Reflections on Nurses, Writing. Blogging 101, Day 4

I live in Vermont, home of the Bread and Puppet theater group, which shares magic, social and political commentary, and affordable art with its guests. One summer, the troop led us into a hushed red-pine forest. We sat on the ground at long, makeshift banquet tables laid with bright cloth and 582289a3d3123309b4a0d36b24c096b0coffee cans painted with flowers and arcane symbols. Our puppeteer-hosts served, in silence, chilled water from clay pitchers and chunks of homemade bread.

Like fresh bread and cool water, writing nourishes when it is shared.

I work as a nurse.  Nursing, too, is a practice that must be shared in order to exist. As a profession, or a calling, right livelihood, or just a paycheck,  by simple definition it cannot stand alone. The very mechanics of doing our jobs allow us to look through intimate windows opening briefly into others’ existences. Our jobs intersect with theirs at intrinsic turning points as they experience birth, life, and death.

That intersection is a crossroads where mysteries live, where events below the surface manifest in language we have become clumsy with. Nurses write to translate, to interpret.

The dichotomy between the technical and the personal asserts itself repeatedly in this profession. How do we maintain the pace required to provide dramatic, cutting edge interventions while preserving compassion and healing intention? That call to serve and to heal sparked the beginnings of the nursing profession—and eventually it sparked the creation of technology.

The ancient healers—magicians, witches, shamans—have been replaced. Today we survive infections and trauma that, before the arrival of modern medicine, were deadly. These improved outcomes are miracles and that come with various requirements. We must be technicians we well as nurses, often responding not to the person but to machines that measure and image the body’s mysterious inner workings. We are accountable to federal, state, and local regulations that assure safe, quality patient care. We seek an evidence-based practice. We have advanced practice and advanced degrees. I’m not suggesting that any of this is wrong. I am saying that often as nurses we have little time for providing the elements of care that called us to our profession in the first place. And I am saying that sometimes those same elements have been erased by a system that has embraced corporate culture and practices.

Yet time exists in layers, and so still there are the small, secret pockets where the legacy of healing emerges again and again.

And in those pockets, nurses are writing to survive that great split between science and magic. We are writing to avoid being destroyed by the heavy pendulum with its great momentum, swinging powerful and erratic between the polarities of what is possible in health care and what is possible in healing. For they are not always the same thing. Although our world so much needs both, there is an unfortunate and deep divide between the two. Nurses are among those who try to bridge that chasm, underscoring our profession’s commitment to interact with the person, not the disease.

Nurses use a process which includes assessment and documentation. There is this, too: we notice, observe, witness, map, and chronicle. It’s the pursuit of writers, yes, and it’s also what nurses do, from our own particular places in the universe.

Nursing happens. It doesn’t pretty things up. It is intimate with birth and blood, shit and insanity, illness and death. It’s built from primitive stuff, the humus of life, raw energy that demands acknowledgment.

Warm bread, shared, silent, in a summer forest in Vermont is one sort of offering. Another is giving voice to our experiences of life, through our words on the page.

These things are good medicine. We offer them up.

12 thoughts on “Reflections on Nurses, Writing. Blogging 101, Day 4”

  1. Beautiful insight of your thinking. Love reading it. And through the entire post I could smell the fresh, warm bread and feel the sun on my skin and maybe a light summer breeze. I could see the branches of the trees and the leaves sway in the wind. Smell the clear air. And still get what you were saying… Understand, where you are going. Can’t wait to read more.


    1. Thank you for the taking the time to read and comment on this post! That you were able to experience the sensations so vividly has a great deal to do with your style of reading, not just my writing. Sending gratitude. . .


  2. Pat, I am so happy you visited my blog and commented on my post. Thank you.
    I am grateful you have started your own blog. We nurses need to write about our work and our thoughts on the current health care system. And maybe more importantly, do what you are doing so well, sharing your sense of self and wonder and belief that we are all part of this “experience of life.”
    Much success in you blogging career.


    1. Thank you, Marianna. Your “like” means a lot to me. It has always felt important to me to weave work and self together. Of course, the older I get, the more important it becomes. I hadn’t thought of blogging as a career, exactly, but it’s intriguing to play with it in that way! There’s a lot of ground to cover over on your blog, and I look forward to continuing my exploration there.


  3. I have always admired the dedication that a lot of nurses put into their jobs and have, at one point, hoped to write about them. However, I also realized the big difference it would make if the things we read come straight from the horses’ mouths themselves.

    Hope to read more from you!


    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I hope you don’t entirely rule out writing about nurses! I like your writing so much and think that you could awrite about most anything and your perspective would serve it well.
      Are you called Joana or Joan?
      Thank you again.


  4. Absolutely wonderful and astute post about straddling the healing and technician fields as well as sometimes the political field. I am not a nurse but I have many close friends who are and with the recent health events of my husband and mother I was upfront and personal with the medical fields. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to walk in a nurse’s shoes but it’s never been my calling and with what I see you all do (the ones who genuinely care and are tireless) I don’t know if I ever could. It certainly takes a special person. So, thank you. Thank you for your post. Thank you for what you do. And thank you for also being the kind of person to see the simplicity of the “warm bread, shared, silent, in a summer forest in Vermont”. Beautifully written and expressed!


  5. I can recall my early days in the mental institution: angry and enraged, I’d take it out on the very people trying to help me. I feel such gratitude towards all the nurses and nurses aides that have come and gone in my life…many taught me the value of life, as well as the possibility of one day returning to the “real world.”

    My unique experience transformed my whole attitude and perspectives towards what most consider the “dreaded” institution. It provided the pool for which my heart and soul dove into from the high dive, totally expected to drown and never re-emerge again. Thanks for liking my about page. I intend to send a free copy of my book to the very institution that saved my life from the brink of extinction.

    Much blessings your way,


  6. Nurses are a gift to the world. How nice though, having studied theatre arts, to read a first hand account of a Bread and Puppet production. I thought maybe they had disappeared into history but evidently not. Your writing by the way is a joy to read.


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