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A nurse-poet writes what she knows


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

2 $2.49


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.

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