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Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life, and Everything in Between

3.77  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,170 Ratings  ·  118 Reviews
"Doctors heal, or try to, but as nurses we step into the breach, figure out what needs to be done for any given patient today, on this shift, and then, with love and exasperation, do it as best as we can."—from Critical Care

"At my job, people die," writes Theresa Brown, capturing both the burden and the singular importance of her profession. Brown, a former English profes
Hardcover, 189 pages
Published June 1st 2010 by HarperOne (first published 2010)
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Jul 16, 2010 Barb rated it liked it
Interesting book and truly an accurate representation of Nursing on a busy hospital unit. I am an RN who works with new nurses and I found this book helpful in reminding me what it is like to be experiencing patient care and the complexities with it in the hospital setting for a new nurse. I love the Nursing profession and was hopeful that I could give this book 5 stars when I started reading it, but I could not. Altho the book was interesting, it was not a compelling read and the story line was ...more
Mar 13, 2010 Caitlin rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010
The author of this memoir used to be an English professor, but she chucked all that to become a nurse. The memoir is about her first year as a nurse on a medical oncology ward. The book is well-written, but ultimately there's just nothing special about it. It's essentially a series of stories about caring for patients with cancer - there's value in that, but it doesn't really stand out for any reason.

I would have liked the author to be more self-reflective. It's a big change from Professor to fi
Jul 16, 2012 Alyssa rated it really liked it
Being a very recent nursing school graduate and preparing for my career as a nurse, I found this book very inspiring and helpful. I've had encounters with death that have made me very uncomfortable at work (at a workout center) and reading this book has helped me "systematically desensitize" in being able to cope with it. I felt peace in that after seeking counseling after one of my deaths which was incredibly gruesome, that Theresa had felt a sense of depression after her sudden deaths. Thank y ...more
Amy Meyer
Jul 26, 2010 Amy Meyer rated it it was amazing

Publisher: At my job, people die,” writes Theresa Brown, capturing both the burden and the singular importance of her profession. CRITICAL CARE chronicles Brown, a former English Professor at Tufts University, on her first year as an RN in medical oncology and the emotional ups and downs she encounters in caring for strangers. In contrast to other medical memoirs that highlight the work of doctors, this book focuses on the critical role played by nurses as health care providers.
Brown walks reade
Matthew Gatheringwater
Feb 17, 2012 Matthew Gatheringwater rated it it was ok
Shelves: nursing
Having only just graduated from nusing school myself, I can vouch for the accuracy of Brown's observations. I have enjoyed Brown's articles for the NY Times but, whereas those are more issue-oriented, the stories in the book were more personal. In some of her anecdotes, she seemed to court trouble. I came away from the book with the sense I'd rather read about Brown's career than find myself working with her.
Oct 21, 2014 Katie rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 26, 2010 Jean rated it really liked it
This is one important read about what it is that nurse's really do. I admire all nurses, I always have, for all that they do. One could argue that there is stress in many different kinds of jobs, but when life and death depend on just what you do and how you do it, it puts nursing on a whole different level. I've complained in the past about the stressful times I've had at work, because it was like holiday shopping time, and it lasts for a short time, but boy is it ever crazy when you are going ...more
Oct 16, 2011 Flannery rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dislike, kindle, memoir
I also happen to love medical memoirs and, once again, this one was a letdown. I can't even put my finger on why. Her framing and description of events just rubbed me the wrong way. I really wanted to like this one but it dragged at parts. Mostly the parts where she was talking about how amazing she was to go from being an English professor to a nurse. For a much better medical memoir, read Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande.
Jan 15, 2016 Cynthia rated it liked it
Interesting book about nursing in an oncology ward. Fairly short chapters that were informative without needing a Merck Manual. Tended to jump around a bit but overall a decent read.
Eva Leger
Sep 29, 2010 Eva Leger rated it liked it
Recommended to Eva by: library
I'd recommend this for anyone looking to get a glimpse into what it takes to be a R.N., especially in an oncology unit. This was interesting for me because I have an on-line friend going through chemo right now and never having had any personal experience with this treatment I had no idea really what is happening to her. There is so much I don't know still but I know more now than before.
There's a nice amount of stories about Brown's patients and to me that's always a plus. Brown seems to be an
Becky Everhart
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It surprised me, pleasantly, in many ways. It let me down only in that it ended too soon.

