From Wards to Words and Back Again

It was 1995 when Between the Heartbeats Poetry and Prose for Nurses was first published by the University of Iowa State Press. Conceived and edited by Cortney Davis and Judy Schaefer, this was the first Anthology of Creative Writing by Nurses, gathered from around the world.

Heartbeats at Chapters Bookstore DC

Between the Heartbeats writers at Chapters Book Store, Washington DC, 1995

 For many nurses it was the first time our medical writing had been accepted for publication. That summer as many of us who could, maybe twenty out of fifty contributors, came to Chapters Book Store in Washington DC for our first ever reading. This coincided – not unintentionally – with the annual general convention of the American Nurses Association. The evening was exciting, scary and thrilling. Scary because we were reading our own work and thrilling because we were hearing the words and work of other nurses. All of us facing the same direction, our voices so different and yet so deeply in tune with each another. There was an audience, listening, applauding and asking questions. One man spoke up, “Wow, this is amazing. Can’t wait for when you present this to the ANA”. We were all silent before Cortney, in her calmest most diplomatic way, (her speciality) replied, “Actually we won’t be at the convention. They don’t want us and won’t let us present the book there.” Among the audience were nurses who would be at the convention. We were all stunned, silenced and sobered that those nurses for whom we wrote did not deem our words necessary or supportive of their work.

As nurse writers we came together for that weekend forming a tight union of sorts, loosely knit, tendrils of thought, vision, each of us seeing and transforming through words, our patients in the wards, clinics and communities we serve. Since those early years we have continued to write, sending each other our books, reviewing and commenting for each other, hosting nurses writers on the radio and spoke of our work to audiences wherever we could.

Coming together was always a chancy affair but we get our moments. Two years ago The Medical University of North Carolina held its first “Narrative Bridge Conference”. Five of us, Jeanne Bryner, Cortney Davis, Veneta Masson, Judy Schaefer and myself, made it there for the long weekend;. We were billed as “The Nurse Poets” and that is what we have become. Through the years more books of poetry, prose, creative non-fiction and novels have been written and published and within the ‘about the author’ description the word “Nurse” always leads. This is who we are, this is where we speak from, whenever and wherever we can.

It was Lisa Kerr from the MUSC school of nursing who again called us together this year. Lisa wrote asking if we could come, not only to speak to the faculty and students of the nursing school but that there could be an opportunity to perform as The Nurse Poets in the annual Piccolo Spoleto Arts Festival at the Dock Street Theatre. New books had been published, among them, Jeanne Bryner’s poetry Smoke, Cortney Davis’ When the Nurse Becomes a Patient, which won an American Journal of Nursing Book Award for 2015 and my 2016 The Bell Lap Stories for Compassionate Nursing Care were all hot off the press and we were eager to share our work. I was ending a roll-out with The Bell Lap, coming down from New York and a launch at the National Arts Club with the great cartoonist, and tonight – host – Roz Chast whose book about the final years of her parent’s lives Can’t we Talk about Something More Pleasant, remains a best seller.

A little help with the night before prep.

A little help with the night before prep.

It was – is – fun to be on the other side of the microphone. This was a first for Roz who is more used to being questioned about her work, and almost a first for me, being more used to asking those questions. With her questions and comments, memories surprised me and in the quickness of the moment words did not always take the long route – through my brain – as they rushed from my heart to my mouth. Maybe it was not the smartest thing to recall ‘my first leg,’ after Roz’s question about my failed operating room experiences. And so we learn. Beloved friends were there and I was more than grateful to see nurses in the audience, plus a doctor or two. Paul Gross and Dianne Guernsey who co-edit Pulse Magazine “Voices from the Heart of Medicine” came in on the train, Cousin Tom rode the bus from Cap Cod and nurse colleague Gerry Colburn traveled in from New Hampshire.

Tony and Peter and MAM

A Hug from Tony and Peter After it is all over.

It was a great evening and gave me the needed boost and courage to fly down to Charleston and join the band – not yet a rock band – The Nurse Poets.

Four of us had made it and it was grand to be together. Jeanne had driven for two days from Ohio. Cortney flew from Connecticut, Veneta from Washington DC and I from London, via New York. At breakfast we celebrated with coffee and grits. We quickly shared our stories, families, the agonies of book promotions and knowing as all women of a certain age do, that we will continue to balance these lives until illness, infirmity or death claim us.

At noon, under Lisa’s guidance, we spoke at MUSC nursing school for more faculty than students but how eager they all were, how they knew the importance of story, the lives led before and beyond the illness of the patient. Then an afternoon break before being driven past the Emanuel Church where flowers are still laid out daily in remembrance of last years tragedy to an early supper of fine southern food. (Where oh where do I get the real recipe for Green Fried Tomatoes?)

