A journey through the variegated days and nights of a young nurse.
Combining a near dreaminess with quotidian details, both refreshingly and intimately shared (“as a last resort, we use medication to subdue patients: haloperidol, which between ourselves we call vitamin H”), London-based Case tells the story of her first steps as a nurse. She begins by discussing “last offices,” the procedures undertaken after the death of a patient. The author writes with a refreshing matter-of-factness that keeps things from becoming too opaque. She frames the narrative around the nursing checklist when first examining a patient: airway, breathing, circulation, disability, exposure. She covers each of these steps in a number of short chapters that range among compact profiles of her patients, family tales (her father was in and out of the hospital), and nursing lore and wisdom. Though Case’s writing is unaffected, that doesn’t mean it isn’t moving. When a man died alone in her ward, she writes, “I watched as the patient seemed to disappear.” Her simple explanations make for clear understanding of, for example, why a patient might try to pull out a chest drain and IV lines after an operation. Some of the most pungent passages come from what she has learned from her time on the ward. “I had become fluent,” she writes, “in the way blood moved, smelt, how its colour could signal a patient’s chances of survival.” The action takes place at an English hospital, where Case easily swings into teaching mode. We get a smattering of Galen, Aristotle, the Tzeltal Mayans, and others on their approaches to medicine, and as the author chronicles how to analyze a pulse, she reminds us that the word comes from “pulsus,” Latin for “to beat.” Each chapter is a filigree, tenderly rendered no matter what the subject.
A finely wrought delineation of the art of nursing.