Through the Eyes of Nurses

On February 25th in the New York Times, two stories appeared about nurses. Both sobering. Both timely. Both essential.

In my last post, I celebrated the fact that although the pandemic is killing scores of people and putting a strain on resources, including health care personnel, nurses have been in the forefront of the media getting the recognition that they have long deserved. And more nurses are speaking out by telling their stories. Long overdue. 

However, the two stories in the NYT need to be read/viewed. One is by Theresa Brown who I have many times spot-lighted here because of her accurate assessment (my view) of nursing issues. A nurse herself, she has been calling attention to the nursing profession in the media and through her books. 

Brown’s piece: Covid-19 Is “Probably Going to End My Career,” is an exposé of what is terribly wrong in the profession and what should be done. She writes bravely and honestly about the precarious state of organized nursing. 

The second article, One I.C.U. Two nurses with cameras, is written, not by a nurse, but by a photojournalist. He filmed a fifteen-minute video that is raw footage of two nurses working with dying Covid patients in the ICU. Unvarnished, compelling and poignant. It’s a must watch that shows exactly what nurses experience during their shifts.    

I’ve attached the links to both essays. The fifteen-minute video is imbedded in both. 

Covid-19 Is “Probably Going to End My Career 

One I.C.U. Two nurses with cameras

Country Music

I’m not writing my second book whose working title was to be “Home Visits.” The Pandemic has cast a spell on my brain, resulting in lethargy and an inability to focus on structuring another book. So, instead, I’ve decided to take each home visit story and submit it to a literary magazine for potential publication as a “stand-alone” essay. I plan to email one of the stories, Country Music, at the end of this week to an online journal. 

Country Music tells the story of three patients that I cared for when I worked as a nurse practitioner in a home care program at a Veterans Hospital outside of Chicago. They were at various stages of dying. In the late 80s, the hospice movement was just taking baby steps into the medical/nursing world. I was learning about dying and death from my patients and their caregivers. 

The locations of the three patients’ homes lined up perfectly for me to make the visits to them conveniently in the same day. This lasted for about three months. On the day of the story, a dreary, rainy day, I show the challenges I faced working with my three male patients and their wives (few women were enrolled in the VA health care system at that time), how each man played the hand he was dealt and how the women dealt their husband’s decline. 

One of the men loved country music. Talking with him about songs and artists, rekindled my interest in the genre. I found a great country western radio station on my government-issued compact car. The earthy, raw lyrics telling of common human emotions became my therapeutic passenger that accompanied me on my home visits. 

While I am editing this story for submission, I find myself checking into YouTube to listen to the familiar songs that supported me so many years ago. This is more fun than writing that second book. 

Glass Half-Full

Dominated by political turmoil and the COVID-19 Pandemic, this past year has been a roller coaster ride with few brief moments of slow travel interspersed with deep dives of fright and foreboding. The highs that I have enjoyed come in part from the increased attention given to nurses. I have long complained that the nursing profession has been mostly invisible to the public eye, media and policy making sectors. The increase in visibility and status of nurses in these turbulent times looks to me like a glass half-full. 

I celebrate all the recent recognition direct towards nurses. When have nurses spoken up in great numbers for their profession, their practice, their patients and for their contribution to the world-wide challenge to defeat of the COVID-19 Pandemic? When have nurses received so much positive media awareness? Been frequently appointed to expert panels along with physicians and other health care professionals? Interviewed prominently by the news media? Featured favorably on TV shows? 

How much of a coincidence was it that 2020 was designated by the World Health Organization as the Year of the Nurse and the Nurse Midwife? 

In reviewing my posts of the past year, I have pulled out the ones that show increased focus on the nursing profession. I enjoyed revisiting them and am hopeful that the positive attention showered on the nursing profession continues. 

Nurses Gain the Attention They Deserve

Impressive List of Nurse Experts

United Kingdom Nursing Students Work on the Front Lines of the Pandemic

The Power of Nurses

Nursing Students Provide Insights into the Pandemic Media In-Depth Look at Nurses

Heroic Symbol: A Nursehttps://nursingstories.org/2020/05/26/badass-nurse/

One of the memes circulating on the social media platform Reddit created from a photo of UNC Hospital emergency room nurse Grace Cindric taken by News & Observer photojournalist Robert Willett earlier this week.

What Would Flo Think?  

Why Does It Take a Pandemic to Recognize Nurses? 