Then we walked to the Dock Street Theater where the audience was already gathering for our evening performance. The theatre is nestled in a small courtyard, intimate and perfect for poetry readings. The seats filled quickly and chairs were added along-side the cloisters until there was standing room only. We sat, warm but not hot, under the evening sky. Our time was tight, and so were we. Introductions by Barbara, the organizer of the festival. then Lisa, organizer of us and then, following each other in alphabetical order, we were on. Each of us brought our full-to-overflowing hearts to the mics and poured out our words. Jeanne watching family, Cortney and Veneta their clinics, and I from the wards and communities before returning to nursing school with an excerpt from The Bell Lap.

Veneta Masson, Cortney Davis, Muriel Murch, Jeanne Bryner

Veneta Masson, Cortney Davis, Muriel Murch, Jeanne Bryner

The audience rose to applaud these words that came from our hearts and our memories. Why did they love us so? We were good 🙂 yes but was it just the words, or was it the knowledge that with these words they know we have seen them, as people before patients. We have marked and held them in our hearts and returned them to themselves, thus received and healed, if not cured. Giving this audience an understanding that as these words have come from the wards to them they may also return to the new young nurses of today.

Jeanne, Miriam from L.A., Venetta and Muriel

Jeanne, Miriam (The next generation), Veneta and Muriel enjoy the reception for The Nurse Poets.

The Bell Lap event in New York City

INVITE to The Bell Lap at the NACOn Wednesday May 25, Roz Chast author of “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant,” will join me in discussion, talking about “The Bell Lap,” and some of the moments in-between. We will be in the Sculpture Court at The National Arts Club from 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. If you are in New York and interested in joining us, please RSVP to: murielmurch@gmail.com

Doctor Patel Comes to Tea

DrPatelPoster_draft2This Saturday evening, April 9th, there will be a staged reading of “Doctor Patel Comes to Tea” from the book The Bell Lap  at the Bolinas Community Center. Doors open at 6.30 p.m. refreshments will be served beforehand and Davia Nelson of The Kitchen Sisters will talk with Muriel Murch afterwards. This evening also honors Erik Bauersfeld who, aged 93, moved onto other airwaves on April 3rd. Bauersfeld was mentor to many Bay Area radio and film sound professionals and a very early supporter of KWMR.org. Please join us for a very special evening.

A Parcel at the Post Office

Farmer Pete

Peter Martinelli’s helping hands

Arrived in NW1

The Bell Lap arrives in NW1

Shelved in NW1

And is shelved, over photographs of Bobby

The yellow slip, almost used up with names and numbers, is stuffed into our roadside mailbox. I put it in my jacket pocket, now ready to walk into town before the next rain storm moves in and lingers over the village.
Shannon passes the parcel across the post office counter. It is very light.
“Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Stay dry.” As I turn to leave, Peter Martinelli, who is leafing through his mail box gleanings, smiles a hello. We stop and great each other. Peter is a farmer, a DJ on KWMR, and a good chum. It was time to confess to him that I have written a piece about him for a new book; ‘Peter brings the best presents.’ We chat and I show him the parcel and ask, “Who is it from?” He digs into a pocket fumbling for his glasses, “ This is new” he smiles as he finds and then puts them on.
“ Francis and Taylor” he replies. And I realize this contains the culmination of the last few years of work.
“ Oh you have to help me. I can’t do this alone.” Peter smiles and in his farming way understands that I need a witness and help with something that is too big for me.
“You have a knife?” Of course he does and it is much easier to reach and use than the glasses. Smoothly he pulls out and opens his knife, sliding it effortlessly along the packing seams and slitting them open. Together we pull back the cardboard flaps and there they lie, five copies of The Bell Lap. Alex Hillkurtz’s art work is smiling at me and I smile back. But I don’t dare to take a copy out. Peter has to encourage me to do so.
There it is, as thin and delicate as a journal. We laugh together as I bundle the box back up and walk to his pick-up truck outside the post-office.
We linger while Peter shares his good news. He has a new restaurant buyer for all of his organic farm produce. I run my hands through the light compost he has in the back of his truck. He is preparing his soil for planting while I have just harvested my ripe fruit. The sun began to shine as I walked home holding the box of books close to me.

Cortney Davis interviews Muriel Murch

finished cropped shotCortney Davis is a nurse, prolific poet and writer. She is the co-editor with Judy Schaefer of Between the Heartbeats and Intensive Care, More Poetry and Prose by Nurses both published by University of Iowa Press. Author of ten books, her latest work When the Nurse Becomes a Patient: A Story in Words and Images was published by Kent State University in 2015

Muriel MurchMuriel Murch is the author of two books, a personal narrative, Journey in the Middle of the Road: One Woman’s Path through a Mid-Life Education, and most recently a short story collection, The Bell Lap: Stories for Compassionate Nursing Care. Muriel is also a registered nurse, a radio show producer, a world traveler, and a beautiful tall English woman.