When I first picked up this book, I expected the author to merely parade grisly experiences before me, making me thankful for my civilian life and giving me a new-found awe for those who can handle this most difficult profession. I wasn't really expecting much in the way of wording or decorum. When I read that brown is a former professor who taught at prestigious Tufts Univer
Feb 09, 2013 Jenny rated it really liked it
My favorite passage:

Florence Nightingale called nursing "one of the Fine Arts" and described it in terms of artistic production: "Nursing is an art: ad, if it is to be made an art, it requires an exclusive devotion, as hard as a preparation, as any painter's or sculptor's work." These two forms of visual art are an interesting choice. She could have compared nursing to farming, religious service, the care of animals, or even medicine, but she chose painting and sculpture, art forms that require
Jul 21, 2010 Megan rated it it was ok
Just not as good as it could have been. Compare this book to Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science: that's good thoughtful medical writing, there. Critical Care is almost there. As it is now, it's a collection of stories, with bits about Theresa Brown's family and her change of career thrown in. All of the patients blend together, especially since they all have cancer. It felt like it had so much promise, but fell flat in the execution.
Disclosure: I'm a nursing student, and I've been working as a nurse tech for about two years now in a variety of health care settings. There's always more to learn, but I pretty much get the basic ins and outs of health care at this point. There was just a lot of little things that I read that didn't endear me to the author. Okay, so for example: the way she acted around that doctor when she injured herself. He wore black scrubs and she immediately made some snap judgments about his personality ...more
Barbara Zimmerman
Jul 19, 2015 Barbara Zimmerman rated it it was amazing
Being a very recent nursing school graduate and preparing for my career as a nurse, I found this book very inspiring and helpful. I've had encounters with death that have made me very uncomfortable, bewildered and surprised(My Mother, Father and Sister died within a short time of each other) and during my internship I helped patients while they died, some suddenly, slowly and some quickly and unexpectedly. Reading this book has helped me "systematically desensitize" so that I will be able to cop ...more
Aug 04, 2014 Rin rated it really liked it
I liked the parts of the book that I didn't find so chatty. Some of the book seems rather redundant and naive, but I expect that seeing as she's a new nurse and the tales are unique to her experience and what she's learned from them. Her lesson seems to always be that nurses are a valuable part of the team and that patient care isn't something that you learn in school. Sometimes the smallest gestures matter most to patients and families. She also talks a lot about death and dying, something that ...more
Nicole Belanger
May 09, 2014 Nicole Belanger rated it it was amazing
Theresa Brown didn’t write Critical Care without a purpose. She illuminates what it’s like to be a nurse. “At my job, people die,” she says, and that holds true. Brown cast a light on the importance of nursing, including both hardships and memorable moments. Nursing is an emotionally and physically draining profession. “Doctors heal, or try to, but as nurses we step into the breach, figure out what needs to be done for any given patient today, on this shift, and then, with love and exasperation, ...more
Ellen Keim
Sep 29, 2015 Ellen Keim rated it liked it
This is a quick but revealing read about the nursing profession which I enjoyed for the most part. My only quibble is that I felt the author spent a little too much time writing about her own injury. I would have rather read more about her actual experiences as a nurse. Even so, I thought she did a good job of giving the reader an overview of nursing, from new nurse to seasoned professional. Although she included a lot of the negatives, her own love for and commitment to nursing shone through. I ...more
Apr 26, 2014 Betty rated it liked it
Interesting stories about medical care from the nurse's perspective.

"It's a simple idea: love what you do, even when you hate it." (11)

"Loss of dignity is taken for granted in the hospital, and patients are usually not allowed the luxury of mourning their lost privacy or self-reliance." (50)

"During my eight hours that day I tried to help them in whatever way I could. For our patients, there may not be a tomorrow--today has to count." (80)

