Preface
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Preface While my grade school friends read Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, pretending to save their patients while at the same time wooing the handsome physicians, I’d jump on my bike and fly down the road pretending I might escape the world. Later, when high school companions talked about sacrifice and duty while thumbing through nursing school catalogs, I declared myself an art major. Packing my guitar, my black stockings, and my journal of poems, I went off to college, believing I’d escaped for real. Nursing, I told my friends, was not for me. I’d been hospitalized once when I was twelve, and that was enough. Forget the body and all its frailties. I longed to be an artist, a poet, to go beyond the flesh and connect with others soul to soul. Then, somehow, I ended up right smack in the middle of the world I never wanted to inhabit, first becoming a nurse’s aide, then a surgical technician, next a registered nurse, and, at last, a nurse practitioner. Along the way, I slowly discovered that nursing offered everything I’d thought only the arts could provide. I learnedthatthereisnothingmorepersonalormoreuniversalthantheexperience of suffering, and that there are no words more significant than those spoken by a patient who has placed his or her life in your keeping. I learned that nursing is an odd, mysterious, humbling, addicting, and often transcendent profession, and that the reality of the body is the surest pathway to the mysteries of the soul. Whatofmyadolescent longing for dramaand connection? The storiespatients reveal—with their complex emotional and physical histories and the multilayering of their lives—are as entrancing and as important as the greatest novel. And ask any nurse about the duet played out by caregiver and patient behind closed doors. Together, a nurse and a patient experience a moment that is timeless. I’ve been lucky—or maybe I’ve paid particular attention—but my desire to lead an artist’s life has merged with my career as a professional nurse. Nursing has become for me, actually and metaphorically, that maternal place where the creative and the clinical intersect, where soul and body merge. I’ve learned that clinical time—those fleeting, difficult to describe moments with patients that, xi Davis text.indb 11 11/12/08 10:00:25 AM once played out, are unalterable—can be captured in creative time, and that what has happened for real can be recast in the imagination, in the poem, in the short story. In these essays, I’ve taken a look back, examining again events in my nursing career that seemed to shake me, commanding me to pay attention. Nursing is full of such moments. Sometimes they occur in the bright light of the ward in daytime; sometimes they happen at the bedside and are gone in a flash. I hope that by writing about what I’ve experienced, I might illuminate the way not only for those students who want, more than anything, to become nurses but also for those who, like me, stumbled into nursing by accident or by necessity, unaware that the act of nursing would take their breath away—that their lives, and the lives of their patients, would be forever transformed. xii  preface Davis text.indb 12 11/12/08 10:00:25 AM ...