Cortney Davis: Muriel, which came first for you, the desire to be a nurse or the call to writing?
Muriel Murch: The Desire, The Call, Oh my goodness Cortney. First though I have to smile at your introduction, a tall woman, because, from a very young age, it soon became clear to my mother, who was a mere five feet and ten inches, that I would be ‘too tall’. She worried that I was going to have as hard a time as she did growing up. Surprisingly my height didn’t bother me as much as it did her. There wasn’t anything I could do about my six foot one inch height and somehow, through laughing with those who laughed at, I slowly found a way through adolescence.
When I was fifteen my father died and the question of ‘What to do with Ann’ was a very real problem for my mother. Widowed at thirty-nine it appeared that her own upbringing had not provided her with skills that she could turn into a meaningful job. However she soon found work driving for, and then organizing, the Hospital Car Service, a volunteer organization comprised of mostly retirees who drove patients to doctor and hospital appointments throughout the county. She was, of course, fabulous at it.
I was tall, gangly and bouncy and didn’t speak French therefore not good material for a debutante. I was clumsy and out doorsy and only passed through our kitchen to the nursery and so Cordon Bleu cooking school seemed a waste of time. I couldn’t spell and had failed most of the academic exams from school so secretarial college was not an option either.
At home from boarding school I spent every free moment on the farm. In order to wean me from this rough and unsuitable pursuit the good ‘Dr. Riley’, now a close family friend, began to take me with him on his rounds. I quickly became curious about the people we saw, their lives as well as their illnesses. So it was put to me that when I left school I should work as a cadet (kitchen maid in uniform) at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford. Then, when I turned eighteen, join the next incoming class of student nurses. I was far too timid to think of going to London and the big teaching (and husband catching) hospitals. A year later I may have regretted my timidity but The Royal Surrey County Hospital was the right place for me. There, I trained and worked as a staff nurse until I left for New York and White Plains Hospital, again subconsciously choosing a non-central hospital.
As to writing, I have always been a voracious reader. I learnt to read at a very young age, though became aware that even after finishing a book there were words, mostly names, that I couldn’t pronounce, never mind spell. English language, punctuation and sentence structure were, and remain, a challenge for me. I can remember when I first learnt to say the complete alphabet. I was so exited – but I couldn’t tell anyone – I was twelve years old! It was the literature classes, with their stories that were my salvation.
Hidden, and secretly, I began to write my own stories as a child. I was also captivated with old, wild poetry. I didn’t understand it all but something about the rhythm of the words comforted and uplifted me. I read a lot of poetry as a child and adolescent. But never wrote any until I was becoming menopausal!
I did write in nursing school. As well as our yearly classroom blocks we all had monthly tutorials. These were one on one session with a Sister Tutor, similar to university tutors. It was here that I learnt to read, discuss, analyze and write about a subject. I became fascinated with psychology and must have read every textbook on the subject I could find. Sister Boisher was wise enough to let me explore, occasionally handing me another book while guiding nudging and questioning the questions, and answers, I was exploring. It was for this work that I was given a prize for physiology. I had never, ever, won a prize for anything in my life before. The prize was Medicine in its Human Setting, by A. Clarke-Kennedy. That little book has been beside me ever since.
The years of young love, marriage and family only allowed for letter writing once a week to my mother and journal scribbling, often in a ‘blue book’ When times were hard, when I didn’t see my way forward on any front, it was often these wild, anguished outpourings that saved me. I hope they are all burnt now. Many years later I found that poetry could produce the same way out of pain. Most of the poetry I write today comes from the pain I see or the pain I feel.

CD: Your work has been included in several anthologies of creative writing by nurses, and nurses’ writing has gained both popularity and praise in the medical humanities arena. Do nurses have something to tell us that are unique, different from what physicians or others in the medical field might say?
MM: I do think nurses have something different to say than physicians and maybe that is because I think nurses and physicians oft times see different things when they look at their patients.
In my nearly thirty years as a radio host I was, and still am, fortunate enough to choose authors to work with. Sometimes it is the writer’s new works and oft-times it is medical in focus. I have also been able to travel and pursue the writers I really want to talk with and whose work I want to share with an audience. Many times that has meant tracking down people like yourself and other nurse writers on the East Coast. The physician I was thrilled to spend time with was, of course, Richard Selzer. I think of Selzer as being the writing mentor to all of us health care professionals who write. Since his earliest medical writing Selzer showed us the whole being of the patient, the body, spirit and soul. How did he do that? He did it by following Chekhov and Keats into writing literature. Selzer goes beyond the anecdotal; let me give you an example, or the case history, into story to bring his subjects to life. There are two physicians I would still like to have conversations with, Abraham Verghese author of Cutting for Stone and Atul Gawande who wrote Complications and Being Mortal: Medicine and what Matters in the End. Just out and being devoured on the same wavelength is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Interestingly all of these physician’s families’ come from the Indian continent and share the bonds of close family and immigration.

