Vivid dispatches from the “often battlefield-like conditions” of an inner city labor and delivery unit.
In this debut memoir, Wyler, a 30-year nursing veteran and midwife, shares her unique experiences over two years in a demanding, high-risk obstetrical department. These episodes, derived from the author’s personal journal entries, illustrate a dramatic, often unseen portrait of life inside a busy medical facility. From the opening chapters, the author demonstrates an affinity for the more challenging roles in the department, such as being a “roving” nurse or working in the labor intensive-care area, with its larger rooms, expansive windows, and “red blanket” patients whose pregnancy conditions were critically life-threatening. In a large, unnamed metropolitan hospital serving a good portion of poor, uninsured urban mothers and their children, the author worked well with ever changing shifts of co-workers, each with his or her own idiosyncratic personality, and a colorful collection of events including “screaming mothers, demanding doctors, and hair-raising deliveries.” Indeed, such complicated deliveries comprised a good portion of her work, though some cases were trickier than others. The case of a young, drug-abusing mother (also a prisoner) who developed a mysterious fever, for example, pales in comparison to heartbreaking cases of stillborn babies. Wyler also tells of the panic of an over-capacity unit and of epidurals administered by anesthesiologists with curt, unsympathetic bedside manners. But she also infuses the narrative with her own humanity, discussing her own struggles with burnout, family life, the ward’s space limitations, and scheduling snafus. However, the fact that her stories are largely restricted to the obstetrical department does limit their variety; readers who only have a mild curiosity about medicine may find themselves fully satisfied after just a few of these repetitive, if often fascinating, chapters. Still, aside from the barrage of medical jargon and graphically detailed procedures, Wyler’s autobiographical snapshots of the nursing world strike a satisfying balance between stories of her delivering safe, effective medical care and remaining compassionate while professionally and personally growing as a nurse. Readers with a personal interest in modern health care will glean the most from this true-to-life depiction.
A knowledgeable, adrenaline-infused portrait of the realities of nursing, written with palpable passion.