“A Nurse’s Story” begins with the pain that sixty-nine-year-old Mary McDonald feels in her bones. A nurse for forty years, she is dying slowly from a cancer that first appeared in her colon and now has spread to her liver and bones. Confined to her room on the third floor of the Booth-Tiessler Geriatric Center, she is still very much in control of her faculties, which allows her to recognize where her pain “comes from and what it means.” Acutely aware of the pressures of nursing, she is determined to raise the issues of wages and working conditions with a new nurse at the center, Eunice Barnacle, whose reaction is to walk away from any conversation that even touches upon the question of her worth to the institution in which she works.
Sitting in her room, Mary reflects upon a patient from forty years earlier, Ida Peterson, who was admitted to Mary’s ward “with a tumor in her neck near the carotid artery.” When Mary was called into Ida’s room following a rupture of the artery that left the patient and the room covered in blood, she was forced to confront both the physical shock of the scene and the philosophic implications of Ida’s desire for a “good death,” which in Ida’s case meant a death that did not involve medical intervention and allowed her to die in the presence of her husband. In this single moment, Mary’s view of health, death, and the dignity of the individual all changed dramatically. This remembered episode also...
(The entire section is 2250 words.)
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