Nurses Transform Lives

Thanksgiving Tradition

Looks like I have started my own tradition. I am posting Happy Lasagna Day on my Blog during Thanksgiving week for the third time since 2016. That year, my husband and I chose to spend Thanksgiving alone. Last year, although we enjoyed a traditional turkey meal with my daughter, son-in-law and the grandkids, I posted Happy Lasagna Day for the second time. 

This year we will spend Thanksgiving day alone, again, but not by choice. My husband and I are at high risk for the devastating effects of Covid-19 and we decided to stay safe at home. 

Rather than feel sorry for our isolation, I will relive the warm memories of family celebrations of the past by posting Happy Lasagna Day for the third time. Yes, my new ritual. 

Happy Lasagna Day

First posted on November 24, 2016

My husband and I are spending Thanksgiving alone—by choice. We had been invited out but graciously declined. 

After having three sets of houseguests in six weeks, we are happy to be alone. By the way, the house has never been cleaner. 

And we broke from the traditional Thanksgiving dinner—we are having lasagna. 

I love leftover lasagna as much or more than leftover turkey, stuffing and gravy. 

Over the years lasagna has become the ubiquitous casserole. You can find it premade in deli departments and frozen food cases in grocery stores. It’s the go-to meal neighbors bring over to neighbors on happy occasions (childbirth) and solemn occasions (sickness or death in the family). 

My love of lasagna goes back to my childhood when we visited Grandma in Jersey City. She lived in a second floor walk-up two blocks from my house. Who remembers what time she got up in the morning to begin cooking the lasagna and the rest of the meal, including homemade bread and a roasted chicken? As for the lasagna, she made the pasta from scratch. The tomato sauce (we called this gravy) simmered for hours on the stove. She used whole-milk ricotta and mozzarella cheeses that were made fresh at the Italian store down the block.  

Being the oldest granddaughter, I sometimes helped by assembling the multiple layers of the dish. First the sauce, the pasta in one layer, a few spoonfuls of cheese mixture (ricotta, parmesan, eggs, oregano and parsley), sliced mozzarella, more sauce/gravy and then I started over again finishing with the mozzarella on top. 

If the family ever had turkey for Thanksgiving, I don’t remember. 

In Grandma’ s cramped kitchen the men ate first—Grandma’s three sons, her five sons-in law and Grandpa. My cousins and I sat at the “children’s table” that was cobbled together with end tables and folding chairs. The women served and cleared and eventually sat down to dinner with the windows open to let out the steam from the kitchen along with the delicious aromas of the Italian Thanksgiving feast.  

So this Thanksgiving I am thankful for the usual, although not insignificant blessings, such as health, family, friends, but also for the memories that warm me and bring me back to Grandma’s table laden with her gifts and in the company of my extended family—some long gone but not forgotten. 

Wishing you a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving with Joyful Memories. 

United Kingdom Nursing Students Work on the Front Lines of the Pandemic

In my post on September 22: Nursing Students Provide Insights into the Pandemic, I spotlighted the thoughts and experiences of the nursing students from Seton Hall University, New Jersey, as they cared for Covid-19 patients. 

Today’s post has the same focus but this time nursing students from the United Kingdom share their stories about working on the front line of the pandemic.  ITV News from the United Kingdom discusses a new book: Living with Fear: Reflections on Covid-19 that was written by twenty-two nursing students plus other health care providers. The feelings that were expressed by American nursing students are mirrored in the UK nursing stories. The pandemic serves as a backdrop to reinforce the positive impact that nursing has on health care delivery and shows the general public how nursing care makes a difference.

United Kingdom Nursing Students Launch New Book About COVID-19

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Lucy Watson

Wednesday 14 October 2020, 7:16pm

Student nurses who were recruited to work on frontline NHS services to respond the coronavirus crisis have shared their stories in a new book

.

The trainees faced the daunting task of being placed in frontline positions at hospitals around the country whilst finishing their studies amid a global pandemic.

Now, some have written about the personal and professional challenges that inspired them to flourish at a time of national crisis. 

Entitled Living with Fear: Reflections on Covid-19, the book tells the stories of 22 nurses and other frontline professionals reflecting on what they experienced and how it impacted them. 

Ikra Majid reads from the book. Credit: ITV News

Student nurse Ikra Majid did placements at various hospitals in London and Hertfordshire during the pandemic. 

She now works at Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield.

“There did get to a point where I thought, why I am I doing this, it’s too much. I didn’t sign up for this pandemic,” she said.

