Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life and Everything in Between by Theresa Brown (HarperOne, $14.99, 224 pages)
“Death. It casts a long shadow in this book, and in these stories. Even when death is not present it hovers just around the corner, unbidden and unwanted, but waiting nonetheless.”
“People say, why wait? But really they should say, don’t wait. Listen when you can, tell the people in your life you love them…”
If doctors are the mortal gods of medicine, then nurses are its angels. At least that’s the case put forth here by Theresa Brown, a former Tufts University Journalism professor turned Registered Nurse (R.N.).
It seems that Brown and a former close female friend were looking for meaning in their lives when they decided to go to nursing school. Brown started at Penn but finished at Pitt. In Critical Care, Brown pulls back the curtain on what she somewhat successfully labels the Science of Nursing. My mother was an emergency room nurse, so much of what I read in Critical Care sounded familiar and true… Good hearted nurses are worn down by tough-minded superiors. These nurses rarely receive praise for medical successes but often are blamed for the failures. And, they have to clean up stool because “doctors don’t do poop.”
Still, this seemed like a somewhat lightweight survey of a crucial field. There are some specific problems with the telling. Brown shows us her empathy in writing about patients like the all-too-young David, who is battling leukemia; and Irene, the Pittsburg television personality who does not realize that she’s dying until she hears her former co-workers talking about her on TV. But as soon as we become engaged with their lives, Brown’s off describing other things – like a voluntary job change.
Brown also loses track of former patients (some of whom have likely died) and their families. In this age of the Internet, it’s odd that she did not pursue some basic research to find out what happened to them. Also, the book begins with multiple pages of acknowledgments which seems distracting before we get to the actual content.
A last flaw is that we do not get to know the author’s husband or daughter. They remain on the edges of the stage.
What Brown does quite well is to convince the reader of the need to enjoy life (and other people) while good health lasts. Today’s tiredness may be diagnosed as leukemia or some other energy-robbing disease tomorrow.
Critical Care lets you walk in the shoes of some very ill patients, both young and old. Yet for a better overview of today’s world of medicine – as practiced on a daily basis – I recommend two books by Dr. Atul Gawande. The most recent is Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance (2008). The contemporary classic is Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science (2003).
A review copy was provided by the publisher.