Two Nurses Tell Their Stories in Literary Journals

Two nurses write about hospice services in literary journals. Great reads!

The Sun is one of two literary journals that I have unsuccessfully submitted to over the years. The other is the Bellevue Literary Review.

Close to 20 years ago, I drove to The Sun’s offices, parked in front of a single-family house on Roberson Street in Chapel Hill, and placed my submission, an essay doubled-spaced on hard copy, folded, and slipped into a legal-size envelope along with a cover letter and self-addressed-stamped-envelope, in the mailbox by the front door. I drove back to my home some five miles away and waited.

Imagine my pleasant surprise to find that each journal has recently published an essay by a nurse. And the topic is similar: hospice.

I can’t display sour grapes because I have long promoted nurses telling their stories. And since I have worked as a hospice nurse, I know that hospice care is poorly understood and underutilized.

Every Baby Needs to be Rocked by Barbara Woodmansee, The Sun, May 2022

Barbara Woodmansee is a hospice nurse who is stationed at a local hospital awaiting referrals from the staff. She has been told to keep a low profile. Her essay tells of seven hospice admissions. They give an overview of the types of patients hospice manages and the variety of services that the hospice program provides. Woodmansee shows how hospice intervention makes a difference in a patient’s last days along with the roadblocks she faces in providing care. She also tells us of a personal experience that inspired her to be a hospice nurse.

One of Woodmansee’s patients, Carrie, is a woman in her early 20s who developed COVID after delivering a heathy son. Her immune system has failed, and she has “multisystem organ failure; sepsis has debilitated her heart, kidneys, liver, and lungs to the degree that she has no reserve left to fight her infection.”

Woodmansee is present in the hospital room where the patient’s family gathers while life support is withdrawn. “Once the ventilator is removed, Carrie’s entire family stands at the bedside, each with a hand on her body—all except for her mother. Ann has taken Carrie’s infant son to the car. When her daughter dies, she is holding the baby.”

Woodmansee notes that “COVID has made me even more aware of my inability to support everyone affected by a patient’s death: the dying person, the family, and the staff who are trying so hard. One of the important gifts we (hospice nurses) give to families in hospice is our presence, but we have to move so much faster now, with so many new barriers between us, both physical and psychological. Worst of all, we’re getting used to it.”

With that, Woodmansee shows what nurses feel and the relentless circumstances they have had to deal with the COVID pandemic. Her essay also shows the personal investment a nurse makes to each of her/his patients.

On The Brink by Barbara West, Bellevue Literary Review, Issue 42, 2011 BLR Prize Winners.

Barbara West, an on-call hospice nurse, deals with an unclear after-hours emergency. She visits the double-wide trailer occupied by an elderly sister and brother. What she finds is the brother, slumped over in a wheelchair close to death while the caregiver/sister seems bent on ignoring reality.

After West attempts to lift the brother from the wheelchair to the bed, a loud sound emits from his body, and his breathing stops. She says, “If you work in hospice long enough, you’re bound to be accused of murder at some point. It could be over the phone, in a moment of passion from a guilt-ridden, out-of-state, family member. Or in person, simply because you’re the one at the door at that pivotal moment. Or maybe because you’re the white nurse with a Northern accent, the face of the American health care system that denied Daddy access to dialysis back in Oklahoma. For the first time in my career, I wondered if I might now have actually done what I’d previously only been accused of.”

West misses the interdisciplinary team that is available during usual working hours. Now on a Friday night, she alone must address all the issues other team members would. And it is when she notes their skills, the reader is made aware of the rich services a hospice program can deliver. But we also realize that, in the absence of other team members, nurses can assure that appropriate care is given.

The humor threaded through this story softens the sharp edges that West overcomes in steering the brother’s death to an acceptable closure. But the reader sees what discomfort West carries within her. She seeks reassurance from a coworker that she handled this case correctly. We learn that memories, both pleasant and uncomfortable, long remain with nurses when making judgements they must make on their own.

May we see more nurses writing their stories outside of nursing journals for the public to enjoy and be enlightened and to realize that nurses do make a difference.  

Torn ACL or How things can change in a New York Minute.

