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97 Afterword When I was not quite a year old, my mother’s dormant tuberculosis flared and my father, just home from Italy at the end of World War II, was suffering from terrible nightmares—what we’d now call post-traumatic stress disorder. My parents decided I’d be better off in a healthier environment and so sent me to live with their best friends, a couple with two children of their own, a boy and a girl. I became their second daughter and the baby of the family. As months went by (they would write me many years later), I seemed to forget my parents. Nevertheless, I was not quite at home in my new family. In a photo from that time I’m sitting on my surrogate mother’s lap, straining toward the camera as if I might catch sight of someone I know in the lens. She holds me tight and her two children smile at me, but I’m flailing my arms, frowning, trying to escape. After I learned to talk, after living with this other family for almost as long as I’d lived with my parents, my mother and father came to reclaim me. Once again, I switched families. My mother’s health had improved; my father had a good job and seemed to be coping with his nightmares. My parents told me I readjusted quickly. However, for a long time I couldn’t tolerate the slightest separation. If my mother turned the corner in a grocery store, out of sight only for a moment, I would fall to the floor screaming, thinking she was gone forever. Once I was reunited with my family, my childhood was for the most part happy and constant, yet I never quite got over the sense that someone I loved might, at any minute, disappear. Encouraged by my father and compelled by what might be called my “imagination of disaster”—a trait we shared—I began to write stories and poems, a perfect way to reexperience and make sense of the ephemeral world and my place within it. Then I grew up and I became a nurse. No wonder—we nurses are masters of the fine art of separation. At the end of this small collection of essays, I find myself practicing this fine art once again, saying good-bye to the hospital and to the women’s health clinic, the place I’ve worked for almost seventeen years. Promoted to management a few Davis text.indb 97 11/12/08 10:00:40 AM 98  the heart’s truth years ago and so rarely seeing patients, I simply couldn’t stay. While many nurses flourish in administrative roles, I couldn’t let go of patient care—I just can’t stop being a nurse. And so I begin yet another adventure, a position as a nurse practitioner in a new institution, a new setting. My patients will be men and women in the early and sometimes difficult years of adulthood. They will have much to teach me. Interestingly, I find that when I’m not seeing patients, it’s a struggle for me to write. It seems that for me, nursing and writing have become, over the years, inextricably bound. That intimate connection that links us, human to human, is essential both to my vocation and my avocation. For me, nursing is intimate, tactile, spiritual, and utterly unlike any other way we humans have of communicating with one another. Nursing is not mothering and yet it shares some of mothering’s traits. Nursing is not doctoring, even though nurses are as essential to a patient’s well-being and recovery as physicians. Nursing is neither friendship nor love, yet many nurses do love their patients, just as patients often love their nurses. And in nursing—just as in mothering, friendship, or love—we must, sooner or later, confront the reality of separation, even when that separation is accompanied by joy. When we care for patients, our ministrations are akin to praise: we acknowledge even the smallest human detail, in a sense blessing the patient for the journey to come. We marvel at the secrets of the body. We honor the body, for somewhere inside it dwells the soul. How many times, caring for a patient, does a nurse stand in silence, letting her hands convey what speech cannot? How many times does a patient, in the company of his nurse, find that words are unnecessary ? We...


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