The poem “What the Nurses Like” was written by Cortney Devis, who is a certified nurse. She first became a nurse out of necessity — she needed an evening job next to her house. But surprisingly she liked the job very much and was amazed by how much it gives her and how the nurse and the patient can have such a wonderful connection between each other. Davis started writing to describe the experience she gained, the things that impressed her in the job of a nurse. She says about “What the Nurses Like”: “This poem was really an assignment that I gave myself – to make a list of what I liked about being a nurse.”
The very beginning of the poem is very interesting:
I like looking into patient’s ears
and seeing what they can never see.
It’s like owning them.
After reading these first lines you realize that the author is very straight-forward and honest. This is something a reader definitely appreciates in the writer. This poem is not just all flowery phrases and stylistic devices, though of course, one should look for metaphors behind some of the phrases. What is remarkable is that Cortney herself says: “Some of the things that I found showing up on my list astounded me, and shocked me” (Davis, para.1) What it means is that the poet was honest with herself first of all.
Cortney Devis describes her feelings, which sometimes are shocking for the reader. For example:
I like talking about patients
as if they aren’t real, calling them
“the fracture” or “the hysterectomy.”
It may seem that the nurse is being uncompassionate, not caring about the feelings of her patients, but then in the next line we read:
It makes illness seem trivial.
Another shocking phrase is: “I like watching patients die.” Of course, it sounds like atrocity — to like watching someone die seems like an act that cruel people will enjoy. But as Cortney explains herself, she feels watching a person’s death to be a privilege for her: to be with the person at the last moments on earth, to hold his hand, to whisper soothing words, and to finally see how the spirit leaves the body: the sick old body being left behind, the spirit going on living and giving relief to the person’s sufferings. This is a privilege, indeed.
There are also lines that describe a nurse as a real woman with feelings and senses, not just a person doing her job, regardless of the kinds of patients. This makes the readers realize that both a nurse and a patient are human beings and the relationship between them do not come just to giving care and receiving care. Consider these lines:
I like the way men become shy.
Even angry men bow their heads
when they are naked.
the way men make suggestive groans
when I listen to their hearts.
There are men and women, not just patients and care-givers in the hospitals, and they all have emotions, feelings — this is not that many doctors or nurses talk about, but in this poem the honesty of Devis makes the readers realize things we never paid attention to or thought about.
And patients are people too — they are not just “patients” in need of care:
Old women who wear purple knit hats
and black eyeliner. Men
who put makeup over their age spots.
What is valuable in this poem that the author put in poetic form the thoughts, the observations that people pay little attention to. This is not a medical journal or the job description of a nurse. We read about real people, men and women, who are at both sides- a patient and a care-giver, and we realize — even if one is in pain, and his body is not functioning properly, he still has feelings and emotions.