A Philadelphia-based nurse recalls her day-to-day life tending to the sick and dying in this unflinchingly honest debut memoir by Turnage.
In 1969, 17-year-old Susan Turnage was given her first task as a student nurse: to bathe a male patient. The words of her intimidatingly strict instructor rang in her ears: “Make sure you wash the groin area.” Once behind the bedside curtain, she confessed to her patient that she had never seen a man naked before. Her patient was equally embarrassed about having someone other than his wife bathe him. The two made a pact: “I do the pits, he does the parts.” Over the course of her career, Turnage collected a satchel full of stories about her interactions with patients. When working at a correctional facility, one of her first jobs was to advise on how to deal with an inmate who had a showerhead stuck in his rectum. Many stories are truly heartbreaking, such as that of Connie, a 15-year-old patient who had become pregnant after being sexually abused by her uncle, leading to a home-induced abortion using cola and lye that went horribly wrong. Turnage’s writing displays an effervescent, almost slapstick humor. When a patient jokes that she is spilling a bedpan, Turnage has the last laugh: “I opened my eyes wide and headed right for him, feigning a stumble and saying, ‘Woah, look out! I am carrying a big load.’” Turnage never holds back when describing a patient’s condition, and the results can be gruesome. When describing a wound on a patient’s foot, she writes: “maggots swarmed in the tennis ball-sized heel crater.” Some readers may find the writing shockingly blunt, whereas others will see the matter-of-fact approach as a reflection of the realities of nursing. The memoir is given an extra dimension with a chapter entitled “Zero to Ten”; its opening considers a patient’s perspective: “The moment your butt hits the hospital bed, normal life disappears.” The result is a multitextured memoir that evokes a spectrum of emotions. Furthermore, this book gives those considering a career in nursing a strong sense of whether the profession is truly for them.
A revealing look at hospital life written with affection and clarity.