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Monday, September 21, 2015

The Shift: One Nurse, Twelve Hours, Four Patients' Lives

I typically love books that tell the "day in the life" stories of a specific profession, so I snatched up Theresa Brown, RN's The Shift: One Nurse, Twelve Hours, Four Patients' Lives when I saw it was available as an advanced review copy. I'm glad I did!

Twelve hours in a hospital is both a long time and a blink of the eye. New patients are admitted, some stay stable, others leave -- whether it's of their own volition or not. These hours are life changing in so many ways, and Theresa Brown tends to her patients on the oncology ward with as much care as she would want taken of her own family. Lunches barely get eaten, life-altering drugs must be administered, and patients much be cared for emotionally as well as physically. This particular night sees Brown with four patients, each with a different personality and different needs, but all of whom keep her on her toes.

As I said before, I really enjoy these "day in the life" memoirs because I feel they give laypeople a strong sense of how a normally full day goes in jobs that we will never work. My life and work is crazy but I don't hold people's lives in the palm of my hand, and for that I am grateful for people like Theresa Brown. As I read this book I did a lot of reflecting on my own time in the hospital and how I took for granted the men and women who served as my nurses, both on the regular floor and in the ICU. I remember their kindness and their empathy; I remember one's very no nonsense attitude but very needed at the time; and I remember that I was cared for so very well. Reading Brown's book made me send up some happy universal vibes for the men and women who helped save my life, even as my attending doctor never walked in to my room. RN's are the heroes of our hospitals, so find a nurse today and give him or her a hug.

I would easily argue that this book contains the whole enchilada. Not only did we have four patients with differing needs, but Brown also did a superb job of chronicling her day so that it felt as though we were on her rollercoaster with her. Anyone who has worked a high stakes job that requires large efforts of juggling large quantities of information can relate to the need to constantly just keep going down the list of things that need to be done. Brown has a gift of storytelling, and I felt as though I was there. I also appreciated the research that went into this book. When a topic came up that needed a little explaining, Brown took the moment in the book to describe what the layperson needed to know in order to understand what was happening to her patient or to put an incident in historical perspective. It was really fantastic and heightened this book to a level of must-read.

One day, many years ago, I was complaining to my mom, a respiratory therapist, about how my boss at the time was making big deals out of everything. One thing about working in the theatre that always drove me nuts was this idea that what we were doing was high stakes. Now, let me be clear, when I am hired for a job I take it seriously and do my best, but make no bones about it -- what we do doesn't determine whether people live or die. I tried to work by that mentality to keep things in perspective. So I was complaining to my mom, and she said something that always stuck with me. "If you make a mistake," she said, "you can fix it and everything is OK. If I make a mistake, someone dies." That is the rule I live by, which has always made me grateful for the healthcare professionals out there. So to Theresa Brown and all of you who do this every day -- thank you.

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