CD: The Bell Lap is not your first publication. What led you to write your first book, Journey in the Middle of the Road: One Woman’s Path to a Midlife Education?
MM: Since stylus first scratched papyrus the sharing of information and the efforts to stay connected have often been through letters. Journey came from those letters we wrote in boarding school and then the airmail letters of the sixties. (There is a piece about this ‘You’ve Got Mail’ on murielmurch.com) Letters were always an important was of staying connected and the letter writing habit was entrenched early in my life. In the 1980s we were in England for two years and our older children were moving on with their own lives. I wrote to each of them, one a week, make a copy of those letters without repeating myself in each letter. The idea being that eventually the family could piece all the letters together and make sense of those years.
It turned out to be a difficult time and, when we returned to California, I decided to go to college and upgrade my nursing degree from an RN to a BsN. I had visions of entering academia but it quickly became clear I was not cut out for that life style! But I couldn’t stop writing more letters. I wrote to the family, friends and my mother and some to a dear deceased uncle of my husband’s. It was very much on the lines of Dear Daddy Longlegs written by Jean Webster in 1912, a book I grew up with from my mother’s bookcase. When I graduated from San Francisco State University I took off for a month to a friend’s house in Paris with, as you can imagine, reams of pages. A sort of enforced ‘writers retreat’ but with half an eye out for their teenage son alone at home for the summer. During that time I could, and did, slash and burn, cutting the manuscript to maybe a third. Then, when I thought I had a narrative that could be of help to those who shared the common threads for women balancing family, relationships, education and desires, I somehow found a publisher and Journey came to life. The response to Journey showed that it was helpful to those who read it. Miriam Selby of Sibyl Publications eventually retired and handed back the book rights to all her authors. Roberto Santucho helped me reissue Journey as a book on demand with a new snazzy cover and new introduction.

CD: Did the stories in The Bell Lap also come from your nursing experiences? Can you tell me what your favorite story in this new book is . . . and why?
MM: What is ‘our nursing experience?’ This is a question that comes up for me every once in a while. Because, I believe, that those of us who are nurses, in a deep sense of the word, are always nursing. We are always observing, taking in the whole picture of the person before us. Do you notice that? We can’t stop watching. I think this is something all health care professionals do.
So to answer this question I would say, yes, the stories come from my ‘nursing experience’ because my life is nursing. Writing with a nurse’s eye maybe.
A favorite story. How can there be? Each story is precious until itself, each a new love affair begun from memory, a glance, a phrase an incident witnessed. Each is like a grain of sand swallowed by an oyster. It rolls around, irritating for a while before growing into something beautiful. I love them all. How can I not?

CD: Medicine and nursing are changing alongside, and because of, rapid changes in technology, scientific knowledge, and the financial demands of the business end of healthcare. But are we missing something in the way we care for patients today, in spite of all our gains? I guess I’m wondering if you think nursing has changed, and if so how that might affect the nurse / patient relationship.
MM: In the last few years almost all the articles written about new medical procedures begin with the economical implications of the changes and advances being discussed. These comments always come before the benefit to the institution and the physician, nurse, or caregiver, followed by an afterthought, oh, the benefit to the patient. Cost is imperative it seems to the running of for profit or not hospitals. It is a little scary.
The most expensive item in any administrative budget is staff and, arguably, a good patient to staff ratio is expensive in numbers if not always in pay scale. And we see cuts made all the time. Cutting nurses time and money, making them spend time documenting their accountability takes time away from the patient. Cutting down and out on senior long-term staff with deep experience and wisdom who have formed and led unit teams is a shortsighted way of saving money. Cutting those full time nurses off from their benefits leaves no team to support the patients, the ward/floor and ultimately the hospital. Nurses do not go out on strike because they love their hospitals.
Recently I read an article from The Guardian, January 22 2016 “A day in the UK’s busiest maternity unit” by Zoe Williams. The article is about the Liverpool Women’s Hospital. Williams talked with the Matron Jenny Butters, Ward Manager Sarah McGrath and Dr. Joanne Topping. It is Topping who says, “ There is an amount of money we are given to do the work we need to do and it’s not enough.” At the Liverpool Women’s Hospital midwives, nurses and doctors seem to all work in a cooperative atmosphere and it sounds an enviable work situation worthy of adaption in other institutions.
During a family hospital admission we were asked, “Who is the patient advocate?” The nurse used to be considered the patient advocate and now that cannot always be said to be true. But patient advocacy is a part of what we do, what we are for the patients whom we serve. There must be cultural differences throughout the world but I think we must always hold patient advocacy as part of who we are.
One of the best improvements I have witnessed was in St. Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco at the change of nursing shifts. Somehow time was budgeted in for rounds. Two nurses visit each patient in their room one handing off a report to the other in front of the patient. I have never seen anything like this before. Even if words were spoken outside of the patients room there was this time for all three to speak together. If that happened in every hospital and at each shift change the patient care flow would be amazing.
Balancing the art and science of nursing has always been hard and today seems even more so. Sometimes I think the ‘best’ nursing opportunities, those times when as a nurse we can be mindful of procedures and yet give comfort and safety to our patients, lie in clinics and outpatient procedures. I think it is harder to be a hands on nurse in today’s hospital settings unless you are in a one-on-one situations. But really I don’t know. I do know that many, many nurses work hard at finding ways to be at their patient’s bedsides when they need it.

