cover of book

Between the Heartbeats: Poetry and Prose by Nurses
edited by Cortney Davis and Judy Schaefer
foreword by Joanne Trautmann Banks
University of Iowa Press, 1995
Paper: 978-0-87745-517-2 | Cloth: 978-0-87745-516-5
Library of Congress Classification PS508.N87B48 1995
Dewey Decimal Classification 810.8092613

"This volume of poetry and prose is written by nurses about their experiences of caring. It describes their disasters, their triumphs, their joy and sorrow. It is, quite simply, wonderful. . . . Beg, steal, or borrow this book; if that fails, buy it."--Nursing Times

"Their [the nurses'] words expand the practice of nursing as well as the practice of language. By bearing witness to the intimate details of nursing, from the mundane to the beautiful to the tragic, they reveal the epiphanies of life and death."--ADVANCE for Nurse Practitioners

"A striking, often beautiful collection which brings to speech what occurs between the caring and the cared for--moments at the edges of life when, for most of us, even crucial communication seems beyond the reach of words. Coming now, Between the Heartbeats seems a particularly important book, breaking as it does the silence of women and men who, perhaps more than any others, live the essentials behind the health care debate."--Honor Moore, author of The White Blackbird

"Powerful, honest and vivid, this collection of stories and poetry gives voice to the compassion and grief felt by nurses from around the world. A compelling and graceful anthology which will touch any reader, regardless of medical background."--Creative Health Care Resources

"A new class of authors who are experienced professionals as well as skilled and talented writers, these nurses write out of a powerful sense of the immediacy of the body, the concreteness of suffering, and the nuanced individuality of their patients. Honest, vivid, and unsentimental, the works of this collection will not fail to move--at times even astonish--medical and nonmedical readers alike."--Anne Hunsaker Hawkins, College of Medicine, Pennsylvania State University

"The best nurses have always been holistically oriented: they are the inevitable sharers of our mind, body, and soul secrets. Reading Between the Heartbeats, we share theirs. These fine poems, stories, and memoirs are honed, harrowing, and surprisingly life-affirming vignettes of the here and now. Between the Heartbeats is a splendid merger of the healing and written arts."--Dick Allen, Director of Creative Writing, University of Bridgeport

Nurses who are also creative writers have a powerful empathetic outlet for the joys and griefs of their everyday experiences. In Between the Heartbeats an international, diverse community of nurses write honestly and compassionately about their work. By unsentimentally translating out suffering into prose and poetry, the registered nurses in this brave, graceful anthology perform another enduring act of loving care.


Cortney Davis

My point is that illness is not a metaphor ...
--Susan Sontag

The intern and I begin our rounds.

In room two, the intern watches me;
he doesn't like this patient anyway--

she's messy, a see-through plastic tube

pulls bile from her stomach

to a bottle near her head.

A small balloon inside her throat

keeps pressure

on vessels wrecked by years of gin.

The patient's wide awake,

but she can't talk.

I see her eyes open, her skin

pale at the moment these veins

blow, like a tire blows.

Blood backs up her nose.

She tries to sit;
her wrists are tied.

I take her hand and say, OK. OK.

The intern leaves.

Next the patient's gut lets go.

Stool and blood clot between her legs,

hot and soft, not like sex,

more like giving birth. OK, I say.

We let our fingers intertwine.

By 8:15 the woman calms.

Clots thicken in her throat;
she holds her breath.

At nine, blood coins

close her eyes. I breathe deep,

stroke the patient's arm.

The intern,
who went downstairs to sleep,

will ask me later.

But what happened here

can't be said again
and be the same.


Patricia Maher

Abel talks in stories.

He tells me a string of them

about the sea

and a small boat anchored

yet moving with the wind and water.

Abel tells me

he too is anchored

anchored to his house

by the dirt, he says.

I listen, realizing my silence

is the precious thing I bring.

It makes space for hope.

My breathing is shallow

the stench is so deep
at Abel's.

My foot stamps

to keep the gray mice away

his pets, he says

since he lost his dog.

He eats cold beans out of the can
happy for my company.

Frayed shirt and long beard

his shoes are molded to his feet.

I took them off for him once

but now we just

stand facing his mantle

and look at the pictures and bills.

His wife's pocketbook

although she's long gone

sits open
as if she might return
like an anchor

he can't bear to pull up
nor can I, yet.


Dawn Ramm

Like a Little Barracuda

the newborn latches on--
nurses until a nipple bleeds.

Move him to the other breast,

I advise--
speak for the hospital

and for the numerous books

I have read:
how to hold him

how to open his mouth

how to break the suction
with a finger.

Yet I never knew my body

as this mother does--
its natural capacity.

I measured exact amounts

of evaporated milk,

Karo syrup and water.

The efficient nurse who contaminated


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