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

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  826 ratings  ·  105 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
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Hardcover, 189 pages
Published June 1st 2010 by HarperOne (first published 2010)
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Community Reviews

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Barb
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
Caitlin
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
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Alyssa
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
Katie
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Amy Meyer

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
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Jean
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
Eva Leger
Sep 29, 2010 Eva Leger rated it 3 of 5 stars
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
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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
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Jenny
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
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Megan
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.
Flannery
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.
Rinny
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
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
Matthew Gatheringwater
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.
Betty
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,
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Rebecca
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
Haley
Eh. Yawn .....
Paige
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
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Carin
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
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Lauren
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
Lisa
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
Anna
A detailed, straightforward account of experiences on an oncology floor. Brown narrates many a common and uncommon situation with attention to both medical and emotional aspects of the situation--appreciated by this nursing student, only three months away from graduation, licensure, and job-hunting.
Carissa
Short but extremely readable - the author's compassion and patience really comes through, especially when she relates those moments between herself and her patients that she most strongly cherishes/remembers. I enjoyed the interesting glimpse into the bureaucracy of the hospital setting too, it's almost scary that these are the people in charge of your care sometimes. [return]The emotional or otherwise challenging parts of the story that involved the author were sometimes hard to get a read on t ...more
Meaghan
This is an unstintingly honest memoir of the author's experience in a nursing career, mostly caring for cancer patients. She deals with both the medical side and the human side of the job, and explains the details of the treatments without drowning the reader in jargon. Her book can be quite graphic at times, particularly in chapter two when a patient's smooth, ordinary-looking back suddenly bursts open Alien-style, and in the chapter "Doctors Don't Do Poop," where she talks about the scatologic ...more
Elaine Ballard
Well-written from a new nurse's perspective. Written in laymen's language, this book explains many commonly-used medical terms. This memoir also explains many perplexing and emotional challenges of nursing.
Holly
Memoir of a nurse's first year on a medical oncology floor. I would not recommend this book to cancer patients, as they are already living these details and the stories are not very hopeful, but patients' relatives might benefit from this window into hospital routines, chemo treatments and side effects, and the nitty gritty of how the U.S. medical system handles death. The author's New York Times essays are better than this book, so perhaps she is growing as a writer. The medical stories were gr ...more
Emily
A memoir of learning a medical profession on the front lines similar to Final Exam or Weekends at Bellevue, but in this case the author is not a doctor but an English professor who retrained as a nurse. Working on an oncology floor, she learns about cancer treatments, the interpersonal politics of a hospital, and how best to approach patients with a difficult diagnosis. This was a perfectly good entry in a genre that I typically find worthwhile, since I work in a hospital but not in a clinical a ...more
Ann
Picked this up in the D.C. train station and read it straight through (almost) on the way back to Philadelphia. A fast and interesting look at learning to be a nurse after leaving English professor-dom. Brown nurses in the oncology ward and her account of patients as they go through the process of dealing with cancer is moving, her accounts of unexpected patient deaths (condition As) is stunning and helped me understand a lot of what goes on in hospitals. I particularly liked the chapter "Doctor ...more
Kirsten
This book was very good and I would recommend it to anyone who is thinking about going into nursing and wondering what it is actually like.
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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
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“For where else can I go to sample daily the richness of life in all its profound chaos?” 2 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.” 0 likes
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