13 Stanzas

These stanzas were composed by Marlaine Smith. Each piece was inspired by one of 13 stories we received for the 2002 study.


Responsibility for the life of another
Is an awesome burden.
When that life is lost
I question myself and seek answers from a physician colleague.
When there is silence
I panic…blame myself…and fear punishment.
I will never go back there —–never!!

My experience being a nurse

Angel of mercy?
Revered yet reviled.
This nurse is a person
Disappointed by shattered dreams and
Looking for a different future.


In an expanded role
I must prove myself worthy to practice in
The World of Medicine.
I am demeaned before my patients
And jump hurdles put before me by physician preceptors.
And my instructor tells me to schmooze up to them
So that they’ll sign for my prescriptive authority.


Assessing an old man
At the end of his life
It strikes me that in this place called nursing home
Critical events happen
Without notice.
This unknown man is on the train moving through
The last leg of his life’s journey and
I am the conductor…making him comfortable and collecting his ticket.


Peaceful and gentle island
But not in the operating room where I work.
We take such care to avoid disturbing
Then she releases her frustration with, “Fuck You!”
Her angry works wound us.
If I leave this island will I be treated better?

Professional and committed to their work.

I admired this in nurses and for this reason became one.
When others tarnish this image
I try to make changes but nobody listens.
Feeling powerless, I begin to lose interest.
But there is still hope.


Things in the real world of the hospital are different from
What I learned in school.
Here we compromise care for cost-savings.
Here what nurses bring —-listening, caring, talking, teaching—
Goes undocumented and unappreciated.
I became a nurse to make a difference in a life
But that can’t happen here –
Maybe in another place.


In my new role as case manager
I exercise nursing judgment and
Call the physician with my recommendation.
The angry physician lectures and belittles me saying
That nurses don’t know enough to be case managers.
To avoid future conflict I learn to communicate
My recommendations more gently to physicians.
Then I can stay in my job a little longer
Hoping things will change.


I found my niche in nursing
Working with adolescents with severe emotional and behavioral problems.
Every day I am cursed or hated.
But some days I’ll get a smile, or a “thank you” or a call to say, “Hi”.
Then I know it is worth it.
I rely on our talented and committed team.
Even the doctors value us.

Caring for women in jail
Assessing, making judgments
Questioning myself and reflecting on decisions
Learning all the time.


After skillfully handling a crisis the physician says,
“You should seriously think about going to medical school.”
“But I wouldn’t be able to do what I did as a doctor!
I care for the whole person, not the disease—
I am not limited to curing but healing.
I am rewarded by making a difference in patient’s and families’ lives”.
He pauses and says, “Maybe I should go to nursing school”.


First we must protect the patient from harm.
But I can no longer do that.
I am alone in an ICU with two very sick patients and no support
And I’m responsible for assisting with codes.
Then overhead I hear, “Code Blue!”
But I can’t leave my patients.
The coded patient expired.
I refuse to practice here.
I’m leaving the bedside to work in the community
Where I can love people and love being a nurse again.

Tending to a dying patient and her daughters
Gently suctioning, positioning and reassuring them
That the end is near.
Being available in the midst of a busy night with many other patients.
No big deal…a usual night as a nurse.
Years later one of the daughters tells me,
“We have never forgotten you”.
I guess it was a big deal.


I’m an institution-pleasing,
I can’t practice in a way that is important to me.
My day is filled with a litany of tasks.
I think my patients appreciate me
But MACHINES are never noticed
And eventually they break down.