CD: You were born in England and educated as a nurse there. You’ve also had some nursing education in the U.S. What are the similarities and differences in nursing education here and across the pond?
MM: I think the differences started to appear when three-year diploma programs began to be replaced by four-year batcholorate B.Sc. programs in the US. There became a real division between the different levels of education, experience and job opportunities. I still saw this in evidence in the late 1980s rotating through a teen pregnancy clinic at San Francisco General. Diploma RN’s were doing the basic intake work while the Midwifery MSc RN’s were doing full exams. This was different from the late 1960s and early 1970s where four, all of us diploma RN’s, worked in a rural general practice, and we all took complete care for our patients. As times changed most of us went onto get BSN degrees.
In the UK in the 1960s we were patient bedside trained, with classroom times of four weeks in our first year, six in our second and third along with our monthly tutorials. Then this was pretty much the reverse of the American System.
In the sixties, when cardiac monitoring and resuscitation was just beginning, you could see the difference. One evening shift at the Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital a beeper rang and two of us rushed to the room. My American partner checked the monitor, I looked to the patient, and then we both began the same procedure. At that time we were also working with a Canadian nurse and we all agreed that she seemed to have been trained in the best balance of both worlds. Somehow that seemed very Canadian!
Eventually, and I’m not really sure when this happened, England brought in the same educational system as the US. Nursing schools are attached to the city universities and patient care is outsourced to the local teaching hospitals. Now I think the teaching is very similar in the US and UK.

CD: I believe that most nurses and physicians, in the course of their work, experience many moments of both fear and transcendence. What was your most frightening moment in nursing? And your most wondrous? Have you written about them?
MM: Fear and Transcendence. Good words Cortney. There are many moments that carry those emotions. A side lesson if you will of our training was to subdue that fear into right-action but we were not always ready for what incident came our way.
Write about them? No, not until now that is.
I think, for me, the first really fearful moment occurred when I was a new Staff Nurse. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was in charge of Victoria, the Woman’s Surgical Ward. Methodically I was moving through the ward tidying the patient’s beds in preparation of the afternoon visiting hours. I came to the bedside of a young woman who was supposed to have been discharged the day before and only stayed in as her parents were not back from their holiday. She had fallen off of her Vespa Scooter and suffered, what we considered, a mild concussion. But when I reached her bed she was confused and fading. Fear gripped and then released me. Rushing back to the desk I managed to phone for a doctor. Luckily, for my patient, there was a neurosurgeon in the house about to operate on a chap who had fallen off a ladder at work! The surgeon immediately came to the ward, looked at my girl and barked out, ‘Transport to Atkinson Morley Hospital Stat.’ before rushing back to the OR and his waiting patient. In minutes the Ambulance men came and lifted my girl, now unconscious, onto the gurney. I grabbed her notes and off we went. The memory of the drive through the city of Guildford on a Saturday afternoon, not watching the road, but watching her, trying to keep her with me, is still crystalline in my mind. Once we reached the Atkinson Morley Hospital my patient was whisked away. I remember the intake nurses’ focus and it was hard to tell from their expressions what the outcome would be for my girl. I stood in the emergency admitting room, at a loss, until the ambulance driver found me. ‘Come on Nurse, Let’s get you a nice cup of tea before we head home.’ And so we did.
Wondrous. Those moments are so special.
The quick incision for a Caesarian Section, before the pause, looking into the abdominal cavity with the baby still in the sac, the moment before the surgeon’s hands enter and lift the baby into this world.
Life passages, into and out of this world.
Caring for Naomi, an eleven your old gypsy child with Down’s syndrome who had an infected knee. The Romany family came and camped at the hospital. Naomi was a wild child but somehow she would let me tend her. I would sing, she would sing, and somehow with her arms around my neck I could dress her wound. One morning Matron came though on her rounds while this was happening. She looked over the screen that was giving us some privacy, and, as she turned away, I saw her smile. The family outside the ward saw her smile and smiled too. I think then I knew I was becoming a nurse.
More lately I think it is to look back at one’s place in the history and the progression of nursing practices. We are all stepping-stones, each unto the other. In the late 1960s and early 1970s I worked in a rural General Medical Practice. We were three doctors and four nurses. Within that practice we made house calls, did mostly home birth deliveries and cared for those who wished to stay at home through to the end of their lives. Our practice, others like it, and the lay midwives of the time all put pressure on the more normal hospital birthing procedures that were then in place. Slowly the hospitals and other doctors began to change, allowing husbands and labor coaches into the delivery rooms. The delivery rooms became labor suites, breast-feeding was encouraged and eventually The University of California opened a school of midwifery. One nurse from our practice, a third-generation midwife, was among the first four students admitted to the school.
When my mother-in-law was first diagnosed with cancer I said that, when the time came, I would go back and take care of her if that was what she wanted. Two years later the call came and I picked up our fifteen-month old son and went to New York. Her physician, who was the same age as Katharine, also made house calls. He agreed to help me care for her at home though this was a first for him in his long New York Practice. With the support of her friends and family, Katharine stayed at home through to the end of her illness. The doctor, Will Norton, was due to retire, and went on to work with Dame Cicely Saunders, becoming one of the founders of Hospice in America.
I think those things, when I look back, help me feel that yes, gosh, maybe I made a difference. Each moment was wondrous in its own way.

