“Patient dies, nurse cries.” That’s how we sometimes refer to the Reflections column, the personal essay about some aspect of health care that appears inside AJN’s back cover each month. It’s the kind of self-protective humor you develop at a nursing journal. We’re not making light of real pain. Often, in fact, we’re quite moved by submissions, both ones we accept for publication and ones we don’t. Nor is every Reflections actually about a patient dying or a nurse grieving. Most, probably, are not.
But maybe there’s some truth in the crude descriptive phrase “patient dies, nurse cries”—nurses (more than physicians, arguably, and more than the rest of us who are not nurses) do in fact often deal with the essentials, the really rough moments at the beginning and end where all is laid bare, where need is most acute, where the cruelly practical collides with the ineffable and something has to give or change for good.
These are the stories we remember, the ones we write down years later or the next week, seeking meaning, hope, reconciliation, connection, something. Recent topics include a wedding in the ICU for a dying man’s daughter; advocating for a brother with a back injury; trying to find time to be with a dying man on an understaffed unit; being laughed at by colleagues for reporting possible elder abuse; a terrible depression lifted by electroshock therapy; hard decisions on the neonatal ICU; and having to restrain a teenager with an awful skin condition so she doesn’t pull out her breathing tube.
Reflections essays are not always by nurses, either. Recent or upcoming essay authors include a librarian, a midwife, a physician, a social worker, a mother, a volunteer, a transgendered patient having a heart attack, and a psychotherapist who remembers the invisibility of being a hospital orderly. Some of our authors are widely published; others have never published before.
We welcome submissions. Here are the guidelines for submission. They should have something to do with health care but need not be about nursing. We’re always delighted to see a new angle on being a nurse or patient, and we always welcome stories that are not about death and dying. Sadness is not required.
We do like stories told with a strong clear voice, vivid detail rather than generalization, honesty at the expense of neat endings. Acceptance is based upon peer review; unfortunately, we don’t have space for every submission. And there’s an 850-word limit, so you have to get in and get out swiftly and not try to do too much. Keep in mind too that we edit most pieces quite heavily for the sake of style and clarity, though always with the goal of bringing out the strengths in a story or in the voice in which it’s told. We look forward to hearing from you. -Jacob Molyneux, AJN senior editor