So here I am, a new octogenarian who thinks she is still twenty (my birthday was May 3rd).

When I turned 80, I decided that I wanted to stay strong and flexible. Last Thursday, I was doing lunges while watching Grace and Frankie on TV. Grace and Frankie are my role models. Love ‘em and will miss them since this is their last session. I only allow myself one episode at a time.

I had great intentions that evening but didn’t do too well on the execution. While attempting a lunge, my left leg slid sideways which overextended my knee. I toppled backward on the carpet. The pain alerted me that I had caused a big problem. I immediately followed the RICE treatment: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. The next day, after an x-ray and physical manipulation of my knee, the Physician’s Assistant at an Ortho Urgent Care declared that I had a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), a common injury of athletes and more common in women. I lumbered out of the Urgent Care wearing a hinged T scope knee brace and with future MRI and orthopedic physician appointments, and an acute awareness of my advancing age.

My husband and I had spent the middle two weeks in May at the North Carolina beach in celebration of my birthday. I walked twice a day: once with walking shoes on the streets behind our rental home and once on the beach, dipping my bare feet in the cool Atlantic waves as the tide flowed onto shore. I felt wonderful. Walking is my main exercise. It not only keeps me in shape, but clears my brain, letting the creative juices bubble up. This is why I prefer to walk alone—or with a non-communicative husband.

As I write this, it’s been almost 72 hours since my injury. I’ve discarded the ice and am now using a heating pad. My leg is elevated when I’m sitting. I walk with a walker and the knee brace. I borrowed a shower chair and cancelled my social engagements with friends for the next two weeks. My life has narrowed. However, I’m not deterred even if it takes a while to get back to my previous level of activity. Damn that New York minute.

She Writes University Classes–Free Until May 31

I am happy to pass along a gift from my publisher, She Writes Press, plus SparkPress. Together they are offering free She Writes University classes. Timely since we, writers/authors, are sequestered in our homes because of COVID-19. I, for one, will be happy to learn something new while taking a break from thinning out my files, learning how to digitalize hundreds of old photos and chaining myself to my desk to work on book #2, and last but not least, snacking most of the day.

Thanks Crystal, Brooke and the digital team.

I hope you enjoy the following classes.

 

Dear Authors,

Last week we notified you that we’d be offering several She Writes University classes at zero cost. A dozen of these classes are now up and available—for you and to share with your friends and networks.

These classes will be free for 60 days, until May 31. They can be viewed by entering your email address, and you can browse the offerings here:  http://shewritesuniversity.com/free

We hope you’re all staying healthy and strong. We’re thinking about all of you every day.

—Crystal, Brooke, and our amazing digital team who put this offer together.

Webinar Series

FREE UNTIL MAY 31

Usually $197, these courses span hours of materials that breakdown how to edit, prep and publish your book like a pro.

These She Writes University classes are coming out of the vault and are available only until May 31, 2020.

Watch for more classes releasing each week!

 

 

 

Best Tips for Writing in the Time of a Pandemic

I found the best advice for writing in the time of Covid-19 in BREVITY’S Nonfiction Blog, Wednesday March 18, 2020. Written by Brenda Ridley

I am reblogging here:

 

 

Ten Tips for Writing While Quarantined

by Dinty W. Moore

by Brenda Ridley

Assuming that you are up and about during the COVID-19 pandemic, you could view this period of social distancing as an unexpected gift to your writing life. That’s the attitude I’ve adopted as I decide how to use my time while exiled from my job for two weeks.

Last week, Pennsylvania’s governor ordered schools state-wide closed to help contain the spread of COVID-19. The small independent school where I double as admissions coordinator and office manager complied. While the risk to our students of COVID-19 exposure is probably low, we could not in good conscience remain open while 99% of the schools in Philadelphia shut down. Ours is a very small school but, luckily, one with digital resources that teachers can use for online instruction. Most of my work time is spent on the phone, making sure that teachers have the resources they need, the office runs smoothly, and performing first aid in the absence of a school nurse. I have some online tools that I can use, but only a couple projects that I think I can finish at home. That leaves some open time periods during the day that I don’t usually have for writing. Here is my plan for writing while quarantined with some suggestions that you might find helpful:

1) Keep a schedule. It is so tempting to sleep in when you get up before six o’clock every weekday morning and now don’t have to. But if you don’t set up a schedule for the week, you’ll wonder where the time went and why that essay you started three months ago still isn’t finished. I’ll set my alarm for 7 a.m. and plan to start writing at 9, after exercise, breakfast, and kitty time. I have better focus in the morning, but you should create a schedule that works for you; just schedule your writing time no matter what.

