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“Nursing students needed to work in the University Hospital, good pay, orientation.”
As a rising nursing-school senior in the 1970s, I naïvely applied for the job above without getting the full details. No one mentioned that I’d be working in a psychiatric unit housing twenty-five aggressive, catatonic or schizophrenic patients, many of whom had been locked away for years.
The entrance sign, which should have read “Locked Psych/Med/Surg Unit,” said
In nursing school, to learn about human anatomy, we dissected stray cats. The tiny blobs and structures inside them looked more like toys than organs; at times I had difficulty telling one part from another.
When our instructor got us invited to the medical school’s Anatomy Lab that studied real people, I was excited to finally see a complete human body. Maybe there would be straight pins with little flags for each section of the
I softly scrub blood from the teeth of a man who died moments ago. From the chair where I sat quietly writing nursing notes while he quietly ended, my patient’s sallow skin and sunken cheeks looked so peaceful. But the weeks of stagnant residue on his teeth bothered me.
To brush the teeth of someone who was in the process of dying would have contradicted my orders to provide comfort care,
Let me not be blinded by the glare of the spotlight
or distracted by the tangle of plastic tubes,
the stink of anesthesia waiting in its multi-chambered
monolith of sleep. Let me stand beside the patient
and look into his eyes. Let me say, we will take care of you.
Let me understand what it is to be overcome by fear.
Let me secure my mask and
The woman lying on the transport cot in the examination room was terrified. I could see it plainly in her eyes, but there was no time to stop and comfort her.
I was a young, recently graduated nurse in a busy urban emergency room, struggling to keep up with its daily array of shootings, stabbings and crises. ER nurses hustled. We dealt with life and death, and we did it quickly.
Joanne M. Clarkson
Assume pain, I tell them, the young, the
minimum-waged, those who work the midnight
shift with no chance for stars. We lean
over the bed of a 93-year-old man with advanced
Parkinson’s disease. His face is
frozen, even his eyes don’t seem to move
unless you watch the sheen. These
student aides are
I was not with my mother when she died, her heart bursting
against her ribs, screaming for a violent release from her chest
I listened, ear to phone: nothing-more-could-be-done
I recall her now, prayer petals of morning’s first red rose, the perfect
Mezzo-soprano of a summer evening’s lullaby, an open window to song
About the artist:
“I have always been interested in art. I chose nursing as a vocation, but my interest in art continued to grow, in fits and starts, during my forty-five years in health care. I have worked in many areas of nursing practice and also in many mediums–charcoal, pen and ink, oils, watercolors