heard what happened they said, “What do you need? And how soon do you need us to come.” We were relieved at their generous offer to help and set up a tentative schedule, to be firmed up as soon as we had a discharge date.
Two weeks later, we were given instructions for home care: two people had to turn him every two hours because he was no longer a featherweight little boy, but a large bulky plaster boy. At all costs, we could not jostle the metal skeletal pin apparatus protruding from the cast. We had to make sure he was adequately hydrated to help prevent blood clots due to his inactivity. He had cut-outs in the cast to allow for bodily functions using a bedpan and a urinal. We borrowed a mechanic’s creeper so we could place him on his stomach to play. Elevated on pillows to keep the metal apparatus from touching the floor, it was easy for him to pull himself around on the ball bearing casters while he maneuvered his little cars and army men. We alternated him between a sofa bed downstairs during the day and his own bed at night.
Our parents lived with us and cared for Timmy for three weeks. Everyone had the tutorial on how to care for the boy in the cast. George came home for long lunches to pitch in. However, weeks loomed ahead where we had no help.
When our wonderful neighbors heard there was a possibility I’d have to leave school to take care of Timmy, one, in particular, became a lifesaver setting up a schedule of volunteers to help during the work week. A nurse herself, Lynne was eager to assist. She was a Godsend. Words can never express how grateful we were for her help. She brought a red stake body wagon which was padded with many pillows so she could pull Timmy around the neighborhood on nice days. She set up a chaise lounge in the shade of the front porch with, you guessed it, lots of pillows, and Tim would color or read books.
For three weeks my neighbors covered Monday through Friday so I didn’t have to take a leave of absence from school. My heart burst with thankfulness for their sacrifice and kindness.
After six weeks in the cast, Timmy was admitted to the hospital to have the contraption removed and begin physical therapy to learn to walk all over again. I stayed in the nurses’ residence until he came home using a tiny walker. He was not allowed back to school until he could manage walking with crutches. When that goal was reached, George drove him to school in the morning and Lynne picked him up in the afternoon. Both the kids got home about the same time and Margie supervised her little brother until I got home at four PM. It was a team effort.
One afternoon in the first week of December, three months to the day after the accident, I came through the door to see my two beautiful children sitting at the table having an after school snack. “We have a surprise for you, Mom. Close your eyes.”
“Okay, they’re closed.”
Several seconds passed. “Open your eyes now.”
I opened my eyes to see both kids grinning from ear to ear. Timmy was standing unassisted and slowly walked toward me. I began to cry as he reached out his arms for the best hug ever.
Three years later, I graduated from nursing school, having made the Dean’s list six times. It humbles me to know my achievement would not have been possible without the kindness and sacrifice of family and friends to get us through a most difficult time.
Chicken Soup for the Soul—My Kind of America, August 2017, 240
Why do nurses need to publish our stories?
Nancy: As helpers, we know that there is more than one way to heal the body, mind, and soul. In writing fiction, we entertain while providing information and giving the reader a chance to escape reality – temporarily. Non-fiction can be instructive, informative, and educational in a private non-threatening way. Nurses on the job are creative, improvisational, and innovative, not only caregivers. Nurses are often underestimated but everyone knows that it is the nurse who is with the patient for 8 – 12 hours a day, not the doctors. The nurse is the patient advocate, she is the communicator of the patient’s condition while under her care, she is the liaison between the doctor and the patient. She is the glue that holds the entire hospital system together. If a nurse also has a penchant to write, those qualities come through onto the page.
What has nursing done for you?
Nancy: Nursing has enriched my life beyond measure. I returned to University 17 years after I studied the first time. At the age of 35, I was the oldest in my nursing class. It was the hardest 4 years of my life but I wouldn’t change it for anything. I graduated the spring before my 40th birthday and watched as my family cried when I walked across the stage to accept my diploma. Non-traditional students, that’s what they called us, are typically more motivated and focused in their studies and on each clinical rotation and that was true for me. As a well-educated nurse, my basic knowledge and ability to reason have never left me. Nursing is like the mafia, I can’t get out even in retirement because family and friends always ask my opinion on health-related issues. I’m always having to palpate bumps and lumps and looking at spots and rashes. My stock advice is usually, “I think you should see your doctor” or “put some calamine lotion on that poison ivy.”
I’ve long been a proponent of nurses writing their stories to educate the general public about what we really do. Here’s a book: Learning to Heal: Reflections on Nursing School in Poetry and Prosethat does that and more.
The essays, from seasoned nurses as well as recent grads and “respected elders,” are set in the United States and abroad and show the history, rigors, challenges, humor, and sadness that alternate during the nursing school experience. Not every author in this collection makes it to graduation.
The prerequisite of nursing—compassion, empathy, and psychological support—threads through the stories. The reader will learn the depth of the nurse-patient/family connection. This connection becomes ingrained in the nurses’ psyche as evidenced by Courtney Davis’ Wednesday’s Child. Her story mirrors my Baby in the Closet. She, too, wrote about a newborn with a deformity who was left to die in a linen closet. Courtney, like me, carried the fate of the baby along with unanswered questions for almost 50 years!
Never a specialty I wanted to practice, psychiatric nursing demands a special temperament. Poetry especially captures the depths of human understanding needed to make a difference.
. . . Come to my group, my plea, as I knelt offering
filtered cigarettes as free admission tickets.
In an empty silence, we sat on single beds, arranged
in a square, in a room as cavernous as an airplane hangar.
What was my hurry? Most had lived there twenty years.
Hardly a word dropped into the atmosphere.
—Ward 24, Nancy Kerrigan
I associated with Geraldine Gorman’s Learning the Wisdom of Tea, who takes us though her education from a diploma nurse to a PhD. I, too, wondered where were the “(f)irst person accounts of interactions of patients and family . . .” Where were the nursing stories? And I, too, questioned the authoritative methods of instructors in nursing academia. And I, too, felt fortunate to find a career path that allowed me to “practice outside the hospital.” My “wisdom of tea” began at the kitchen tables of my patients when I visited their homes as a guest, learning that I needed to obtain their cooperation in order to institute a treatment plan.
The stories and poems in this anthology are varied, educational, entertaining, and poignant. Whether the reader is a nurse or not, all will learn that nursing has come a long way asLearning to Heal stories excellently show.
A serendipitous meeting with Michele Berger reminded me of the long road I traveled conceptualizing, creating, and finally completing my book. Many folks that I met along the way inspired and supported my efforts. Most I never had the chance to thank. Fortunately, now I can tell Michele that her creativity workshop and follow-up coaching encouraged me to stay on track.
Thank you, Michele.
Below is Michele Berger’s recent post spotlighting me and my book.
Happy new year, everyone! It feels especially poignant to begin the first post of the year with a special Author Q&A. More than a decade ago, before I formally began my coaching practice, I taught creativity workshops at UNC-Chapel Hill’s The Friday Center. They had a thriving adult enrichment program. My classes were popular and I met and coached people from all backgrounds. It is always a delight to run into people many years later and hear about their creative adventures.
Two months ago at the North Carolina Writers’ Conference, out the corner of my I saw a distinguished-looking woman. Her face looked familiar, but I only caught a glimpse before moving on to my next panel. To my great delight and surprise, this same woman came up to me at the reception. We immediately recognized each other. She had taken one of my classes at the Friday Center and…