The sluice gates of sleep are open wide And through the House its soothing silver tide From ward to ward flows grave and deep: Now flood, now fretful trickle, And some it leaves marooned Who cannot sleep. The nurses chart its course all night And those who drowse and those who tell their beads And those who coma vigil keep, Sunken beyond the lure of light.
I watch a screen assembled around their baby, a boundary intended to generate an illusion of privacy. The screen cannot mute the infant’s screams, however, nor can it block the song of the nurses who stroke its brow, who coo as they hold it still for whatever agonies of syringe or cold scalpel that follow. This tiny howl is a sound I will never excise from my memory. I weep as I listen – I weep in helplessness, yes, but I also weep in gratitude for those nurses’ certainty that parents must spare themselves from witnessing a child’s agonies. The nurse insists. The nurse stands in their place.from Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s A Ghost in the Throat
They washed him. And they spoke to him. They told him what they were doing, even though he was dead. She said nothing at first, then she copied Áine, the senior staff nurse. We’re turning you onto your side now, Joe. It was easier when you talked to him. No one spoke when Áine closed the first body bag. The rasp of the zip, like it was being pulled through wood – it’s the last thing she’ll hear when she closes her eyes. When she goes to bed.
Read the full story here on the Irish Times website >>>
The Covid-19 pandemic is so ubiquitous it would be perverse not to focus on it in this year’s Literature & Medicine module, so we are. (Having said that, I’m planning be perverse in the second term and escape from the pandemic, metaphorically, into Elaine Feeney’s As You Were.)
The low-hanging, extremely appealing option (though problematic in a number of respects) would be Camus’ deep-dive novel, The Plague, of course. But as I’m determined to play my part in overturning the patriarchy, I cannot ignore the almost complete absence of female characters in that novel (not to mention native Algerians); and anyhow I want to put female authors first. (I will, however, be quoting from Camus where it sheds additional light on the theme.)
So, without any reservations, I’m opting for Emma Donoghue’s just-published The Pull of the Stars. It is set in Dublin in 1918, with a focus on the suffering caused by the Spanish Flu as reflected in one small hospital ward. Another plus is that is narrated by a woman. And another is that she is a nurse. Another is that it is a maternity ward. All fitting in perfectly with the underlying (occasionally explicit) principles of my courses.
Fergus Shanahan’s new study The Language of Illness, especially the last chapter, ‘The Language of Plagues and Pandemics’ > https://libertiespress.com/product/the-language-of-illness/ (Here’s a link to the recent launch of that book > https://youtu.be/6UilktxKLVc and I’d particularly draw your attention in our context to the contribution of Professor Mary Horgan of UCC, consultant in infectious diseases.)
Michael D Higgin’s speech from last year on remembering the Spanish Flu > https://president.ie/en/diary/details/president-hosts-a-reception-commemorating-the-great-flu-epidemic-of-1918-1919/speeches
Surprisingly, at least to me, we are running the classes, at least for now, face-to-face, in a classroom. So, I’ll be feeling a bit anxious, and I imagine some or all of the students will be too. While reading and talking about a deadly virus that spread rapidly through communities across the globe 100 years ago, specifically in Dublin city centre, we’ll be doing our best to avoid contributing to the spread of another deadly virus, specifically in Dublin city centre. If we’re not careful, we could end up creating the perfect setting for a new work of existential fiction.
I literally loved the presentation.
It was truly amazing.
I was moved by it …Belmont University student
I recently gave a presentation to public health & nursing students from Belmont University (Nashville, Tennessee) who were on a study abroad trip to learn about other healthcare systems in action.
The title of my lecture was ‘Creating & (not?) Meeting Expectations: new thinking needed on nursing & midwifery in Ireland’. I briefly discussed how our ideas of nursing have been established historically (e.g. Florence Nightingale & Walt Whitman) & culturally (e.g. Leanne O’Sullivan – ‘Leaving Early’ & Eleanor Hooker – ‘The Man in Bed Eight’), and then – applying principles of close reading as taken from study of literature – used transcripts of some calls made to RTÉ’s Liveline during the extensive coverage of maternity experiences, to examine how those ideas & ideals are not sustainable, and what we might do to adjust our healthcare systems to modern healthcare expectations.
I’m pleased to say it was well received, as summarised here by the Director of Public Health Program at the College of Health Sciences & Nursing:
Thank you again for speaking to our public health and nursing students. All of my students commented on how impactful it was to hear the patient testimonies you shared and thoroughly enjoyed the link between humanities and medicine that you so aptly illustrated.Director of Public Health Program, Belmont Univeristy
From the Irish Times >>>
“Will I get your mam?” asked the nurse.
“She’s not here,” I spluttered in between tears, “she had to get back to our shop to work.”
Those lines are from my diary, written when I was 13 years of age. I had just been admitted to hospital with a threatened burst appendix and was about to be operated on to have it removed. My 13-year-old self writes: “When I’m brought to the room outside the operating theatre, I suddenly become very frightened and burst into tears. The nurse tries to console me. I’m given something to calm me down and a short time later, all I remember is being wheeled into the operating theatre where I comment on the great view of the Rock of Cashel out the window and then I fall into a deep sleep. I wake up in the recovery room, calling once again for my mother and, thankfully, this time she’s there.”
Read the rest >>>
Oncology nurse, Lindsay Norris writes about how her own experience of having cancer made her realise she hadn’t fully understood as a healthcare worker what her patients were going through during treatment, despite thinking she had.
“Even though healthcare workers don’t really know what it’s like to be you (well, us) it’s ok. Nobody does. I just hope that I was still able to give you a little guidance and strength to help you get through your cancer treatment. Even if I didn’t get it.”
Heather came to Brooklyn after high school, when she was nineteen, more than thirty years ago. She had planned to go to college to study English literature and become a teacher—she loved poetry, she loved T. S. Eliot, she loved C. S. Lewis—but when she prayed about this she got a sense that God was telling her to go into nursing instead. She was reading the Bible, 1 Thessalonians, and came across the verse “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children.” She said to God, Nursing? Lord, I never really thought of nursing. But she discovered that it suited her. Normally, a graduating nurse went into medical-surgical work—that was where the prestige, the difficulty, and the excitement were—but she went instead into home care. She wanted to care for her patients in a personal way, rather than racing from one task to another, one limb to the next—inserting an I.V. here, drawing blood there, scarcely noticing whose vein she was puncturing or whose arm she was holding…
People react differently to a death. Some cry, some are calm. Some are frightened to be left alone with a body. Some fear that the body may come back to life. Wives sometimes throw themselves on the body, weeping and grasping it, especially when the couple have been married forty, fifty, sixty years. “The Bible says, And two shall become one,” Heather says. “It’s a wrenching that happens, a tearing, like a garment that’s being pulled apart.” But fairly often a former spouse is taking care of the patient, because there is no one else to do it, and that person may not feel too much.
When the time seems right, Heather begins the postmortem rituals. She shines a flashlight into the patient’s eyes to see that the pupils no longer constrict, and, if they do not, she closes the eyelids. She checks the pulse at the wrist and neck. She listens to the chest, and looks at the hands to see if they have changed color. She asks the family if there are people they need to call—other relatives, a priest, the funeral home—and if they aren’t ready to do it she offers to do it for them. She phones the hospice doctor to confirm the time of death, and the doctor writes up the death certificate. It is illegal to transfer medications from one patient to another, so she goes to the patient’s fridge and retrieves any leftover drugs and destroys them, with bleach, or coffee, or dirt.
From the New Yorker >>>