Skip to content

Local Nurse Storytelling: WBAI Membership Drive, The 2015 Bedpan Confessionals

By Amanda Anderson

In a world where most of the media we consume is digital and free, it’s easy to forget that the production of content actually costs something. As much as we despise commercial interruptions and quickly turn the dial away from fund drives, they serve a purpose – to keep our favorite programs functioning.volusion


As such, HealthCetera Radio is on hiatus for WBAI’s Fall 2015 Annual Membership drive this week. Check out the “Favorite Show E-Donation” page, and put our name down. Archives of our show are available on WBAI Archives for free streaming.


In other local news, The Center and it’s affiliated writing program, The Nurses Writing Project, are hosting a free event tomorrow night at the Sixth Street Community Center in the East Village. The Bedpan Confessionals, in its second year, is a storytelling series about what it means to be a nurse. Started in 2014 as an entry to a narrative bar crawl, this year’s reading continues the original theme – using true tales of nursing to combat stereotypes and misconceptions of the work that nurses do.


With the View’s recent stethoscope debacle in response to Miss Colorado’s nursing monologue still stinging, it’s clear that interesting, purposeful content about nursing is needed, more than ever. By pairing experienced and new nurse writers together, and collectively sculpting original works, The Bedpan Confessionals hopes to show that all nurses can write and share their stories of care, and that people – nurses and non-nurses alike – are excited to listen to them.bedpanconfoct2015-page-001

This year’s authors include diversity scholar Kenya Beard, legal nurse expert Edie Brous, patient advocate and policy expert, Amy Berman, and a handful of emerging nurse writers who were selected by Narrative Writing for Health Care Professionals directors because of their writing talent and drive.


We’ll be reading live from Sixth Street tomorrow night, Friday, October 9th, from 7:30-9:30PM. The event is free, and all cafe sales go straight back to the fantastic community work that Sixth Street does in the East Village. Complete event details, including author bios, can be found at If you can’t make it, stay tuned for details about a rebroadcast to the show on WBAI, or tune in via @NursesWriting for the link to the telecasted live show.


Amanda Anderson
Amanda Anderson is an intensive care nurse who currently works in administration for Mount Sinai in Manhattan. She also directs a nurse-specific E-Writing Center at the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing, and manages this blog. You can find much of her writing her, in AJN, Pulse, Scrubs and many others. Amanda tweets @12hourRN.

A Quiet Testament: Poetry, Sabbatical, Medicine

By Joy Jacobson



Sunrise, Taos
Sunrise, Taos

I was about to go pick pears. I’m spending the fall at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, an artists’ residency program in Taos, New Mexico, where one of the other artists had procured a ladder and said I could join her if I liked. But just as I finished my breakfast and my tea-and-scribble hour, I saw her pedaling her bike back down our road with two white bags pendulant from her handlebars. I’d missed my chance.


I’ve noticed that this northern New Mexico light as it passes through the Siberian elms nearly matches the green of the pears. Just a hint of yellow, hint of spring, the hue of birth in the season of death. My friend the poet Laurie Kutchins knows about this cycle: “birth breath / death breath / crow and stork,” she writes in a poem called “Prayer.” We have no storks here in the high desert but plenty of corvid species, from magpie to raven. The biggest birds sunbathe each morning, wings outstretched, in the high reaches of the elms. A dozen or so of them spread across several trees, taking a daily break from roadkill to enjoy this peerless light.


I began this post on a Saturday, which I have determined will be my (lower-case) sabbath each week of my 12-week sabbatical. A sabbath within a sabbatical—would that mean time off within my time off? Not quite. But I am allowing this place to help me redefine certain words, like work, routine. So far my daily rituals have included being outside for sunrise and sunset. As the equinox approached and passed, I saw more clearly what the balance of day and night (light and dark; activity and rest) can mean to the mind. I’m aware now of the shortening of each day and its effect on the birds, the temperatures, and my own poetical cycles.


This newborn alignment with natural rhythms is restoring me to something I’m daring to call happiness.


This month, I’m honored to say, my poem “The Donor at the VLA” has been published in the health policy journal Health Affairs, one of three winners of the 2015 Narrative Matters Poetry Contest. (There’s also a podcast of each of us reading our poems.) I love that a policy journal has made room for poetry. Health Affairs has long had a commitment to stories with its monthly Narrative Matters column, which demonstrates, over and over again, how policy affects real lives.


But why poetry? What can a poem achieve that a story can’t?


On this New Mexico sabbatical I am taking my poetry as spiritual medicine. I’ve given myself the task of memorizing a poem per week. The first was a poem by a former Wurlitzer resident, Robert Creeley. I found a 50-year-old book of his, For Love: Poems 1950–1960, in the fellows’ library here. Here’s the beginning of “A Song,” written in the late 1950s and dedicated to his former wife, Ann.


I had wanted a quiet testament

and I had wanted, among other things,

a song.

                 That was to be

of a like monotony.

                                       (A grace

simply. Very very quiet.


The passage can be read as a single sentence. But Creeley doesn’t want us to do that. His indentations, oddball phrasings (“of a like”), and against-the-grain punctuation (no closing parenthesis) interrupt the usual syntax to force a slow reading. I hear it in my own recitation as a musical utterance. A song. In repeating the word quiet Creeley invokes that quality—an invocation that has helped me to arrive into this new place with a new intention.


In my teaching I often read poems with nursing students, nursing faculty, and working clinicians. Poems can confer something rare in health care—or anywhere—a slice of sabbatical. The poet Mark Doty, in his fine book The Art of Description: World Into Word, discusses “lyric time,” in which a reader of a poem finds herself suspended, with no action required beyond reflection: “a slipping out of story and into something still more fluid, less linear: the interior landscape of reverie.”


