Saturday, September 9, 2017

Book Review: 'The Shift' by Theresa Brown

Twelve hours may seem like a lifetime, especially if you are an oncology nurse. In "The Shift," forty-five year old Theresa Brown leaves her Pittsburgh home, where her husband and kids are still asleep, and rides her bike to the hospital on a cold November morning. She arrives at her destination, changes into her scrubs, confers with colleagues, and begins tending to her patients. Her fervent hope is that the extremely sick people on her ward will eventually go home cancer-free.

Brown has a PhD in English and taught at Tufts University before she made the change to nursing. Why would anyone give up the tranquility of academia for such a demanding job, especially in today's climate of managed care, cost-cutting, and intrusive bureaucracy? Brown admits that she is overworked, frequently exhausted, and sometimes unappreciated. She needs roller skates to carry out such duties as checking vital signs, making sure that IVs are working properly, talking to concerned relatives, administering pain medication, changing dressings, and helping prep patients for medical procedures. Tragically, in spite of the best efforts of health care practitioners, things can go terribly wrong.

Gradually, we begin to understand why Brown loves what she does. She has the temperament to deal with the drama and intensity of critical care nursing. Furthermore, she senses when a soothing voice, gentle touch, and kind word can help someone feel less frightened. Whether she is comforting a young firefighter whose cancer was in remission but has returned; mollifying a cantankerous patient; trying to relieve the excruciating pain of a woman whose condition is more serious than her doctors initially suspected; or readying someone for discharge, Brown knows that what she does for a living matters greatly. "The Shift" is a sensitively written, realistic, and poignant account of a day in the life of a dedicated and compassionate nurse. Theresa Brown intelligently and eloquently conveys the challenge of being "in the eternal present of illness and unease, never knowing the future."

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right

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