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Book review: The Shift is a compelling memoir of a day in the life of a nurse

Theresa Brown doesn't overdo the drama but lets her riveting story speak for itself

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 September, 2015, 6:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 September, 2015, 6:01pm
MCT

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Medical schools typically send out books to their incoming first-year class to give students a glimpse of the profession they're about to embark upon. This book should also be required reading for all incoming medical and nursing students - or anyone who is a patient or visitor in a hospital.

A clinical nurse who lives in Philadelphia's Point Breeze, Theresa Brown takes readers through a typical 12-hour day on a local oncology ward. Through her clear and compelling narrative, readers will gain a new appreciation of what is involved in being a nurse on the front lines of modern health care and the colossal responsibility nurses have in caring for very sick patients in our highly regulated, complicated and confounding times.

In The Shift, she begins her day with a 4km bike ride to work before sunrise on a brisk November morning. "Biking to the hospital gives me an unexpected patina of toughness, which matters in health care," she writes. "Hospitals are filled with caring staff, but resilience and determination are prized as high as empathy."

From the moment she clocks in at 7.03am, her day will be a whirlwind of tough decisions, tense moments, fear, doubt, heartache, compassion and joy. She receives papers on the patients she'll care for that day.

It seems like a manageable load until Brown is notified that Candace will also be one of her patients. Candace is what's known as a Pita - Pain in the Ass - because of her frequent demands that keep nurses as busy as two normal patients.

From the moment she clocks in at 7.03am, her day will be a whirlwind of tough decisions, tense moments, fear, doubt, heartache, compassion and joy

It would have been easy for Brown to overdramatise her experiences or bore readers with medical speak. But her story is riveting in the exacting way she recounts how her day unfolds.

After reading this book, hospital patients and visitors may no longer wonder why it takes so long to be discharged, or why the nurse doesn't come instantly when they call, or how a nurse can be so busy with just four patients.

"A shift lasts 12 hours," she writes. "Twelve hours of holding a few lives in my hands, trying to make order out of the chaos of bodies and disease, working within a health care system that sometimes forgets it exists to serve human beings rather than bureaucrats or businessmen."

The Shift by Theresa Brown (Algonquin Books)

Tribune News Service