“We have to make the best of it. As people say, when life gives you lemons you make lemonade. I tried to make the sweetest lemonade possible.”

She added: “The pandemic has made me realise even more what an important job we do.”

“This book shows that fear doesn’t define or take away the skills and experience of medical professionals, but rather helps them to grow a new way of thinking and working.

“When our students were called into practice, it gave them a true sense of what nursing is. They helped to saved lives and became superheroes in their local communities.”

Another one of the authors, Estelle Kabia, helped patients at the Hammersmith & Fulham Mental Health Unit during the pandemic.

“Covid taught me to be the nurse I want to be,” she said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling, I don’t think I will ever do anything as big in my whole life.”

Estelle Kabia helped patients at the Hammersmith & Fulham Mental Health Unit.Credit: ITV News

The book also explores the concept of ‘moral injury’ where nurses feel unable to provide the care the patient needs leaving them to question their own ability.

Ms Kabia said: “Sometimes I felt moral injury as we were picking up new practical skills whilst dealing with sick patients coming in, but it would come and then go, because after a few weeks I could see the impact I had.

“In one way, stepping up was nerve-wracking but it also gave me the passion to go out there and help. You’re treated as a professional, not a student. I had no fear when I was on the ward.”

Claudia Sabeta, who finished her postgraduate course specialising in mental health nursing at Buckinghamshire New University this summer, worked at Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow helping vulnerable and elderly mental health patients.

She said: “At first, I felt very overwhelmed by the Covid situation and I was worried about joining. I wondered how I would cope and if I’d put my family at risk. 

“But it was a great experience in the end and an opportunity I will never have again in my life.

“It had a positive impact on my knowledge and training, and boosted my confidence. I learned so fast and it will stay with me forever.”

Credit: ITV News

In July, thousands of student nurses recruited to work on the front line had their placements cut short, plunging some of them into financial despair.

In mid-April, NHS England reported that nearly 15,000 student nurses, midwives and medical students had joined “frontline NHS teams as part of the nationwide coronavirus fightback”.

Proceeds from the book will go to the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL) Charitable Fund, which supports staff and service users.

Dr Scott Galloway, one of the book’s authors and Chief Clinical Information Officer at CNWL, said: “Every day, frontline healthcare professionals manage the challenges and stress of making difficult and uncomfortable decisions about how to provide the best possible care to patients.

“Sometimes, however, our capacities are so overwhelmed by extraordinary events, such as Covid-19, that we are unable to provide what we know the patient needs.”

One of the book’s editors Margaret Rioga, Associate Head of School in the School of Nursing and Allied Health at Buckinghamshire New University, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic had an impact on everybody and created fear within us like never before.

“This book shows that fear doesn’t define or take away the skills and experience of medical professionals, but rather helps them to grow a new way of thinking and working.

“When our students were called into practice, it gave them a true sense of what nursing is. They helped to saved lives and became superheroes in their local communities.”

Overdue Reckoning on Racism in Nursing

Join me in attending this free series of timely web discussions: Overdue Reckoning on Racism in Nursing.

NurseManifest

We are excited to announce a series of web discussions “Overdue Reckoning on Racism in Nursing” starting on September 12th, and every week through October 10th! This initiative is in part an outgrowth of our 2018 Nursing Activism Think Tank and inspired by recent spotlights on the killing of Black Americans by police, and the inequitable devastation for people of color caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Racism in nursing has persisted far too long, sustained in large part by our collective failure to acknowledge the contributions and experiences of nurses of color. The intention of each session is to bring the voices of BILNOC (Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other Nurses Of Color) to the center, to explore from that center the persistence of racism in nursing, and to inspire/form actions to finally reckon with racism in nursing.

Lucinda Canty, Christina Nyirati and I (Peggy Chinn) have teamed up…

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Writing advice: Anne Lamott and Toni Morrison

This past Saturday, I watched Anne Lamott on a webinar sponsored by Book Passage. She spoke from her home for three hours, sharing her wisdom on writing.

She shared titles of books that might help with writing:

She shared books that gave her confidence that she could write using their structures, multiple points of view, etc:

She shared many tips, some from other writers. She told her us that we can use all that she shared. She cautioned, however, to give credit to the original source of her advice when appropriate. For example, E. L. Doctorow said: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” In other words, Anne stressed, that we should start to write in short increments. We don’t need to have the whole picture before we begin.