"Go home, love your children, try not to bicker, eat well,
Aug 29, 2012 Rebecca rated it liked it
The story of how an English professor from Tufts choose to become a nurse. I felt like I should like this book more, but I didn't. I didn't feel like the author was someone I would want I hang out with. Her anecdotes about nursing and patients were powerful, but the book lacked something indescribable which would have allowed me to lose myself in the story.
Pr Latta
As a nurse turned librarian I found Brown's telling of her first year as a professor turned nurse interesting. Basically a series of essays, the book read as a somewhat egocentric novel that introduces some (but not exhaustively) nursing issues as they pertained to Brown. I would have liked more expansion on the issues rather than Brown's singular experience (but hey! It's a biography). I was intrigued by the references to differences between 20-something new nurses and 40-something new nurses - ...more
Jun 22, 2016 Peggy rated it it was ok
Shelves: ugh-hate-ed-it
Not very interesting. Kinda condescending.
Not really insightful. And I'm surprised the writing isn't better.
Jul 28, 2011 Haley rated it it was ok
Eh. Yawn .....
Nov 24, 2014 Paige rated it liked it
As a reader: This book is not likely to be of interest or enjoyment to those outside of the nursing field and I would not suggest it be read by those new or entering the profession. The writing is good enough. Style is straight forward graphically describing the ins and outs of a daily nurse's life on a busy oncology ward. It did give me encouragement that anyone can be published if that is on their bucket list.
As a nurse: This book stirred up all kinds of thoughts and emotions. I was saddened t
Apr 20, 2011 Carin rated it liked it
Luckily Ms. Brown is not only a nurse, but she also used to teach writing on the college level. This is not a straightforward memoir with a solid-line narrative, but instead it's a series of long vignettes about her experiences changing to a nursing career later in life.

Just like any job, there are difficult people to work with and bad work environments. She also talks about heartbreaking patients, the difficulty of learning all the medicine, and some truly gross situations (don't read this book
Christy Petersen holloway
Parts of this I really enjoyed; however, it seemed like I got a version where editing wasn't complete. I found several sentences that didn't make sense and that was distracting. As a nurse, I did find it clever, helpful and true. She was humble enough to admit her mistakes and foibles but entertaining enough to address her occasional wins. I, too, entered nursing after a period in education. Sometimes you just want to go to work and make a difference, not just collect a paycheck.
Apr 22, 2010 Lauren added it
It was an interesting read for sure. It follows the author, Theresa, as she learns her way around as a brand new nurse on the Oncology floor. She has to grapple with making snap decisions, to wrangling the hospital bureaucracy, to finding a balance with her life inside and out of the hospital. It was an interesting take on things, for sure, like when she had to visit the ER herself, she knew exactly how to handle the staff. Once they caught wind she was "one of theirs," albeit being on a differe ...more
Apr 20, 2010 Lisa rated it liked it
Reading this book was a rather personal experience for me as I have had an extended stay in a hospital. I was fascinated by the candor with which Ms. Brown describes a "day in the life" of a nurse. Nurses are very busy and burdened with much responsibility, but as the author points out caring for the patient is the most important thing. Paperwork and hierachies may monopolize much of a nurses attention but ultimately most nurses hearts are in the right place. I hope many nurses will read this bo ...more
Jen Pierce
May 31, 2015 Jen Pierce rated it liked it
Pretty good. Fast read. As a former hospital RN myself, I found the information and stories almost painfully accurate. A good intro to real nursing for someone that's not in the know. I wish I had been a bit more drawn in to her personally, though. I didn't find her voice very engaging, and in fact, found it a bit tiresome at times.
Oct 02, 2015 Jamie rated it liked it
A nice and simple insight into what a new nurse might go through. She focuses on the spirituality, on really making sure you are there for your patient. As a nursing student it was also sort of fun to read it because she keeps it simple and so it's filled with moments where you get to go "I know what she's talking about!"
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Theresa Brown, R.N., lives and works in the Pittsburgh area. She received her B.S.N. from the University of Pittsburgh and, during what she calls her past life, a Ph.D. in English from the University of Chicago. Brown is a regular contributor to the New York Times blog "Well." Her essay "Perhaps Death Is Proud; More Reason to Savor Life" was included in The Best American Science Writing 2009 and T ...more
More about Theresa Brown...

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“For where else can I go to sample daily the richness of life in all its profound chaos?” 6 likes
“Death is always death, and in real life, especially in the world of the hospital, sudden death, whether violent and gruesome or unbelievably prosaic, is unsettling. What can one do? Go home, love your children, try not to bicker, eat well, walk in the rain, feel the sun on your face, and laugh loud and often, as much as possible, and especially at yourself. Because the antidote to death is not poetry, or miracle treatments, or a roomful of people with technical expertise and good intentions—the antidote to death is life.” 3 likes
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