That idea of slipping out of story, as out of the day’s work clothes, has something in common, I think, with Abraham Joshua Heschel’s conception of the Jewish Sabbath. He writes, in Between God and Man, “There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord.”


That may seem a tall order for a poem, and I realize not all poets align themselves with such

Moon, Ristra, Taos
Moon, Ristra, Taos

an aim. And yet: “Poetry is how we pray, now,” Yahia Lababidi put it the other day on the Best American Poetry blog. He wrote that poems can act as “a sort of journalism of the soul, reporting on the state of our spiritual life.”


Maybe that’s the medicine poetry has to offer health care and health policy: a “quiet testament” reporting on the human beings at the heart of a vast and sometimes spiritless industry.


Don’t take a poet’s word for it. In August U.K. researchers reported the results of a study (abstract here) in which subjects read “complex poetic and prosaic texts” and underwent functional MRI of the brain. The researchers found that recognizing poetic qualities enhanced “capacity to reason” and exerted a modulating influence on the right dorsal caudate, “which may be related to tolerance of uncertainty.”


The tolerance of uncertainty: that sounds a lot like Keats’s negative capability principle, his term for the poet’s capacity for “being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” It sounds too like the work of sabbatical. It’s not easy; it involves listening, to the self and to the world; and it means contending with some old pain, old fear, on the way to gratitude.


What a privilege this opportunity is. Three weeks in, I’m still arriving. I’m sorry I missed the pears. But there are still some apples on the trees.


Joy Jacobson
Joy Jacobson is the CHMP’s poet-in-residence and cofounder of the Narrative Writing for Health Care Professionals program.

Childhood Cancer Awareness: A Global Goal for Every Month

By Kristi Westphaln

A category five typhoon hits the coastal city of Tachloban in the Philippine Islands. Somewhere in the city, a young girl and her family manage to survive the three tsunami waves, and the high velocity winds that claim the lives of approximately 22,000 people. The year is 2013.


Two years later, this same girl comes to a local international-aid health care clinic for evaluation. She is emaciated, likely due to her inability to eat. Her lack of nutrition isn’t because of lack of food, as one might suspect in a country recovering from natural disaster; eating isn’t possible because of a large mass protruding both from her mouth and bulging out of her neck. She knows something is wrong, and her parents know something is wrong; yet they lack the health literacy skills and resources to advocate for further care.


Real life childhood cancer superheroes! Powerful Patrick and Resilient Rina Sy. Photo courtesy of Stacy Bostrom.

My heart sank when I first saw this child walk in the door of our pediatric clinics during my recent health care mission trip to Tachloban City. Her mass was impossible to miss. So was her parent’s worry over her growing inability to swallow, and her increasingly difficult breathing. Her city was still struggling to put the pieces back together from their typhoon afflicted community, and her family consists of survivors, but they were acutely aware that something additional was wrong. Despite our language barrier, I could feel both the intensity, and the desperation, of their need to understand.


Her parents pulled out a piece of paper that seemed to be results from a local hospital. The crinkled form showed that abnormal cells were present in their daughter’s blood, but that she needed a biopsy for further clarification. “Is a biopsy a cure? Where can we get one? How much does a biopsy cost? How do we get there if we have to work all day to keep food on the table?” I didn’t need to understand their words to feel their concern.


In the clinic, we worked with the translators to sift through the medical jargon into lingo that is understandable to all. Through one of our volunteers, I listened to the child and her parents, then told them, “A biopsy involves collecting tissue from the tumor that will help to determine the diagnosis. Once the diagnosis is determined, a treatment plan can be created. We can’t know if she will survive without knowing what this is. “


There I was, a pediatric nurse practitioner in a make-shift clinic, in a third world country, in a community with minimal resources recovering from a heinous natural disaster, faced with a child who most obviously had cancer. My gut and my training told me it was cancer, while my soul pondered the injustice of this child’s geographic and life lottery.


Our team was graced with two phenomenal Filipino physicians, Drs. Loida and Mary Del Rosario; a dedicated local social worker named Aaron Polidario; and many other generous advocates. Together, we performed a biopsy on the young girl’s abnormal tissue; it revealed rhabdomyosarcoma.


Despite concentrated and long-term efforts, I learned that this precious girl passed away a few weeks ago. She survived a typhoon that killed over 22,000 people, only to be killed by cancer two years later. Her face will remain with me forever – one among many that I couldn’t help save.

Training for the San Diego International Triathalon with Team in Training: Kristi Westphaln, Marianne Sy, and Keith Sy. Photo courtesy of Kristi Westphaln.


Childhood cancers continue to claim pediatric lives across the world every day. Every three minutes, a family in the world is receiving the news that their beloved child has cancer. But how is childhood cancer dealt with in the third world? The answer is simple – unless they receive treatment, these children will die.


September was Childhood Cancer Awareness Month – I share this story not to sadden, but to empower. As kids develop different cancers than adults do, additional research funding and efforts are needed to address this vulnerable population specifically. Global outreach is especially needed – two children with similar cancers in opposite geographic locations may have different outcomes because of a host of site-specific variables: poor access to care, lack of primary care, low income, low health literacy, and even distance and transportation barriers to receive treatments.


Dare to care? There’s no shame in wearing gold all year, the color of childhood cancer awareness. Step up and tune in to HealthCetera Radio today, at 1PM on WBAI-NYC 99.5FM, for a special Tale from the Cribs dedicated to Childhood Cancer Awareness, or online via their archives here. The show features an overview on pediatric oncology, an interview with the super-star Sy family sharing their intimate experiences in conquering leukemia, and tips on how to get involved.

Kristi Westphaln