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

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  1,336 Ratings  ·  133 Reviews
“Among all the recent books on medicine, Critical Care stands alone.“ — Pauline Chen, author of Final Exam

“A must read for anyone who wants to understand healthcare. Extraordinary.” — Elizabeth Cohen, MPH, CNN Senior Medical Correspondent

Critical Care is the powerful and absorbing memoir of Theresa Brown—a regular contributor to the New York Times blog “Well”—about her exp
ebook, 224 pages
Published June 1st 2010 by HarperCollins e-books (first published 2010)
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Jun 30, 2010 Barb rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 26, 2010 Caitlin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 10, 2012 Alyssa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition

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
Oct 10, 2014 Katie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 23, 2010 Jean rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 18, 2010 Megan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
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
May 09, 2010 Eva Leger rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 08, 2013 Jenny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jun 12, 2011 Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 16, 2011 Flannery rated it it was ok
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.
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.
May 17, 2011 Haley rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Eh. Yawn .....
Jill Meyer
May 09, 2017 Jill Meyer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Theresa Brown's book "Critical Care" has been excerpted in the New York Times Health and Wellness section, which is where I first read about the book. Brown, a college-English-professor-turned-oncology-nurse, combines her two areas of expertise in a book about her first year as a nurse. She's an excellent writer with an interesting story to tell.

As another reviewer here noted, nurses are the unsung heroes of the medical world. They do the grunt work, the unceasing care of patients, and are often
Susan Lavery
Jun 12, 2017 Susan Lavery rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So true to life.

I love nonfiction books and anything to do with the medical field. This book brought me back when I sat with my daughter in the hospital fighting for her life. She won the battle with leukemia. And let me tell you, it was some battle. I realized that poison was being put in my girl, when I went to use her restroom. There was a biohazard sign on it. Her urine was so toxic. I could not use it! She won the battle, and if it was not for the wonderful nurses surrounding her, it might
Betty Burkman
Jun 16, 2017 Betty Burkman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Think about today ,tomorrow may never come!

Other than the many stories about lives lived and lost this book makes you think about the real important things in your life. These are the things you don't think about until your sick. May you have time to carry them out between diagnoses and the end of life on this earth.
Massanutten Regional Library
Wendy, North River patron, June 2017, 5 stars:

As a nurse and nursing instructor, I loved reading about Theresa's experiences. She explains in such a way that you do not need to be a health professional to appreciate the greater messages.
Kimberly Roberts-ford
The title was misleading and had nothing to do with critical care nursing at all, which was disappointing.
Jennifer Jackman
Jun 24, 2017 Jennifer Jackman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Easy read

I really enjoyed the many stories she weaves into this book. I loved learning about the inner workings of an oncology hospital unit.
Jane Thompson
Jun 12, 2017 Jane Thompson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oncology nurse

I learned a great deal about oncology and cancer from this book. Very useful information as l head down the road toward old age.
Nicole Belanger
May 07, 2014 Nicole Belanger rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Aug 03, 2014 Rin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 12, 2014 Betty rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
Jul 19, 2015 Barbara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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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?” 8 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.” 6 likes
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