Review of Healing by Theresa Brown

Healing: When a Nurse Becomes a Patient
Theresa Brown
April 12, 2022
Algonquin Books

Blurb: Despite her training and years of experience as an oncology and hospice nurse, Brown finds it difficult to navigate the medical maze from the other side of the bed. Why is she so often left in the dark about procedures and treatments? Why is she expected to research her own best treatment options? Why is there so much red tape? At times she’s mad at herself for not speaking up and asking for what she needs but knows that being a “difficult” patient could mean she gets worse care.

Of the almost four million women in this country living with breast cancer, many have had, like Brown, a treatable form of the disease. Both unnerving and extremely relatable, her experience shows us how our for-profit health care industry “cures” us but at the same time leaves so many of us feeling alienated and uncared for. As she did so brilliantly in her New York Times bestseller, The Shift, Brown relays the unforgettable details of her daily life—the needles, the chemo drugs, the rubber gloves, the bureaucratic frustrations—but this time from her new perch as a patient, looking back at some of her own cases and considering what she didn’t know then about the warping effects of fear and the healing virtues of compassion. “People failed me when I was a patient and I failed patients when working as a nurse. I see that now,” she writes.

Healing is must-read for all of us who have tried to find healing through our health-care system.

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Healing: When a Nurse Becomes a Patient by Theresa Brown is about Brown’s breast cancer diagnoses and subsequent treatment. This memoir is basically told in essays that sometimes are out of sequence and sometimes feel less like memoir and more like a New York Times Op Ed, not that that is necessarily a bad thing, especially as it relates to the healthcare system in the United States.

What I was expecting from Healing was a personal narrative that didn’t appear as often as I would have liked. The best parts for me were the ones in which we saw Theresa Brown as a person, riding her bike with her family along a flooded C&O canal, or as a hospice nurse when she is trying to get medicine for someone in tremendous pain, going out into the night to change a pain cartridge for a young woman who was dying and whose father apologizes for dragging her out when they are so obviously at a low point. The majority of the book is not this, though, although I wish it were.

If anything has come across in the past two years of pandemic, it’s that the healthcare system in the United States is broken. When the focus is on profit rather than health and compassion, there is a problem. Many of Brown’s essays focus on this, which is admirable, but not exactly what I expected to read about in this memoir. Some of the essays ventured into dry jargon, which may interest readers with a more scientific bent.

I have to admit as a reader, I didn’t react well to Brown’s voice at times and I frequently had to step back or away from reading. Perhaps this reaction comes from reading the accounts of women with metastatic breast cancer who have been through so much and continue to go through so much and somehow are still fierce yet empathetic. The comparison in voices never left me as I was reading and frankly I heard arrogance and privilege sometimes in Brown’s voice that left me a little cold. Most people don’t have friends pulling strings for them or getting them ahead of the line. And, if you push yourself to the head of the line, who are you pushing to the end? Perhaps someone who is in more need than you.

I’ll just end by saying that Healing wasn’t quite what I was expecting and sometimes in reading expectations can be everything.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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