Luckmann (co-author: Transcultural Communication in Nursing: 2nd Edition, 2005, etc.) recalls her time spent as a trainee nurse in a demanding Los Angeles hospital.
“Temperatures already in the mid-fifties promising another hot, smoggy, September day in Los Angeles and I am preparing myself to face three years at Los Angeles County General Hospital,” writes Luckmann, recalling the moment in 1954 when she packed her bags, left her family home, and set out for a new life in nursing. The author’s mother, the movie star Gloria Grey, died when Luckmann was still in school, and her father, a screenwriter, disappeared, leaving her to be raised by her domineering maternal grandmother, Babu. Luckmann’s relationship with Babu was strained—on announcing her decision to become a nurse, Babu remarked: “you won’t be able to take it.” She became intent on proving her grandmother wrong despite the tribulations she experienced as a “probie” at County, which included: intimidating senior nurses, bedsores infested with maggots, and witnessing a fellow “probie” suffer “a complete collapse of nerves.” These memoirs were discovered as a series of unfinished files after her death and were edited and collated by her spouse. The writing is clear and concise: “In nursing arts lab, we are instructed on body mechanics, the use of safety restraints, and how to take temperatures.” It’s also often elegant: “my life built around a rotating wheel of fortune that sometimes spun fast and furious in the wind and at other times turned quietly in a soft breeze.” Readers interested in learning about hospital life in the 1950s will gather some valuable insights here, but unpacking familial relationships takes precedence. For instance, at the opening, we learn more about Babu, her past, and the reasons for her spitefulness than we do about the author and her drive to become a nurse. Along with some subtle reframing, the memoir could benefit from a thorough copy edit. Yet, despite some rough edges, perhaps indicative of an unfinished manuscript, this remains revealing, heartfelt writing.
A unique perspective on 20th-century nursing overshadowed by multiple accounts of family feuding.