She shared the following writing tips:

  1. Stop NOT Writing.
  2. Don’t be pressured to write well. Write badly. ( remember in Bird by Bird, Anne coined: write a shitty first draft?)
  3. Trust you are loaded with stories to be told.
  4. Don’t try to “think” the story—just be available and let it happen.
  5. If you feel blocked, just write about it.
  6. Don’t tell us—start with the action. Describe. It’s a movie behind your eyes.
  7. Don’t force humor.
  8. If you are too close to the story, pretend you are Margaret Mead studying the aboriginal tribes.
  9. Tape record dialogue. Edit when it’s played back.
  10. Spend the most time at the beginning of your work paying attention to structure.

 

In closing, Anne instructed us to google writing advice from various writers.

Here is a shorten version of an article in Lit Hub written by Emily Temple, August 6, 2019. I “sifted through her interviews and speeches to find out what she thinks about writing.”

Temple has highlighted some of her (Toni’s) wisdom below:

“You Don’t Know Anything.” And Other Writing Advice from Toni Morrison

I don’t want to hear about your true love and your mama and your papa and your friends.

By Emily Temple

August 6, 2019

I can’t think of another writer who is quite so universally beloved as Toni Morrison. Her work is magnificent, her legacy is unimpeachable, and she reveals her brilliance at every opportunity. She also taught for many years at Princeton, and I think it’s safe to assume she knows a thing or two about nurturing young minds. So, using the relatively flimsy excuse of her birthday—Morrison turns 88 on Monday, which is also Presidents’ Day (is this a sign?)—I sifted through her interviews and speeches to find out what she thinks about writing. I’ve highlighted some of her wisdom below.

Write what you want to read.

I wrote the first book because I wanted to read it. I thought that kind of book, with that subject—those most vulnerable, most undescribed, not taken seriously little black girls—had never existed seriously in literature. No one had ever written about them except as props. Since I couldn’t find a book that did that, I thought, “Well, I’ll write it and then I’ll read it.” It was really the reading impulse that got me into the writing thing.

–from a 2014 interview with NEA Arts Magazine

Figure out how you work best.

I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?

–from a 1993 interview with Elissa Schappell in The Paris Review

Use the world around you.

Everything I see or do, the weather and the water, buildings . . . everything actual is an advantage when I am writing. It is like a menu, or a giant tool box, and I can pick and choose what I want. When I am not writing, or more important, when I have nothing on my mind for a book, then I see chaos, confusion, disorder.

–from a 2009 interview with Pam Houston in O Magazine

Let characters speak for themselves.

I try really hard, even if there’s a minor character, to hear their memorable lines. They really do float over your head when you’re writing them, like ghosts or living people. I don’t describe them very much, just broad strokes. You don’t know necessarily how tall they are, because I don’t want to force the reader into seeing what I see. It’s like listening to the radio as a kid. I had to help, as a listener, put in all of the details. It said “blue,” and I had to figure out what shade. Or if they said it was one way, I had to see it. It’s a participatory thing.

–from a 2014 interview with NEA Arts Magazine

Be open.

It’s that being open—not scratching for it, not digging for it, not constructing something but being open to the situation and trusting that what you don’t know will be available to you. It is bigger than your overt consciousness or your intelligence or even your gifts; it is out there somewhere and you have to let it in.

–from a 2009 interview with Pam Houston in O Magazine

Don’t read your work out loud until it’s finished.

I don’t trust a performance. I could get a response that might make me think it was successful when it wasn’t at all. The difficulty for me in writing—among the difficulties—is to write language that can work quietly on a page for a reader who doesn’t hear anything. Now for that, one has to work very carefully with what is in between the words. What is not said. Which is measure, which is rhythm, and so on. So, it is what you don’t write that frequently gives what you do write its power.

–from a 1993 interview with Elissa Schappell in The Paris Review

Don’t complain.

I think some aspects of writing can be taught. Obviously, you can’t expect to teach vision or talent. But you can help with comfort. . . . [Confidence] I can’t do much about. I’m very brutal about that. I just tell them: You have to do this, I don’t want to hear whining about how it’s so difficult. Oh, I don’t tolerate any of that because most of the people who’ve ever written are under enormous duress, myself being one them. So whining about how they can’t get it is ridiculous. What I can do very well is what I used to do, which is edit. I can follow their train of thought, see where their language is going, suggest other avenues. I can do that, and I can do that very well. I like to get in the manuscript.

