Summer reading: 5 perfect books for nurses

Looking for a great book to take to the beach? Maybe just something to read while you sit on the front porch sipping your sweet tea? (Sorry – Georgia, here.  We sit on the porch with iced tea.) I’ve read a handful of books over recent years that spoke specifically to the nurse in me, and I’m always looking for things similar to them.  Here’s my list.

1. Cutting for Stone

Oh my gosh, y’all.  The story centers around a nun, who happens to be the surgeon’s nurse (hello, OR nurses?) at a mission in Addis Ababa.  It’s written by a physician who obviously respects the nurses he’s worked with.  Imagine, a story that sweeps across Ethiopia, with a forbidden but necessary love story, and all centered around the operating room.  It made me want to be an OR nurse.  It’s written in a way that I just couldn’t put down, and I’m eagerly awaiting every book Verghese writes now – he just has a way with words.

2. The Winter Soldier

Honestly, I didn’t have high hopes with this one, but it certainly delivered.  I’m a fan of historical fiction, and this is one of those rare, really good novels set around World War I in Eastern Europe.  Add to that, it’s about a medical student commissioned out of necessity as a doctor, who arrives at a field hospital and is trained in medicine by a skilled nurse, and you’ve got a winning combination.  Of course, there’s a love story to keep the pages turning – what summer reading wouldn’t? And as any novel with doctors and nurses that I would recommend, the nurses are used to their full capacity and given the respect they deserve.  This one checked off so many of my boxes – historical fiction with impeccable attention to setting, dramatic love story, and a nurse heroine with enough medical details to be plausible.

3. In Falling Snow: A Novel

This is another historical fiction tale, set in World War I, but this time it’s at a convent turned hospital in France.  You’ll fall in love with the nuns, the doctors, the nurses, and the gentlemen who stay nearby.  The brothers, the suitors, the patients.  If you thought your patient assignment was tough, take a look at how these nurses make it through the shift, in the midst of bombings and all the trappings of war.  You’ll be witness to nursing coming of age and learning to cope not just with their professional struggles, but with the struggles of serving during war.  Come alongside them as they fall in love, lose those they love, and grow personally and professionally.

4. Magic Hour: A Novel

Any psych nurses out there? Sadly, this story is not about nurses, but it’s one we can surely relate to and get emotionally invested in! In this tale, a child psychiatrist’s career has been derailed by a patient tragedy.  Then she’s given the opportunity restore her career and her confidence by responding to a high-profile case involving a child in trauma.  Come alongside her as she restores her professional reputation and possibly learns to love all at the same time.

5. Midwives (Oprah’s Book Club)

Any OB nurses out there? In this story, a birth goes wrong – as any midwife or OB nurse has seen it go wrong.  A legal struggle ensues, pulling the midwife and her family into an unwanted spotlight.  But are there ulterior motives? Were the midwife’s actions really part of the cause of tragedy? This will keep you turning pages late at night.

Book Review: Rapid Interpretation of EKGs

Rapid Interpretation of EKGsDale Dubin is my hero. The hospital where I work requires RNs to read their own rhythm strips. I had plenty of trouble with EKGs when I was in nursing school, and Dale Dubin’s Rapid Interpretation of EKGs got me through my EKG exams. Not just EKG reading, but understanding the physiology of the heart’s electrical and muscular systems. Dale put it all in context and made it understandable. For the nursing school tests.

But as many things are in life, use it or lose it. So when I started with my current employer I was rusty, to say the least. Enter, 3-day mandatory EKG class. 24 classroom hours. 24 hours of monotone lecture. 24 hours of precisely measuring P-R intervals and QRSs, ‘marching out’ R-Rs to determine regularity… By the end of the class my head was spinning and I was getting PVCs confused with RVRs and BBBs mixed up with 2ndº Type 2 blocks.

Just in time for my employer’s mandated EKG exam, I stumbled across my old friend, Dale Dubin’s Rapid Interpretation of EKGs. A few hours pouring over his easy to understand and memorable pages, and click! I was good to go. If squiggly EKG lines make your head spin, Dubin’s book is the single resource you need to get it under control. Now I step up to the monitor screen with confidence, occasionally calling the monitor techs to ask something like, is room 454 really having a L BBB and bigeminy PACs? And when they answer affirmatively, I confidently call cardiology to discuss this new onset rhythm. The ortho docs glance up from their charts to nod affirmatively at the new nurse spouting EKG fluency, grin, and return to their charts with renewed confidence that the 4th floor nurses really are pretty darn incredible.

