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A frontliner nurse with a poetic take on COVID-19

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Feb 08, 2021 5:00 am

They say health professionals shouldn’t get too emotionally connected to their patients. But what if a nurse is also a poet? That’s the case with Joan Cruz, a clinical nurse specialist in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery for the National Health Service in the UK.

I received Moments that Made Us: A Nursing Memoir, a slim (55 pages) unsolicited volume of her poetry (available on Kindle and Amazon), an insightful glimpse into the “birth” of a nurse — from arriving in a foreign country in the belly of a plane to drop down and practice her skills, to encountering a range of patients, all of whom she seems to peer deeply inside, carving out their emotions and life stories.

The short poems here are laced with detail, enough to draw you into the poet’s face-to-face encounters.

Most of her patients are dealing with physical as well as emotional pain. There are those with metastatic cancer, their jaws cracked from cancer; women whose faces have been smashed into bits by abusive spouses; those suffering from a lifelong sense of deformity, as in the poem “Disfiguring,” in which a patient asks a nurse to look closely at her face; Cruz strikes a line through all the self-loathing, unspoken lines that follow, (“This spot that none of my friends can find? I rubbed it for nine hours/ Until it started to bleed. /Please don’t think I am insane./ Maybe I am.”), but the speaker concludes that this is what the nurse will see anyway.

The final third of this volume simmers with anger, reflecting on the pandemic situation, the need for PPE, the empty accolades of politicians and officials as frontliners bear the brunt of the death and suffering.

The final third of this thin volume simmers with anger, reflecting on the pandemic situation, the need for PPE, the empty accolades of politicians and officials as frontliners bear the brunt of the death and suffering.

In one (“Portrait”), the speaker examines her own face, changed by wearing N95 masks (“Run your fingers through the ridges it makes on these cheeks,/ feel where it sliced across my flesh /And formed river beds / That guide streaming tears.”) There’s a subtle strain of self-pity to these later poems, and they lack a bit of the intimacy of the earlier ones, but Cruz never seems bitter; it’s just an honest take on how this profession keeps asking for more and more from health workers, who have no other, more useful, mission in life but to supply it.