I started writing poetry in grammar school in Harvey, North Dakota. Our curriculum emphasized writing and poetry—I still have the anthology we used. Throughout college, nursing school, and my first clinical positions, I continued to write poetry. With my first academic position at Salve Regina College in Newport, Rhode Island, my writing segued to the academic. My major creative outlet was writing editorials and historical pieces about nurses and nursing. I tried writing fiction, short stories, children’s books, but kept returning to what I know best—nursing.
A pediatric surgical and burn unit, London, 1968
Of all the children, her face remains with me
That summer cold and rainy
slogging to and from London Bridge Station
I purchased Wellington boots at a shop near the hospital1
for 19 shillings 19 pence2
Her father a chief from an African country, in London to study
the family soon to return home
She was to remain in England
a daughter wasn’t wanted, only the son
A ten year old‘s solution
tip over the paraffin heater
Her mother and brother perished
90% of her body with 3rd degree burns
She lived for three days
hues of pink of the exposed tissue
contrasted with the deep black of her remaining skin
The heroin helped her physical pain
nothing we could do soothed her spirit
We cared for her body and soul as best we could
across barriers of culture and language
No one visited her
nurses and doctors the only witnesses to her death
we wept together for all children unwanted and in pain
On wet days wearing my Wellingtons
I think of her
1 named after the Duke of Wellington who had a pair of soft leather boots made, a modification of 18th Century Hessian boots; Wellingtons are tall rubber boots (and now made of synthetic materials as well) sold all over the world, made famous by the children’s book character Paddington Bear
Death visited our ward today
a brief but welcome visitor.
There were tears, touching, tenderness
as we, nurse, patient, family and friends–
all six of us–shared your final hours.
You were too weary to speak,
but we communicated as though we had
talked continually throughout those last hours.
When death came, you were ready
and, since you had prepared us, we were as well.
Death entered the room scarcely noticed
and we were no longer afraid.
You, in your four short years, in dying
took with you the last vestiges of our fear
and left us in peace.