Epic Trauma

Review of The Comfort Garden: Tales from the Trauma Unit, by Laurie Barkin, San Francisco: Fresh Pond Press, 2011, 364 pp.

The word “epic” kept coming to mind as I read Laurie Barkin’s The Comfort Garden: Tales from the Trauma Unit. Not that the book is precious or pretentious, but as Barkin, a psych nurse in a major urban hospital trauma unit, revealed the narrative, she seemed by turns Dante accompanying readers through the Inferno of patients’ lives, the Purgatorio of the hospital, and the occasional Paradiso of her life with her husband and children, or the “skilled tactician” Odysseus, whose skill defies gods and monsters in the long journey homeward.

Barkin begins in media res, bringing readers into the chaos of the emergency department and trauma unit, as she begins her employment orientation to the hospital. We learn that the chaos of the hospital is symptomatic of the chaos of the patients’ lives, shaped by poverty, drug addiction, and violence.

Dedicated healthcare professionals are overwhelmed by the complexities of their patients’ lives and the paucity of resources, particularly as (mis)managed care insinuates itself throughout the hospital, requiring all health professionals to provide only billable services.

Conflicts among healthcare professionals are related with candor and clarity. Despite the shared sense of mission, careerism rears its head, undermining the mutual values and work. Attempts to create support mechanisms for staff and patients are met with resistance, either because of meagre resources or the dominance of pharmaceutical mental health care. Post traumatic stress? We have a pill for that.

The freshness and sincerity of this well crafted narrative prevents Barkin’s candor from descending into ax grinding. Toward the end she struggles with the question “Who will take care of the caregivers?” and with the deeply ingrained role identity, “If I am not a nurse, who am I?” But in the end she listens to her somatic signs and nightmares, deciding to leave the hospital.

Barkin’s The Comfort Garden will appeal to all healthcare professionals, especially those engaged in acute care, but it should also be read by nursing and medical students as well as by lay readers who need to understand the ways in which our healthcare institutions are framed by the socio-economic dimensions of patients’ lives.


Review: Advanced Nursing Research

Tappen, R. M. (2011). Advanced nursing research: From theory to practice. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning. 504 pp.

Tappen, a nurse and active faculty member, presents a new text entitled Advanced Nursing Research: From Theory to Practice. Based on the title, I expected to find a book suitable for advanced graduate-level students who are embarking on new research programs. I was pleased to see the word “theory” in the title, and was eager to see how Tappen wove theory into her text. When opening the text, I realized that the assumptions I had made based on the title were incorrect. Rather than being a text for advanced graduate students, the text seems more suitable for advanced undergraduates and provides a framework from which to begin planning a research project. Additionally, theory is mostly discussed only in the 17 pages of chapter 3. Thus, the title of the text and the contents of the text were not congruent.

With the title of the text aside, the actual content of the text is quite valuable. Tappen’s conversational writing style makes the book easy to read and follow. The content flows well from one topic to the next. Part IV of the text focuses on analysis and interpretation of research findings and provides more detail than other similar texts. This may be helpful for students who have only a basic understanding of statistical tests and inferential analyses. This text may be a good supplemental text for advanced undergraduates or beginning graduate students who are in the early stages of planning a research project. –Heather Evans, PhD, RNC, CLC, Assistant Clinical Professor, School of Nursing, University of Connecticut

Davis’s “The Heart’s Truth” Wins AJN Book of the Year Award

Nurse writer Cortney Davis‘s The Heart’s Truth: Essays on the Art of Nursing, her edited collection that came out from Kent State University Press in 2009,  has been awarded the American Journal of Nursing‘s Book of the Year Award.

If the term “essay” may be offputting to some readers, take heart: These are personal essays, in which memoir becomes the occasion for insight. Davis explores her own experiences of illness as a wounded healer, her early experiences as a student nurse and novice RN, and her range of clinical experiences (hospitals, health centers).

