Bearing Witness: April’s ‘Art of Nursing’ and Cover ArtApril 14, 2011
By Sylvia Foley, AJN senior editor
In “Palm Sunday,” the poem featured in this month’s Art of Nursing, nurse and poet Rachel Betesh evokes the prolonged anguish of those who tend the dying. A man lies “sick and stained” in a bed, leaves his food untouched, and “hardly speaks anymore.” His wife and sons lament “the sin of the too-long moment”; time does not heal, but gapes like an “open wound between sickness and dying.”
A lesser poem might have slipped into sentimentality. But Betesh’s characters are a lively, indomitable bunch. “Pop!” the man’s sons say, visiting; you can feel their vigor. His wife remembers a baked potato he’d once given her, and her response: “You gonna marry me or what?” Indeed, it’s through witnessing, hearing the family’s stories, that the nurses can offer some comfort. They cannot heal the man, but they can “pack the wound, and listen.” (Art of Nursing is always free online—just click through to the PDF file.)
This month’s cover art, a work of embroidery by nurse and fiber artist Paula Giovanini-Morris, explores the concept of memory and illustrates its mechanisms, the neurons and synapses through which the brain registers, encodes, and retrieves events. The piece, titled “Windows and Doors,” was prompted by another kind of witnessing: the artist’s visits to her mother, who was suffering from the early stages of dementia.
AJN senior editorial coordinator Alison Bulman spoke with Giovanini-Morris, who explained, “As I watched [my mother] search for words to express herself and attempt to recall recent events, I was struck by a sadness, realizing that in a short period of time the mother I knew might be replaced by someone who had no idea who I was.” Giovanini-Morris also acknowledged that she faces the possibility that she might eventually suffer from dementia herself. For more on this artist and her work, read this month’s On the Cover.
If you’re interested in submitting your own work to Art of Nursing—we consider visual art, very short “flash” fiction, and poetry—send me an email (email@example.com) for more information.