CD: Muriel, how are you promoting “The Bell Lap?” Let us know where you might be appearing, and where readers might find your books.
The Bell LapMM: Radcliffe Press first accepted The Bell Lap but just at that time Taylor and Francis Press an arm of CRC Press absorbed Radcliffe. Luckily they took The Bell Lap along with Radcliffe. So now The Bell Lap is part of a medical press and that somehow feels like coming home. I’m doing whatever I can for The Bell Lap, as I believe it has a place in the tome of general literature as well as in the classroom.
Publication date is March 16th from Taylor and Francis and CRC Press and is also be available from Amazon

Soon there will be an events page up on my website, murielmurch.com and I will be adding to that as I go along.
Events already booked on the West and East Coast of the US as well as some in the UK include:
March 15th Tuesday KWMR. FM radio 10.30 – 11 a.m. PST Turning Pages with Host Lyons Filmer
Match 26th Saturday 10 a.m. PST West Coast Live with host Sedge Thomson
March 28th or April 4th Monday KPFA FM Monday 3 p.m. PST Cover to Cover with host Richard Wolinsky
March 30th St. Mary’s Hospital, San Francisco Evening reading, Q&A and book signing. More information to follow.
April 9th Saturday KWMR Fund raising event Evening at the Bolinas Community Center. A play Reading of ‘Dr. Patel Comes to Tea.’ followed by a Q & A with host Davia Nelson from The Kitchen Sisters of NPR
May 26th Thursday an open evening at the National Arts Club in New York City. Host Ros Chas of The New Yorker and author of Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
May 31st in Charleston with the ‘Nurse Poets’ at the Piccolo Arts Festival and sponsored by the Medical University of South Carolina.
Dates still TBA
NPR Science program
KHNS Radio, Haines Alaska
BBC Woman’s Hour Book reading and interview with Jenny Murrey.
Book reading and signing Waterstones, Book Shop, Farnham, Surrey.
Book reading, discussion and signing for Primrose Hill Library with Primrose Hill Book Shop
And do ask your local bookshop to order at least two copies, one for you and one to show on their shelf!

CD: Thank you! Before we close, is there anything else you’d like to add, any subject that we haven’t touched upon that you’d like to address?
MM: If we struggle, and oft times fail, to learn lessons from history maybe at least we can learn understanding and acceptance of other people from story. Story will pull at the heart as well as the mind.
Yesterday, browsing through the library of the Royal College of Nursing, I watched young and senior nurses studying. I felt that along with their sense of purpose for themselves, their work and for their patients they maybe have been a quiet acknowledgement of the nurses in whose footsteps they tread.
In the last few years we have seen some wonderful writing, and stories from physicians and patients alike. The Bell Lap stories are for everyone who cannot write their own.

Happy New Year 2016

New Year’s Eve Walk

Happy New Year.

We all say it. We begin around Solstice when we are adding ‘Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays,’ for all the winter celebrations that happen in most religions through to dear old Robbie Burns Night, this year on January 25th,

“Happy New Year to you.” “And to you too.” And we mean it. We smile as we pass each other on the street, wishing each other well, peace and health in our lives and even possibly a little prosperity thrown in. For in these days all angst between us is forgotten.

