Looking at life through nurses’ eyes

(LancasterOnline) Some of us read books that change our lives. Carolyn Jones created one that changed hers.

“I am not who I was before,” the former Lancaster resident turned New Yorker writes in the introduction to “The American Nurse,” 175 pages featuring her sepia-toned photographs of and interviews with 75 of the nation’s extraordinary care givers.

“I thought I was making a book that would celebrate nurses. I ended up gaining a better understanding of the country through the lens of the American nurse.”

Jones admits to shedding tears and sharing hugs as she went about creating the book. Readers, too, are likely to be moved, not just by the striking photo portraits but the pictures the nurses’ words conjure:

— Of medicine men chewing birch wood and herbs and trying to suck the sickness out of a reservation grandmother;

— Of a family member kidnapping a 2-year-old and burning her 22 times with a cigarette, marking each day the parents fails to pay a debt in methamphetamine or money;

— Of the “prim and proper” nursing home resident, unable to get to the beauty parlor, setting her hair with toothpicks and Cheetos. “She actually did a nice job,” nurse Valerie Brunner notes.

“I thought I would talk to nurses about the job itself, but instead I had conversations that led to other conversations about things that matter to all people,” Jones writes.

The book presents short biographies of the nurses, along with their insights into life and death, health and sickness, joy and sorrow — and medical policy. They weigh in about everything that afflicts humanity — from war to natural disaster to old age — and about the only real palliative: human caring.

The nurses work in neonatal units and children’s hospitals, homes, nursing homes and hospices, veterans hospitals and prisons. They deliver hands-on care with compassion and dedication and articulate what that involves and how it fulfills them.

The inclusion of a flight nurse, a waitress with BSN/RN after her name who’s seeking her first job, the medic for the women’s roller derby team, and a nurse/attorney with the American Medical Association give a more complete picture of the profession and its myriad duties.

Cities such as New York, Baltimore, New Orleans, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., are well-represented, but so are Kentucky coal fields, rural Wisconsin, Wyoming, Nebraska, Florida and other parts of the country.

On a personal note, Jones mentions reconnecting with Joanne Staha, the nurse who “got me through chemotherapy seven years ago when I was recovering from breast cancer.”

The award-winning photographer and documentary filmmaker started out as a New York fashion photographer. She is a 1975 Manheim Township High School graduate and the daughter of Jeanne J. and Joseph L. Jones, Willow Street. Her previous books include “Living Proof: Courage in the Face of AIDS”; “Family of Women: Voices Across Generations”; “Heroes Happen Here,” for Microsoft; and “Every Girl Tells a Story,” for the Girl Scouts.

Pharmaceutical company Fresenius Kabi USA supported the latest book project. The oversized hardcover is published by Welcome Books and priced at $60.