Book Review: My Sister’s Keeper

My Sister's KeeperMy Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is a storyteller. I’ve always enjoyed her books – great summer reading. Dynamic characters, just enough conflict and tension, and entertaining stories.

My Sister’s Keeper is no different. When unable to find a suitable marrow donor for their daughter’s ravaging leukemia, the Fitzgeralds decide to have another child. Anna comes into the world with a noble purpose set upon her shoulders – to save her sister. The book reveals the heartbreak and moral dilemmas any family with cancer has to sort through. It builds family bonds that are sometimes unbreakable, and other times seemingly fragile. No one anticipates what will happen when Anna seeks medical emancipation to allow her to make decisions about if and when she will be a donor.

If you’re looking for a great story, this is sure not to disappoint. It has the added benefit of throwing in some medical ethics, with both sides of the debate equally well represented. It’ll make you wonder what you would do given such impossible choices.

Book review: Clinical Coach

Clinical Coach for Nursing Excellence

I wish I’d had Clinical Coach for Nursing Excellence when my instructor recommended it for my senior preceptorship. But I was a struggling student then, with lots of debts and little income. Now that I’m a little farther into my career, I’m glad I spent the few dollars to purchase it. There are 2 chapters that are specifically helpful – one on pharmacology & pathophysiology that brings the two disciplines together for clinical practice; and another on frequently seen diagnoses. These two chapters help to put the clinical signs and symptoms into context and provide a framework to understand the disease process, underlying conditions, and both the intended effect and side effect of interventions. Very helpful.

That said, I wish I could remove those 2 chapters from the binding (maybe I could…) and take them with me without the rest of the book. Several of the other chapters are really geared toward nursing students rather than nurses, and some are focused on outdated processes, like paper charting. What I learned from those two relevant chapters though was well worth the price of the book. And as my husband said, no one wants to have clinical mediocrity (as opposed to the clinical excellence suggested in the title).

Review: No Place for Dying

No Place for Dying, ChappleThere have been some pretty interesting articles over the last few years about the fact that those in the medical profession die differently than the patients we take care of:

Why Doctors Die Differently

Fatally Ill and Making Herself the Lesson

Dr. Helen Chapple addressed the issues presented in these articles, and many more, in her thoughtful book, No Place for DyingWhat Dr. Chapple discusses as the ideology of rescue is what nurses see all too frequently. Doctors and family members, striving against all odds to preserve life at any cost. Doctors and nurses are trained to save lives. To prolong life. Families rarely elect to withhold life-prolonging treatment, regardless of what the patient wants.

If you’ve struggled with the emotions and ethics of following painful orders for a terminal patient, this book was designed for you. No, it won’t make you feel better after your patient has screamed in pain when you do your bedside debridement of her pressure wound, knowing all the while that her body doesn’t have the resources to fight the infection, and she doesn’t have the will to keep fighting. But it will remind you that you are not alone. It will help you sort through the ethical implications. It will give you a sound foundation to wrap your concerns with. And it will make you a more effective patient advocate when the time comes to have those tough conversations with the physicians and family.

Dr. Chapple teaches ethics to nursing students at Creighton University, and makes a point of preparing her students to face the real world of nursing – not the textbook illusion.

* Disclaimer: Dr. Chapple is my aunt. But even if she weren’t, I’d still give this book a stellar rating.

Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone

Cutting for StoneSometimes you come across a book that sends you on an enchanted journey – drawing you into a world that is both exotic and believable. Cutting for Stone does just that. I read this just as I was stepping into my nursing career and I decided immediately that I had chosen the right path. Nurses are portrayed here not as the medical orderlies of fiction and sitcom, but as the very essence of what makes a hospital – even a rural one – a place of healing and wholeness.

Interwoven with the medical themes are beautifully painted prose of locations far removed from the beaten path. This historical fiction delves deeply into Ethiopia, crossing oceans and reaching to New York and beyond. With love stories enticing and tragic, family bonds, and political alliances, this is a book that draws the reader ever deeper.

Varghese, a doctor by trade, portrays the medical community with truth and grace. Not perfect by any stretch, and an art as much as a science. Medical professionals, non-healthcare personnel, and readers in general are sure to love the story and characters. This is one of my favorite books ever. I hope Mr. Verghese has plans to continue writing.