Life Drawing

Julianna Paradisi, RN, OCN, writes a monthly post for this blog and works as an infusion nurse in outpatient oncology.

by julianna paradisi - all rights reserved

by julianna paradisi – all rights reserved

With one double-gloved hand I pull the unblemished skin of her buttock laterally. Holding a syringe in the other, I pierce the large muscle with a needle, injecting acid-yellow methotrexate deep inside. Its purpose is to deplete the tiny, nonviable embryo inside her of folic acid, preventing its growth, a rupture, and potential harm to the woman.

Usually I administer chemotherapy to stop the life cycle of tumors, not the rapidly dividing cells of an embryo that missed its mark, mistakenly lodged in a fallopian tube instead of finding its way into her uterus where both of them could have been safe. Ectopic, it sacrificed viability, and threatens the life of its host.

Prone on the stretcher after the twin injections, she cries quietly. I hand her a box of tissues. She blows her nose. I try to think of something comforting to say, something that lets her know this is sad for me too. Resources are limited, so the powers that be decided that the safety provided by a chemotherapy-certified nurse outweighs the education, skill, and emotional support provided by an obstetrics nurse. Most likely they’re right, but I feel badly that I know more about the mechanism of methotrexate than about resources for a woman in this circumstance—a reminder that being a nurse takes more than the ability to give an injection.

Later that evening, the patient discharged home, my shift ended, I carry tools of my other trade (charcoal, paper, and pencils) to a life drawing studio. I’m seeking a few hours of quiet meditation in the gestural rhythms of transferring life to paper.

The model, a young woman, poses naked on the platform. A bright light deepens shadows and highlights curves. The lift of her breasts, and a lack of stretch marks, inform me it’s unlikely she’s given birth.

With a piece of soft, black charcoal held between my fingers, I begin drawing the curve of unblemished breast onto a piece of paper, mourning a life that will never be.

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2016-11-21T13:04:31+00:00 June 11th, 2014|career, nursing perspective|5 Comments

About the Author:

Julianna Paradisi, RN, OCN, finds inspiration where science, humanity, and art converge, creating compelling images as both a writer and a painter. She is the author of, and also blogs frequently for and, the blog of the American Journal of Nursing (AJN).


  1. Patrice Gilbert June 16, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Beautifully expressed. I had the same experience that left me with an emptiness and void, so I could only imagine what the young mother was feeling. These continuous trials that nurses are faced with will continue to leave us hollow until compassion is no longer a part of who we are. Sharing and learning from each other how to cope and heal is a blessing we can give ourselves.

  2. Libby Kurz June 13, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    This post is beautifully written. I think it accurately expresses the tension we feel as nurses between life and death, health and illness. So often in life, the birth of one thing requires the death of something else. I am a nurse and a mother, and I have experienced two miscarriages. I am also an artist, and I can identify with the way that art soothes the mind and gives temporary relief from the hardships of life. The charcoal drawing and this piece of writing are evidence that great beauty can come from pain. Thank you for sharing.

  3. […] Drawing From Life is my latest post for Off the Charts, the blog of the American Journal of Nursing. It posted yesterday. Often the lines between art and nursing easily blur, like soft charcoal lines smudged on paper. You might want to check it out, or leave a comment. […]

  4. Connie J Wagner June 11, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    Powerful. As a nurse and a mourning grandmother of an ectopic fetus, I cried reading this. I adore the charcoal.

  5. jeffhaynes June 11, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    Powerfully written. Anyone who has sat in the hushed silence of life modeling sessions may wonder what thoughts occupy the minds of the artist and models as they collaboratively create without speaking. The answers can be amazing.

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