Paolo and his sign

This year there is a longer than usual lull between Christmas Eve with the ‘back to work’ week starting on January 4th. The weekend of January 2 and 3 has given us extra Twixmas days, as those days between Christmas and the New Year have been named in England. These are days are free days, as if in an Egyptian calendar of old. The Egyptians would take five days off prior to the summer Solstice (June 21) in their calendar year otherwise their agricultural rhythms would quickly become muddled. And somehow this falls, loosely in winter, into a pattern for modern Europe. Stores and galleries that could be open have closed shut.  Even Philip the Greengrocer at Yeoman’s has drawn his blinds and stuck a sign on the door, “We will reopen on January 4th.” Good for them. Paolo in his coffee shop on Delancy Street moves slower though his days. Maybe he is taking the extra cup of coffee for himself before facing us trending or grumbling old customers on Christmas Eve.

For some people these are days of total winter peace and contemplation or escapes to warmer climates. For young parents with families they are days of adventures or hanging out with the children while grandparents build memories that will become traditions. For others, the young and not so faint at heart, the days are filled with shopping in the crazy winter sales that beckon buyers in to lay down that credit card just one more time. But wherever and whatever we do we add, “Happy New Year.” to our daily greetings.

The Muslim grandmother who runs our local deli is dressed in her black hijab with a touch of cream here and there peaking through her headscarf. Her hair has turned from deeply black to hold wisps of grey since we have come to know her and she now rings up a senior discount for us both. She knows us all, our types, our styles our needs. “A Happy New Year to you my dear.” “And to you too.”

Crossing the bridge into Regent’s Park a young African woman is taking a selfie and seeing me smile laughs aloud at herself. She is athletic and out for a winter workout. Dressing in bright blue running gear, her hair up in braids she is sunny and beautiful. “Happy New Year,” She laughs at me. And I laugh back to her, “And to you too.”

It is quiet at the Newsagents and finally the Hindu gentleman left in charge on New Year’s Eve has time to ask me, “Are you married? Do you live here?” and more. We take the time he needs as I answer the questions that he may have held for the past ten years of our fifteen year time in the village. Finally another customer comes to the counter and we exchange a newspaper for coin and part. “Happy New Year.” “And to you too.”

Maddy is bustling with her dogs. Never without one to four dogs she walks out three times a day with them while her husband with his new middle-aged dyed beard occasionally goes to the store. Maddy doesn’t have time for the supermarket, she is too busy with the dogs so a grocery delivery van comes down the street for her once a week. Slowly, over the years, we have become friendly over dogs. Her beloved Lucky was in love with our Hana and the feelings were reciprocated with frenzied barking affection whenever they met on the street. She is smiling, “Happy New Year,” we laugh it together. Both happy to see each other and knowing there will be another time for a catch up chat.

After a film at Leicester Square, we walk around the corner into Chinatown on the edge of Soho. The streets are all a bustle and hustle, restaurants full and yet beckoning. A little Chinese supper would be nice. We eventually chose a restaurant where a smiling young woman, wrapped up in her winter jacket, hat and gloves welcomes us inside. The restaurant is full, happy Chinese, Arab, and European customers devouring an early supper. The young wait staff are dressed in black and serious. They have to keep everyone moving, and us particularly as we are a cheap-vegetarian-disappointment. The young men are all hooked up to black ear buds and phones. The food comes quickly up the dumb-waiter and the dishes passed along to us. The fortune cookie and the bill arrive together. We pay the bill and though my cookie tells me “You will make a good investment.” I’m not sure what that will be. Back down on the street the same young woman is smiling and beckoning passers-by inside. But as we leave and smile at her once more she bobs her bow, “Happy New Year, Happy New Year to you.” “And to you too.”

Girl at a bus stop

Returning home, we meet Stan who is heading out to The Queens Pub on the corner walking slowly with his beloved old dog. Though rarely with his teeth, Stan steadfastly walks his dog twice a day. He too has come to know something of us and when I greet him, “Happy New Year Stan.” it is to the boss, my husband, that he relies, “Appy ‘ew Year to you too Sir.”

Abuela Grannys and Apps

The grandmothers I remember came in three main flavors which would slide into each other like Neapolitan ice cream going soft on a summer afternoon: stern, formidable, ancient and kind; eccentric to down-right dotty yet ancient and kind; and those who were just ancient and kind.

Granny Slater

Granny Slater

Lady Pechell was formidable and kind. Each weekday morning she cycled into the village with one or two of her Pekinese dogs riding shotgun in her bicycle basket. She must have been twenty years, a war at least, older than the ladies she joined for coffee at Mrs. Max’s cafe. I never heard their conversation. I was too busy hovering, like one of her dogs, waiting for the treats she would magically produce. In a never secret whisper she would lean towards me, “Here, these are for you.” And three sugar lumps would be slipped into my hand. One for me to suck and other two for the milk cart-horse I rode at the end of the morning from our drive-way to the home-farm. Lady Pechell’s dogs eventually succumbed to sugar induced heart attacks.

