Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Review: Critical Care by Theresa Brown

Much has been written by and about doctors and their role in hospitals and patients' lives but very little has been written about nurses and the vital role they play. Most people in a hospital see far more of their nurses than they do of their doctors and yet so much focuses on the white-coated, stethoscope wearing MD. Brown remedies this with this memoir of her first year in nursing. Theresa Brown left her job as a college English professor to become an oncology nurse. For her, the jump was to do something more professionally meaningful and her decision to focus on oncology meant that her work was often carried out at the end stages of someone else's life.

The memoir tells of compelling patients and situations during her first year. She speaks of death and being available to her patients' families should they need her. She speaks of learning the commonplace language of the oncology ward. She invites the reader along as she learns the simple procedures she will have to do day in and day out. And she tackles the politics of hospitals, the difference in tone on wards and floors, the personalities of co-workers, good and bad. Her memoir is both personal and universal.

The set-up of the book has the feel of interconnected essays rather than an unbroken narrative but that works with the episodic nature of hospital work and the very different aspects that comprise a job like nursing. This is more a musing on her first year of nursing rather than an expose' of the hard, physical, dirty work that is often left to nurses. Brown mentions these distasteful things in passing but she doesn't go in for a lot of visceral description. Her writing is smooth and easily accessible, as one would expect from a former English professor, and the pages turn quickly. Anyone who has devoured doctors' memoirs will find a different but valuable corollary here in this book. Read it if you like non-fiction medical narratives or you've been touched by the kindness of a nurse or even if you've run across your own personal version of Nurse Ratched. You'll gain a little bit of insight and understanding of all of the above.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy of the book.


  1. I just read an excerpt of this in Reader's Digest last night! I thought it would be a good book. Thanks for the review... I'm gonna give it a go!

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Kristen. I've got this one on my list to read. I love medical memoir-type books, so this'll be a good one for me.


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