–from a 1998 interview with Zia Jaffrey in Salon

Beware of overworking.

Those [paragraphs] that need reworking I do as long as I can. I mean I’ve revised six times, seven times, thirteen times. But there’s a line between revision and fretting, just working it to death. It is important to know when you are fretting it; when you are fretting it because it is not working, it needs to be scrapped.

–from a 1993 interview with Elissa Schappell in The Paris Review

Embrace failure.

As a writer, a failure is just information. It’s something that I’ve done wrong in writing, or is inaccurate or unclear. I recognize failure—which is important; some people don’t—and fix it, because it is data, it is information, knowledge of what does not work. That’s rewriting and editing.

With physical failures like liver, kidneys, heart, something else has to be done, something fixable that’s not in one’s own hands. But if it’s in your hands, then you have to pay very close attention to it, rather than get depressed or unnerved or feel ashamed. None of that is useful. It’s as though you’re in a laboratory and you’re working on an experiment with chemicals or with rats, and it doesn’t work. It doesn’t mix. You don’t throw up your hands and run out of the lab. What you do is you identify the procedure and what went wrong and then correct it. If you think of [writing] simply as information, you can get closer to success.

–from a 2014 interview with NEA Arts Magazine

Learn how to read—and critique—your own work.

People say, I write for myself, and it sounds so awful and so narcissistic, but in a sense if you know how to read your own work—that is, with the necessary critical distance—it makes you a better writer and editor. When I teach creative writing, I always speak about how you have to learn how to read your work; I don’t mean enjoy it because you wrote it. I mean, go away from it, and read it as though it is the first time you’ve ever seen it. Critique it that way. Don’t get all involved in your thrilling sentences and all that . . .

–from a 1993 interview with Elissa Schappell in The Paris Review

Seek holiness.

What I’m going to say is going to sound so pompous, but I think an artist, whether it’s a painter or a writer, it’s almost holy. There’s something about the vision, the wisdom. You can be a nobody, but seeing that way, it’s holy, it’s godlike. It’s above the normal life and perception of all of us, normally. You step up. And as long as you’re up there, even if you’re a terrible person—especially if you’re a terrible person—you see things that come together, and shake you, or move you, or clarify something for you that outside of your art you would not have known. It really is a vision above, or beyond.

–from a 2017 interview with Granta

 

Emily Temple

Emily Temple is the managing editor at Lit Hub. Her first novel, The Lightness, was published by William Morrow/HarperCollins in June 2020. You can buy it here.

https://www.emilytemple.net/

One day before this was published, Toni Morrison died from pneumonia.

The Story Behind the Message

I first posted “The Story Behind the Message” in 2017 before my memoir was published. Now as I work on my second book, this post remains as relevant to me as ever.

Writing for me doesn’t get easier, Molly.

********************************************

Rearranging my bookcase, I came across a book with the following inscription:

img_0050
To Marianna–No, it’s not easy! But you can do it. All the best, Molly

This is the story behind the message:

I had been writing for as long as I can remember. I saved many of my stories in longhand on scraps of paper, on faded yellow legal pads, and typed up on an old manual typewriter with multiple errors (I flunked typing in high-school). All were unedited and unfinished.

In the early 90s when I lived in the Washington DC area, I started to take writing more seriously by attending classes and conferences. One of the workshops was sponsored by the Smithsonian. I can’t remember for the life of me the woman who conducted the class. What I do remember was the cross section of adults who sat on folded chairs in the cramped room three stories below ground level at the Dillon Ripley Center. At one session, the instructor had invited her friend who was visiting from out of state, the author Molly Giles.

Molly looked to be about my age. She had reddish blond hair and a warm, earthy persona. I immediately wanted to be her best friend. She described the office she rented so she could write undisturbed.

After the class, I stood along side of the table where Molly was autographing her latest book: Creek Walk and Other Stories (still in print). creek-walk-by-molly-gilesShe was poised with pen in hand ready to inscribe the book to me as I chatted on about how much I enjoyed her talk and how I thought writing was fun. She cocked an eyebrow at me as if I had just told her I still believed in the tooth fairy. Gently, she told me that writing could be difficult.

Now, over 20 years later, I have written many words, finished and published some stories. I completed a memoir and am investigating self-publishing venues. For me, writing is more arduous than exhilarating. My greatest strength is persistence.

How I wish I could meet with Molly over a mocha latte at some cozy coffee house. I know what she was trying to tell me so long ago. She was right.