Books by Echo Heron

NONFICTION
Released: June 1, 1998

The first-person stories of some 40-odd nurses in a variety of fields reveal in a sometimes shocking and sometimes comical fashion what the caring profession is really like. In her search for interviewees, Heron, who told of her own life as a nurse in Intensive Care (not reviewed) and Condition Critical (1994), found few nurses willing to talk openly about their experiences. Thus, the identities of many of the speakers here are concealed by pseudonyms. Heron sought out nurses, male and female, old and young, from a broad geographic and professional spectrum. After introductory biographical sketches, she lets the nurses tell their stories in their own words. Although individually uneven in quality and interest, collectively the stories provide a convincing portrait of nursing as a beleaguered but honorable profession, full of weary, caring men and women. Besides the usual emergency-room tales of dreadful trauma and outrageous behavior and poignant stories of death and dying on intensive care units, a prison nurse matter-of-factly describes the execution by lethal injection of a death-row inmate, a movie-set nurse tells of coping with the tender egos of Hollywood actors and actresses, and an operating-room nurse gives a quick rundown of the typical personalities of surgical specialists (urologists have a bawdy sense of humor, neurologists are total prima donnas). Doctors generally do not fare well in these stories, and the flaws of today's profit-centered health-care system are duly noted and railed against. Of special interest is the chapter on the Oklahoma City bombing, for which Heron interviewed five nurses, with follow-up reports weeks, months, and a year after the bombing. Enlightening for anyone considering entering the field, but unsettling for anyone contemplating entering a hospital. Read full book review >
CONDITION CRITICAL by Echo Heron
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: July 1, 1994

Although prone to self-dramatizing hyperbole, former coronary care nurse Heron (Intensive Care: The Story of a Nurse, 1987) is passionate and persuasive in this second memoir cataloguing the frustrations of the profession that ultimately burned her out. Heron says she likes nursing because she enjoys helping people. But she's beginning to wonder if nursing is good for her health: Arrogant doctors, callous administrators, and an overwhelming workload combine to put Heron into a perpetual rage as she strides through the corridors of San Francisco's Redwoods Memorial Hospital. There is raw emotion in her sketches of such patients as the woman dying of cancer whose doctor refuses to prescribe pain medication though she is in agony (thanks to Heron, she eventually gets morphine). Meanwhile, the rest of her life is looking up. Her first biography has hit the bestseller lists; she's getting fan mail from readers; and she has overcome her terror of public speaking. Asked to address the graduating class of the nursing school she attended, she is full of brave new words (``I progressed into a narrative about how...nurses are often deprived of autonomy and respect''). She even enters into a romance; but the man, 14 years her junior, starts to back away after a few months. Realizing that she is ``in the land beyond burnout,'' Heron leaves the hospital and moves to Montserrat as the caretaker of a vacation house whose owners rarely use it. There, surrounded by gorgeous views, gargantuan insects, and lush vegetation, she finds the peace she craves—for the moment. Partly a lonely woman's cry for companionship, partly the story of her transition from nurse to full-time writer, and partly a vivid portrait of life at a major hospital. The first two portions sometimes lag, but the third—which is the bulk of the book—is an engaging read. (First serial to Glamour; Literary Guild alternate selection; author tour) Read full book review >
MERCY by Echo Heron
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: March 1, 1992

Heron's first novel—about a feisty dedicated nurse ``running out of codependency gas''—covers much the same territory as her nonfiction, Intensive Care (1987), without being as compelling or credible. Not only is Catalina Richardson a skilled nurse with 20 years of experience, but she has spiritual power recognized by Gage—the blind, black hospital newsstand operator who also has second sight (which allows him, e.g., to dash upstairs, climb out a window, inch along a ledge and prevent a suicide). Throughout the novel, Gage fights ``against an invisible vortex of force'' that also threatens Cat and one of her patients—a beautiful, rich, and famous artist whose psychopathic lover tried to kill her. The detective on the case—a strong, sensitive man with a ``cream-your-jeans smile'' falls for Cat instantly; she begins to accept that the caregiver also needs care. Meanwhile, the Ward Two patients reach out and heal each other emotionally; all are remarkable human beings— except for the callous hospitable administrator whom (revenge!) Cat lets die when he goes into cardiac crisis. The most believable sections of the novel are the harangues about how shabbily nurses are treated. Some women will appreciate seeing an angry, loudmouthed 42-year-old with a terrible self-image get her man; overworked, underappreciated nurses may stand up and cheer. Heron's debut fiction, like Cat, uses tough talk, bathroom humor, and gross realism to cover a sentimental marshmallow core. Read full book review >