2) Limit socializing. Life as I’ve known it has temporarily shifted. Everything is closed: my yoga studio, the public library, my writing group is on hiatus, even my church is practicing social distancing. Of course you can call, text, or email friends and family, but don’t do it all day. Your pen or keyboard needs you to propel it. Block out a social hour or two when you can catch up and commiserate with everyone each day.

3) Reconnect with your partner, your kids, or your pets. I rush out of the house early on workdays and don’t usually come home until almost six. I see the kitties briefly when I feed them breakfast, but there’s no time for cuddles and chatfests. My partner is still asleep when I leave. While my schedule is more flexible I can carve out some time for canoodling when I’m not drifting off to sleep and muttering incoherently. Imagine the boost some quality time can give to our relationships.

4) Eat well and rest. I enjoy cooking but don’t like to spend all day at it. When home for the day I usually prep dinner early so that at dinner time there is less to do. Doing most of the work early in the day makes it more likely that you’ll eat better instead of grabbing fast food or ordering a pizza.  And set a reasonable bedtime that ensures you get enough sleep. A poorly-fed, sleep-deprived writer might produce something, but is it something you really want others to read?

5) Get outdoors at least every other day. There is plenty of evidence that walking outdoors, forest bathing, hiking and other activities make you feel better. My attitude improves considerably when I’ve returned from a brisk walk.

6) Turn off your television. Too much news is not a good thing, and a lot of conjecture by pundits and talk show hosts isn’t news. All of the chatter about COVID-19 is increasing people’s anxiety. If you must know what’s happening with the virus on a daily basis, choose one reliable news source and limit yourself to 30 minutes of “information” per day. Your nervous system will thank you.

7) Put your writing house in order. I know I have two weeks before I return to work or am told to stay at home a little longer. I’m a writing newbie and don’t have tons of projects to work on, but I have at least three essays I’ve not been able to finish. My modest goal is to finish at least one of them and to develop a strategy for completing the other two. If I stick to the schedule I’ve set for myself, I think I can accomplish what I’ve set out to do.

8) Read. No need to say more.

9) Stay open and flexible. COVID-19 has made a fast and furious impact on everyone I know, even though none of my friends or family members have contracted it. All of the twists and turns science is taking in order to get a handle on this virus require us to think about how what we do impacts someone else. Stay flexible enough to shift with the tide of events and follow the lead of experts who know what they are talking about.

10) Finally, breathe and write; breathe and write some more. I came to writing as a late bloomer but quickly found it to be a practice that I can pour almost any emotion into. Some of those scribbles are just for me, not an audience, but writing helps me to clarify my thoughts and emotions so that I can get the junk out of the way and focus on what I want to say. So, breathe and write your way through if you’re quarantined. Appreciate the gift you’ve been given.

Computer Crash

I have been without my computer for four days so I didn’t work on today’s post. I didn’t have a computer to track any other posts that I could reblog. I didn’t want to scratch out a new post longhand. Maybe I could’ve been more aggressive or use my I Phone to pick up the slack in order to get a post out today, but I didn’t. This rant serves as an informal publication. I decided that not having access to my computer let me off the hook. Frankly, it was liberating. I enjoyed the forced separation from my constant sidekick. The computer is my portal to writing and without it I am free to pursue other activities—like shopping—even if I don’t come home with any purchases. When did I last have lunch by myself?

Not to be productive, to me, is paramount to being slothful. I am a writer and must write and/or complete one book promotional action every day. Well, how about I am also a person who enjoys a day off or a moment to enjoy myself without guilt. If my computer is not working how can I feel guilty not accomplishing my daily goals?