The Heart’s Truth challenges us to look at health care professions less as technique, more as art. Davis’s pensées follow in the tradition of Pascal, for whom “The heart has reasons which reason knows not.”

Review: Writer’s Guide to Nursing Periodicals (Jeanette M. Daly)

Writer’s Guide to Nursing Periodicals, by Jeanettee M. Daly. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, 2000. ISBN 0-7679-1492-7

Earlier this decade, Sage Publications published Jeanette M. Daly’s Writer’s Guide to Nursing Periodicals, a handy single volume that provided information about journals’ focus, publication facts, manuscript preparation and submission processes, referrees, copyrights, and indexing, by arranging the journals thematically (e.g. Acute Care journals, Administration journals, Research).

The proliferation of journals’ World-Wide Web sites nearly a decade later has rendered the book obsolete, except for two valuable features: the thematic arrangement of the table of contents (which provides a quick guide to about 100 journals in particular specializations of nursing); and a very useful introductory section, Writing for Publication in Nursing Journals.

This introduction includes a glossary of technical terms (like “blind review” and “peer review”) that will be helpful to the novice nurse writer. A discussion of nurses writing for publication examines the reasons that nurses write, how manuscripts are prepared, submitted and reviewed, a discussion of copyrights and permissions, an introduction to on-line nursing journals, and a bibliography of suggested readings.

Appended to this introduction are templates: a generic checklist for manuscript submission; samples of a query letter, a cover letter, a rejection letter, an acceptance letter, a revision letter; a list of basic proofreading marks.

Although Dr. Daly has indicated that she will not be publishing an updated second edition, we might hope that this introductory section would be expanded into a slender but nonetheless useful handbook.

Book Review: A Nurse’s Guide to Presenting and Publishing: Dare to Share, by Kathleen T. Heinrich

A Nurse’s Guide to Presenting and Publishing: Dare to Share, by Kathleen T. Heinrich (Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2008), 438 pp.

No one becomes a nurse because he or she loves to write. People become nurses and nursing faculty because they want to provide caring and compassionate healing to patients, improve the quality of patient care, or educate the next generation of nurses and nursing faculty.

But those ambitions are also precisely the motives for nursing writing, which can disseminate valuable clinical and educational insights to a wider audience.

Recognizing this mission and acknowledging the difficulties that many nurses and nursing faculty have with writing, Kathleen T. Heinrich has developed a series of workshops and now this recently published book: A Nurse’s Guide to Presenting and Publishing: Dare to Share.

In 93 brief, accessible chapters (“small steps,” Heinrich calls them) she offers readers (and aspiring nurse writers) a summary discussion about and a set of practical activities on opening up your creativity, presenting what you do, writing about what you do, and cultivating a support network.

Heinrich tackles the single largest obstacle: the cognitive and emotional blocks that prevent our beginning and completing a proposal, abstract, or article. She provides useful strategies for getting beyond these self-imposed thought and habit patterns.

Aspiring writers may indefinitely defer or eventually give up the writing process because it all seems too complex and too time consuming. Dare to Share helps aspiring writers to answer the question, How do you eat an elephant? Answer: One bite at a time. Heinrich breaks down the process into small steps that anyone can complete in a reasonable amount of time.

The starting point is to take inventory of what you already do, what you are already concerned about solving or improving, or what you are already researching or studying.

Each chapter begins with an inspirational quote, includes one or more activities or worksheets, and a brief bibliography of relevant readings for those wishing to pursue an idea further.

Four appendices include an exemplar and a blank master of four forms that she has discussed earlier in the book and that are useful in organizing your thoughts and time.

I’ve been characterizing the audience for Dare to Share as “aspiring writers,” but those aspirants might include both novice writers trying to get started and veteran writers who need to get re-started.

If a writer completes two chapters each week, he or she will have a conference presentation and an article completed in the space of one year.

With the beginning of a new academic year, Kathleen T. Heinrich’s A Nurse’s Guide to Presenting and Publishing: Dare to Share will be especially useful for clinical and research faculty.