Granny T was of the dottie variety. She lived in a small cottage across the road from her family and no longer strayed into the village but was content puttering in her small garden. When she came indoors she would cool her hot, tired feet by moving a kitchen chair up to the refrigerator, pulling off her stockings, opening the refrigerator door and sticking her feet onto the bottom shelf. Instead of tea she sipped a cool Pink Gin while she recovered. She was happy, and safe.

Then there was the ultimate Grandmother. Mudder became a constant in my childhood and was just ancient and kind. Bicycling to my friend’s house I would find her sitting in their kitchen. An old-fashioned apron was wrapped around her soft frame. Her grey hair rolled and unrolled about her softly aged face. Her bright eyes were soft and gentle in their seeing. She twinkled out a welcome as she sat shelling peas, snapping beans or scrubbing potatoes. My friend had never finished her chores before I arrived and so I would always have to wait – in the kitchen with Mudder. This was her chance. When we were alone she would pull out a florin, a ‘two bob bit’ and send me off to The Tuck Shop on the corner of Avondale Road. Here I was to purchase a packet of Craven A cigarettes. I think they cost about 1/6. “Go on, you can have it.” The sixpence was mine and the tuck shop my treasure trove. Mudder taught me that an apron was a part of the Granny Uniform, kindness and shared sweet secrets were the currency slipped in and out of its pockets.

One of the last gifts my mother gave me was the patience to pick up her knitting needles and relearn the ancient art that had keep her sober and filled her lonely hours with purpose. As she lay in bed in the evenings we took apart the last erratic sweater she had made for her grandson. Under her tutelage it took shape again. The result was a marginal improvement that was eventually returned to its rightful owner. Soon it became time for me to venture out shopping for wool and a pattern. I chose a light weight cardigan which was simple in design and happily knit away to have it finished in time for my mother’s spring birthday. It wasn’t until I was proudly sewing the seams closed and adding pearly buttons that I realized, with horror, that she would hate it. The sleeves were three-quarter length, the style only worn by fast woman. On the day of Granny’s birthday, as she unwrapped the cardigan and held it up before trying it on, I could see her lips compress in disapproval. And sure enough, once it was on she began to tug at the sleeves in an effort to pull them down along her arms. But she didn’t say anything. Over those last few months of her life she wore the cardigan almost daily, begrudgingly at first and then with a reluctant pride that seemed to have to been earned by the cardigan itself.

The Granny cardigan

The Granny cardigan

In that mind-numbing time of sorting through her belongings I reclaimed the cardigan. I couldn’t bring myself to let it go. As much for Granny as for myself. It lay folded away for months. At my mother’s memorial gathering one daughter said sadly, “Now we are Granny-less.” But in less than a year she was pregnant with the first of our grandchildren. “Now we will have a Granny again.”
As each of our daughters have entered their confinement and birthed, I have been blessed to be a part of that process. Older mummies all, with new ways and expectations, each daughter has wanted and needed different things from Farm Granny. When the new family leave the safety of the hospital, when the obstetrician, the midwife, the nurses and the lactation specialist are no longer at first hand and they return home, panic and fear can slip through the door with them, looking to stay awhile.

David and his Abuela at breakfast

David and his Abuela at breakfast

The mobile phone with its outside connections to the world is never far from the modern older first time mummy’s reach. There is no app for Abuelas but there is one for new mothers breast feeding. It shines from the phone with bright orange hearts and labels, right and left breast. Once the baby has latched on, you press go, and a timer begins. The seconds fly into minutes timing how long the baby nurses on the right and then the left, followed by the left and then the right breast. There are instructions and guides to follow which, although necessary and helpful, can also be intimidating to the new parents. The phone app can produce panic instead of measuring success while mother and babe struggle to adjust to the nursing process. The baby sucks for four minutes and then needs a breather. Does that count as time nursing or should one press pause? The app makes no allowances for tender nipples and full breasts. There are tears. The app is put aside, (the phone lucky not to be thrown across the room). And now an Abuela Granny can help. Somehow she knows how to soothe baby before putting him to the breast. She remembers positions that give the most comfort to a nursing mother and baby. She knows how to calm and encourage them all, and she does. Soon the parents are feeding, changing and bathing their baby as if they too have been doing it all their lives. As each confinement has come to pass I have added to my Granny uniform an apron with pockets and the old worn cardigan that brings with it the smells and texture of the Granny who came before me. Now they will be put away, until it is time to visit again.