Sadly, my computer was up and running as of 6 pm yesterday. I didn’t rush to document this morning’s post. In fact, I put the writing off until now. I will be back to my routine soon.  In the meantime, I am holding on to this wonderful guilt-free break for as long as it lasts.

What Was My Memoir Really About?

This guest post was written for She Writes Blog on November 29, 2018.

My book, Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers, took me about seven years to complete. I couldn’t seem to rush the process. A mentor told me “the book will take as long as it needs to take to be done.” And only after I finished the book did I understand what my story was really about.

My nursing career covered forty years. As soon as I retired I began to record those years starting with nursing school. When I reached the early 80s, a tug in my gut told me that I couldn’t go any further. During that time I was the coordinator of a not-for-profit clinic in Chicago targeting the underserved elderly. Throughout the years, I always remembered the clinic as being totally different from any other job I ever had. Located on the tenth-floor of an apartment building for low-income seniors, the open door policy allowed anyone to walk in—with a heart attack or carrying a loaf of zucchini bread.

As a new nurse practitioner (I had been a registered nurse for twenty years before I went back to school to become an NP), I narrowly viewed my role as a health care provider. I would see patients in the clinic for illnesses or health maintenance. That the elderly had multitudinous social and economic problems initially eluded me. Or was it that my lack of education in geriatrics, a new specialty at the time, that contributed to my misconceptions?

Many of my patients’ stories were captured in a journal that I kept while I struggled with the dilemmas that challenged me—patients choosing between food and medicine, or were victims of family abuse, or targeted by scam artists from the community. I often vacillated whether I had any right to step in and take over a patient’s finances or change the locks on the doors. With no road map, I fumbled along, sometimes butting heads with my staff in deciding how to intervene. 

I learned that what I wrote initially in the book was not a clear map of what I wanted to convey. I just wanted to tell this story. But what story? My memory cast my co-workers in roles that inhibited my progress. With each rewrite, I softened my harsh critique of others and uncovered some detrimental actions that I had initiated. My insight became sharper when I let the story percolate in my head rather than rushing to rewrite. Reflection and patience, albeit over seven years, finally enabled me to be truthful to what happened in the tenth-floor clinic.

In retrospect, I see that having a preconceived notion of what I wanted to write had caused me to miss what was behind the real story. My belief about the stories from the tenth-floor clinic stemmed from what I remembered—my truth at that moment. The passage of time has a way of rearranging recollections. It was only after examining my place in my memoir that I uncovered what the story was really about, even if I had already lived it.

The book took as long as it needed to take to be done.

Spotlight: Marianna Crane

This appeared in the September 2017 Erie Family Health Center Donor Newsletter

 

Anniversary Spotlight: Marianna Crane

 

Over thirty years ago Dr. Sally Lundeen, a nurse and Erie Family Health Center’s first Executive Director, spearheaded a project that would provide care for the underserved elderly right where they lived. The Senior Clinic* opened on the 10th floor of an apartment building on 838 N. Noble, then managed by the Chicago Housing Authority specifically for low-income elderly residents. Marianna Crane was one of the first nurses to join Dr. Lundeen in this endeavor. She had recently left the VA Hospital, disappointed that, due to a lack of funding, she wasn’t able to provide the specialty care she knew that the elderly there needed.

Crane was at the forefront of a shift in health care, one of the first gerontological nurse practitioners at a time when geriatrics was barely beginning to be considered a specialty. The idea that older people required a different approach to care wasn’t yet mainstream, and many doctors weren’t interested. But Crane had grown up with older family members whom she cherished – her own grandmother lived to be 104 years old – and she believed that a change in approach to elder care was long overdue. “During school, I had two classes in geriatrics,” recalled Crane. “Chronic Disease I and Chronic Disease II. It was the older people on the job that taught me what was really important about nursing.”

