I confess to being a sucker for books written by people in particular professions I am unlikely ever to engage in: books about valiant teachers working with students with serious disabilities or handicaps, brain surgeons (one of the best books in that genre I’ve ever read was When the Air Hits Your Brain, by Frank Vertosick), midwives, nurses.  So when I saw How to Treat People, subtitled A Nurse’s Notes, by Molly Case, how could I resist?

Case writes about her training, her work as a qualified nurse, and her family’s experiences with the medical profession.  She’s English, so there are some differences between the health care system she works in and our health care system, and it takes a little while to get used to some of her references (HDU for High Density Unit, which doesn’t seem to have an American equivalent, for instance), but some things about nursing are universal, and most of the stories she tells about her experiences and her patients could have happened anywhere.

From the evidence of her book, Molly Case is an excellent nurse, modest and competent, empathetic and generous of heart. She talks about her first experiences of the death of a patient, her experiences with patients who are suffering from various kinds of dementia, and the whole range of medical problems nurses deal with.  There’s one especially funny story about a patient being prepared for surgery who had interesting metal jewelry that had to be removed (I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the fun of it), and moving stories about Molly’s father’s medical issues and his surgery, which turns her from a nurse to a daughter (albeit one well informed about medical procedures) again. She’s the kind of nurse I would want to have attending me if I were in a hospital.

The book is not organized chronologically. Over the course of the book, you do learn about her childhood, her early training, her family background, but the information is spread out throughout the book, sprinkled among anecdotes about the various aspects of nursing care and her experiences with her patients and other medical professionals. I didn’t feel at all confused by her organization, which follows the order of things nurses check with a new patient: airway, breathing, circulation, disability, exposure.  For each category, she explains why it’s important, how a nurse checks it, a little background of how historically this particular aspect was checked, and then some anecdotes about her experiences with this part of a nurse’s assessment. 

Informative, charming, vivid and moving, How to Treat People is a fine look at what happens on the other side of the hospital bed.

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