What was my Memoir really about?

It has been two years since my book was published on November 6, 2018. Shortly afterward, I wrote this for She Writes Press Blog:

What was my memoir really about?

November 2018

By Marianna Crane

This guest post was written by Marianna Crane, author of Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers.

Marianna Crane became one of the first gerontological nurse practitioners in the early 1980s. A nurse for over forty years, she has worked in hospitals, clinics, home care, and hospice settings. She writes to educate the public about what nurses really do. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Eno River Literary Journal, Examined Life Journal, Hospital Drive, Stories That Need to be Told: A Tulip Tree Anthology, and Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine. She lives with her husband in Raleigh, North Carolina. Visit her at http://www.nursingstories.org.

The book will take as long as it needs to take to be done.

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.

Finding the Truth in Revision

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.

GET THE FACTS RIGHT

English: Looking west from Staten Island Ferry...
English: Looking west from Staten Island Ferry at the former Jersey City Medical Center, now Beacon, Jersey City on a hazy afternoon during 5BBT. See also File:JCMC fr hblr Liberty Park jeh.jpg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My first job as a nurse was at the Jersey City Medical Center. I had just graduated from nursing school and had taken the NJ State Board of Nursing exam. Since I hadn’t heard the results as yet (snail mail in 1962) I signed my name with a GN meaning  “graduate nurse” rather than RN.

When the mailman delivered results, Gloria, my ol’ nursing school roommate, would be home to open her notification. She called my house and got my dad to open my letter. We had both passed! We could call ourselves registered nurses and put a black band on our white winged caps.

Gloria showed up on the fifteenth floor of the Jersey City Medical Center to tell me in person. We both screeched in joy. What did the patients and staff think? I don’t remember. And I don’t remember how many beds the JCMC had in the early ‘60s. And why would I need to know? Well, because it figures in the book I’m writing.

Judith Barrington, Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art, cautions that “(I)t can be very embarrassing to get some very public fact wrong: the date Kennedy was shot; who played in the final at Wimbledon that year——. If these matters of public record figure in your story and you get them wrong, you will get dozens of letters telling you how sloppy your work is.” Well I would love dozens of letters or maybe in today’s communication world, dozens of emails but what I don’t want is so much negative criticism. Or to be accused of being a sloppy writer.

I recently bought a book, Jersey City Medical Center, which came out in 2004 and chronicles the conception, birth and life of the JCMC. For me, it brought back memories since I not only worked there but also lived three blocks away. After school, my best friend, Carol, and I used to roll down the grassy knoll outside the hospital. When we grew older and braver, maybe we were ten or eleven years old, we would sneak into the building, wandering up the staircases and peaking into the various patient floors watching the nurses go about their duties.

It was a magnificent hospital with elaborate decorations in the then popular Art Deco style. There were ten major high-rise buildings and I believe over 1,000 beds. But I may be wrong. So thanks to Google searches I was able to email the author, Leonard Vernon, who so graciously said he “would get back to me.”

I have to get my facts right.