Iowa Alumni Magazine | April 2005 | Reviews

Intensive Care: More Poetry and Prose by Nurses, edited by Cortney Davis and Judy Schaefer

By Kathryn Howe

I've always known nurses are special people. They comfort us, do the dirty work, and let doctors take the credit.

But after reading this award-winning collection of poems, I found myself stunned by their acute awareness of the fragility and heartbreak of the human condition.

Intensive Care: More Poetry and Prose by Nurses is a raw and gritty portrait of a profession that bears witness to the miraculous—and often merciless—circle of life. The poems and stories of 64 nurses are represented here, each an emotional explanation of what it feels like to guard the bedsides of those who are sick, in pain, dying, or giving birth. And each makes clear the deep impression that a lifetime of caregiving carves in a nurse’s heart.

Who could forget the boy with burns on the side of his face from a mother who tied him to the radiator? The weight of a premature baby in your arms as you walk him to the morgue? Your first feel of a surprisingly cold and heavy autopsied heart? The man who leaves you his sole possession—a wooden radio—because you listened to him when he needed a human connection?

As Teresa Campbell of San Francisco writes: “Now, 40 years later, I still have the radio. When I play it, I remember Ken and the conversations we shared. He taught me that everybody has a story to tell, and everyone wants someone to listen. He taught me that listening to patients’ stories is part of nursing. And I taught him that being able to tell that story is part of the healing process.”

The winner of the 2003 American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year Award, Intensive Care follows Between the Heartbeats: Poetry and Prose by Nurses. It will likely change how you view the next nurse who measures your blood pressure.