Absorbing debut collection, portions of which previously appeared in literary magazines, recalling the author’s work as a critical-care nurse.
Life-and-death experiences aboard an emergency helicopter are not Culkin’s only focus. This former neonatal and pediatric intensive-care nurse has vivid memories of the tiny patients whose lives were in her hands, and she writes of them with warmth and clarity. She also gives the reader glimpses of her personal life: as a bride living in a simple cabin in the woods of Alaska, a worried mother of two teenage sons, the irreligious sibling of doctrinaire and disapproving Catholic sisters, the daughter of sick and dying parents. Aboard the chopper, Culkin’s demanding job was to keep victims of heart attacks and critically injured survivors of traffic accidents alive as they were being transported to hospital emergency rooms. Her accounts of these events are both powerful and lucid. She doesn’t overwhelm with arcane medical terminology, but she makes clear the details of equipment and procedures and the difficulties of managing them inside a helicopter’s cramped quarters, giving the reader a reassuring picture of a compassionate professional at work in a stressful environment. Although there is no hint of her personal health problems in earlier pieces, the penultimate chapter reveals that she is facing the challenges of multiple sclerosis and can no longer lead such a strenuous life. The risks of being an emergency flight nurse—night flights, bad weather, human error—come fully alive in the final chapter, a moving account of dealing with the deaths of colleagues in helicopter crashes.
Not quite a full-blown memoir, but the individual pieces are enthralling.