Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Shift by Theresa Brown, RN

I love listening to NPR and I was very interested when I heard this interview with nurse Theresa Brown about her newest book The Shift. The first thing that caught my attention was that Brown has a PhD in English and had been a professor at Tufts University when she suddenly made a career change to nursing. I am fascinated with the paths people take to their careers, especially when it leads them to what they feel is their life's work. I also really enjoyed the narrative way that she spoke about her experiences working as a nurse and thought I might enjoy reading her book. I reserved it from the library and when it came in, I honestly thought I might skim through it and just return it mostly unread. I was wrong. I sat down just to read the first few pages yesterday and was immediately drawn in to her words. This book reads with exactly the same conversational description as her spoken interview. It is rare that I find a work of nonfiction that I can't put down, but this was one of those.

Brown begins the book with her 6am alarm waking her for her day. I knew I was going to like her when she described her bike ride to work. I am a cyclist myself and it was great reading about her short commute by bicycle. She then walks us through an entire twelve-hour shift as she experiences it. There is a brief disclaimer at the very beginning explaining that the identities of some of the patients have been changed and that some are even composites, but it reads as a very real day. She begins the day with three patients, but a fourth comes in later in the day. They are each very different in need and in personality and Brown doesn't insult the reader with the idea that a nurse has lovely feelings for all of her patients. She also doesn't refrain from showing her feelings of compassion for her patients, either, and this make her tale ring true. 

While there is medical terminology and some explanation of  illness included, it never overwhelms the reader. In fact, I finally understand a little more about those blood pressure numbers that always mystify me at the doctor's office.We also learn about the frustration many nurse's feel about the state of health care as it affects their patients. A computer system in which they enter data about each patient makes her "sometimes wonder if sadists designed our software." As she says, "It should not be easier to order a sweater from Lands End than to chart on my patients, but it is." And while wishing she could provide more care for her patients, she says, "I wish we could occasionally slow down, but the pace won't change unless caring becomes as lucrative for hospitals as tests and procedures."

I was under a library return deadline to read this book so quickly, but even if I hadn't been, it still would have captured and kept my attention. I am anxious to read Brown's first book about nursing, Critical Care.

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