‘Patient dies, nurse cries.’ Submit to AJN’s Reflections column.

Photo by mezone, via Flickr.

Photo by mezone, via Flickr.

“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

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2016-11-21T13:34:13+00:00 April 20th, 2009|nursing perspective|1 Comment
Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.

One Comment

  1. Madeleine Mysko April 24, 2009 at 11:32 am

    Nurses have lots of good stories to tell. Isn’t that why we look forward to lunch or dinner break–a time to sit down with each other, and talk, and listen, and laugh (and sometimes cry)? As a writer myself, I love hearing these stories. Sometimes I will say to another nurse, “Hey, that’s a great story. You ought to write that down. Other people should hear it.”

    But then the nurse will shrug and say “Nah. I can’t write.” But of course I happen to know that that nurse can indeed write. Maybe not a 400 page novel . . . But that nurse can write.

    I would like to suggest one way past this awful block. It helps to honor the story itself, to see oneself as saving it from oblivion. Try to write it down in one sitting, getting in the details before they are forgotten. Most story-tellers are quite surprised to discover there they managed to capture a jewel in that first draft. There will still be work ahead (revision), but the story will have a life.

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