At Erie, Crane, along with her collaborating physician, Dr. Olga Haring, cared for patients in the clinic while staff members visited isolated lonely seniors, monitored people’s medication, and even arranged breakfasts and luncheons for those who couldn’t afford food. Crane quickly realized that meeting the physical needs of the elderly was only one aspect of care. She witnessed older people being emotionally or physically abused by their family members, and older people with depression or other mental health issues who needed someone to talk to. When she would make home visits, she was often unsure what she would find on the other side of the apartment door. She waded her way through hoarders’ stuffed living spaces, nursed sick alcoholics, and worked closely with an ambulance service to ensure critically ill patients were delivered to the right hospital. But she felt that this was the care she needed to provide. “It was such a unique model of nursing, and the job was so different from anything I had done before,” she said. “Our community nurse would give exercise classes including swimming lessons at Eckhart Park. We brought in a podiatrist, negotiated reduced fees with a local ophthalmologist. We’d host free breakfasts every single Friday. It was just so unique.”

Crane was with Erie for five years before moving on to provide home care at the VA Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. She is now retired and is an active volunteer at a local hospital, where she serves as co-chair of the Patient Advisory Council, recommending ways to keep patient care running smoothly and efficiently.

Crane is also a writer (check out her nursing blog at nursingstories.org) and is working on her first book, a memoir about her experience at Erie Senior Clinic. The book will be published by She Writes Press at the end of August 2018, and Crane has generously pledged that a portion of the proceeds from the book go towards patient operations at Erie Family Health Center.

 

*While the Erie Senior Clinic has closed its doors, Erie remains committed to serving elderly patients and connecting them with the resources and referrals they need for a healthy, comfortable life.

 

 

 

THE TIME IS RIGHT

Taking a Blog break. This post appeared on March 10, 2013.

Nursing Stories

A friend deliberated whether she should visit her father for his 95th birthday. She was swamped with commitments. Since he was unaware of his birthday as well of his surroundings and didn’t even recognize his three daughters, there was no urgency to travel to another state.

However, she cleared her schedule and made the trip, as did another sister and a niece. Both lived out-of-state also.

As it turned out, on his birthday, he had a choking episode with difficulty breathing. He stopped eating and died three days later, surrounded by those he loved who otherwise would not have been there had they not come to commemorate the day he was born.

This story reminded me of a patient I cared for back in the early ‘90’s when I worked as a nurse practitioner in a home care program. I had made a first visit to an elderly man…

View original post 409 more words

Nurses’ Books Need More Media Attention

In my last post, I told you about a couple of books I discovered—short story collections written by nurses. Lynn Rosack wrote a comment on my last post reminding me that Echo Heron, whose book I covered, Emergency 24/7: Nurses of the Emergency Room (2015) had written other nursing books. One of them, Intensive Care: A Story of a Nurse (1988) 51VcTG4-YzL._SX304_BO1,204,203,200_made the New York Times best seller list. She also wrote Condition Critical: The Story of a Nurse Continues (1994) and Tending Lives: Nurses on the Medical Front (1998).

 

Here is a short list of other memoirs by nurse authors, in no particular order:

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  • The Door of Last Resort: Memoir of a Nurse Practitioner by Frances Ward (2013)

 

  • 411iSrLW3gL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Caring Lessons: A Nursing Professor’s Journey of Faith and Self by Lois Roelofs (2010)

 

  • Beautiful Unbroken: One Nurse’s Life by Mary Jane Nealon (2011)41w2BzudSjL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

 

  • Cooked: An Inner City Nursing Memoir by Carol Karels (Second Edition 2005)41r3T9B3MZL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_

 

  • 419bJlkfr1L._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife by Peggy Vincent (2002)

 

In researching books by nurses, I discovered a wonderful resource: books.google.com. I had no idea that there were so many books about nursing by nurses —from a book on the Public Health Nurse from 1919 to a new book not yet released by Josephine Ensign, Catching Homelessness: A Nurse’s Story of Falling Through the Safety Net (2016).51uC4Vf+BXL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

 

The books I found on googlebooks.com included stories about frontier, hospice, school and rural health nursing, and military nurses in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, among other settings. (I am limiting my search to nurse authors from the USA).

I am impressed with the scope and number of nursing books out there—although these numbers are nowhere near those of physician authors, and physician books attract more media attention. Great that we nurses are writing our books but we still need to find a way to gain the attention/publicity that physicians receive when they publish their books.

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