~ To honor the mystery of the body. Why does it heal or not heal? How about the man who should die, according to medical science, but doesn’t? How about the woman who dies and at autopsy is found to be perfectly healthy? And what happens to us after we die—not to our bodies but to us? These mysteries are asked through poems, stories, essays.
~ My own fears of abandonment come into consciousness as I watch patients fade from life into illness and death.
~ Poetry and prose are the sanities that give voice to our collective fear of death, abandonment, and aloneness, as well as to our collective celebration of birth, relationship, and creativity.
~ At the beginning of the 21st century, in the midst of burgeoning technology, writing about the physical body—how it fails or survives and how we care for it—is rapidly becoming the dominant mythology of medicine. When we write, we approach caregiving with spirituality and mystery, two touchstones that technology and the distance it imposes have stripped away.
~ What we witness as caregivers is more important than what we theorize about.
~ As caregivers, we see what few others are permitted to see. This entitlement brings with it a responsibility to tell the emotional truth.
~ My own voice as a writer has been informed by my nurse’s training. The language of medicine is generally encoded and oblique, designed, it seems, to keep patients at bay. So my writing rebels and becomes direct. As a nurse I was taught to describe, to be clear and concise in my notes, to put in all the details but not to “diagnose.” Nurses become good at implication.
~ The careful observation of individual suffering opens first the heart, then the mind, to universal suffering.
Creative Writing Exercises for Nurses
Here are some writing exercises that might stimulate your creativity and encourage you to write about the unique experiences you’ve had as a caregiver. My only warning: patient confidentiality is essential. When we write about our patients or co-workers, we must always shield their identities. It is possible to change all the recognizable facts without sacrificing the emotional truth.
1) Try writing your nursing “autobiography.”
2) Write about something that happened from your point of view, then from the patient’s point of view, the doctor’s, the janitor’s.
3) Write a “list” poem or essay: what you like, what you fear, what you wish. Begin each line with “I like,” “I fear,” or “I wish.”
4) Write a poem or essay describing some nursing process step by step. Nursing procedures (that we often take for granted) make good subjects for close observation.
5) Write about a birth or death you have witnessed.
6) Make a list of ten routine things you did at work today then write about one of them—the one that seems to say to you, write about me!
7) Write about something that happened and change the ending.
8) Write about a difficult event or situation.
9) Find a favorite (or disturbing) picture or painting. Look at it for several days. Study it. Write about it.
10) Write about something you’ve always kept secret.