This week we have Francene sharing the Story Behind the Story regarding her book – Nurse! A Memoir. She is also sharing an excerpt for your reading pleasure.
Francene writes from experience and from the heart.
Read on my friends.
Windsor Ontario was my first home, followed by several moves to different cities and provinces as my alcoholic father lost a lot of jobs until he found himself sober when I was ten years old. Those were difficult formative years, but strength comes from survival in a dysfunctional family. Neither of my parents had schooling beyond grade nine, and thus I was determined to go further. I escaped to books, bought with a small allowance each week, and a first job as a pre teen, helping to make tea and clean dust bunnies in an antique shop that also sold books. I never had any money left over as it all was spent in the shop. I loved the Nancy Drew mysteries and the Hardy Boys’ stories. The best thing that happened as a child was my father’s sobriety and a move to Renforth, NB, into our first home, and local schools where I grew up with a circle of friends and a river to swim in. I started reading Reader’s Digest condensed books summarized popular titles down to the bare bones, a teaser of sorts. If I loved the shortened version, I then would buy the full-length book. I felt happy to see a collection of books growing on my bookshelf and knew that I was learning so much simply by reading. I do not recall either of my parents ever reading a novel of any sort. As I grew up and had to consider further education, I wanted to study medicine, and since there was no money for university, I entered nursing school in the Saint John General hospital. Three years later after graduation, I moved to Jersey City, NJ, and specialized in obstetrics for six months. On returning to NB, I worked in the Saint John General and the Victoria Public Hospital in Fredericton. With marriage came a move to NS, where I worked in the Grace Maternity Hospital. Career was overtaken by motherhood with the birth of two daughters, fifteen months apart!
Nursing was the foundation that provided me with focus and intention as I became interested in community issues. Ultimately, I traded my nursing career for a political career, becoming first a County Councillor, then the first Mayor of Bedford. A stint as the president of the NS advisory council on the status of women was followed by my work as the executive director of the NS Liberal Party, then seeking elected office as an MLA. I was successful in that and served as Deputy Speaker, then Minister of Community Services, Minister for the Civil Service, Minister responsible for the Status of Women and the Disabled Person’s commission. I served two terms in government and then retired. I am not sure what it means to be retired, except that all the hours that are suddenly free from a paid job, become the hours filled up with volunteer commitments and the fun of being able to choose another path. I served for six years as a Governor on the Board of Governors of the NS art Gallery, and currently am the volunteer Curator of the historic Scott Manor House in Bedford, as well as volunteering on the archival committee. At the age of 82, I still have lots of ideas about other pursuits! In addition to writing, I am an amateur painter.
Working Title: Nurse! A Memoir
Synopsis: The memoir is a coming-of-age story following my footsteps in the three-year study program in the Saint John General hospital school of nursing. I was born to nurse but didn’t know it yet! I entered as an immature 18-year-old girl full of self doubt and the story follows along through the corridors of a busy general hospital as I face the challenges and learn the intricacies of nursing. Poignant, funny, sad, challenging, every raw emotion that could be felt. Three years later I graduated with skills that carried me throughout my busy life. The transformation from scared young woman to mature professional is detailed and hopefully engages readers. I am told that it is a “can’t put it down” book.
The story behind the story: I love storytelling and I love history. I believe we learn from the past and I wanted to capture the slice of time and professional training that took place over three years in training. I looked at Saint John and the hallmarks of my youth were gone. As I reflected on vast changes in my life, the streetscapes of my youth were obliterated, the Church I attended was decommissioned, the church where I married was torn down and the hospital I loved was imploded. I knew I did not want the story of the hospital and its training program to simply settle into the dustbin. And so, I wrote, at first just for fun, then finally with intent to capture the memories and bring them to life. Covid restrictions meant that time spent at home could be used productively writing my story.
As a student I walked the corridors to class and glanced at old framed photos of nurses from Victorian days. They were so prim and proper, yet no one knew who they were or why they had chosen nursing No one knew their story. This image is still in my mind and I know it inspired me to try to capture my story and that of my classmates.
The memoir has a role in generating discussion about nursing education today. We are in a crisis in the health care system, where there are not enough nurses to fill the need, and where the profession no longer can retain staff because of a variety of reasons that must be addressed by government to resolve the crisis. This extends beyond nursing itself, into all the facets that supply a health care system. Shortages of doctors, and technicians, add impetus to the need to dialogue and find solutions before the breaking point is reached. Real change is needed and not band aid solutions. The evolution of the nursing education model currently in use came about when there was no crisis, simply change for change sake at the political level. Is the model relevant today? History records what worked in the past and points the way to analyzing what could work today along with reshaping nursing education to sustain the profession. Nurses deserve Sainthood, working under exhausting short- staffed conditions that are driving them away from the profession. The status quo is not able to sustain the needs and thus I hope that Nurse! A Memoir, can be a directional arrow to dialogue and analysis for renewal.
A question for you before you go, Francene:
What is the perfect setting for your writing?
I like a quiet atmosphere without distraction, and the earlier time of day, the better for me to write. I still prefer pen in hand and use coloured pens to write. I like a fresh notebook with spiral binding, one that can lay flat. No words go on the page until the inspiration button turns on in my head, as I cannot force creative juices to flow. The words must generate from somewhere. I keep a pen and paper handy because somewhere out of the blue, an inspired thought or full sentence will flow, and I can capture it and use it later. I love hunkering down in a good storm because it forces me to give up on other plans and just write. First drafts get inked out and using double spaces on the page helps that process. Eventually I use the dictate button on my computer and read the draft into it. But hand and pen and ink are the juice I need to be a writer. I am not neat, my office is a mess, but I can find what I am looking for, so there must be organization underneath it all.
This is an excerpt from a section in the book dealing with the case room delivery in the hospital. It chronicles my experience with a delivery:
Often a mother would arrive on the verge of delivery and no doctor would be present. I did the best I could on these occasions, but I wanted to know more in case I had to be the one doing the delivery. On a momentous day for me, this is exactly what happened. As I was about to deliver the fetus without an intern or obstetrician, the doctor rushed ungloved through the door, and I looked at him expecting him to take over. “No, you're doing a great job.” He's confident. I'm not! I could see the crown of the head ready to birth. “Check for the cord around the baby's neck”, the doctor reminded me. I inserted my finger gently inside to make sure there was no evidence of the umbilical cord. “There's no cord, it's OK.” Then I supported the perineum so it would remain intact as the baby came out. I did as he instructed. “Stop pushing now, just pant. I want the baby to come out slowly,” I instructed the mother. It seemed to take forever but only a minute went by as the mother panted and I managed to grab a sterile towel to wrap the baby shoulders as it slid out. A baby girl in my hands. I had no idea how slippery a newborn was in the first few seconds. God forbid that it should land on the floor. “I did it”! I delivered her baby, and it feels so amazing to do this I hope I get a chance again, it's glorious!
Thank you for being our guest thus week, Francene. I’m sure this will not be your last book and we wish you continued success.
A big thanks to our visitors and readers.