Theresa Brown tells an intensely personal story about breast cancer. She brings us along with her from the mammogram that would change her life through her diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. Despite her training and years of experience as an oncology and hospice nurse, she finds herself continually surprised by the lack of compassion in the medical maze. Brown draws us into her work with the unforgettable details of her daily life but from her new perch as a patient, she also takes a look back with rare candor at some of her own cases as a nurse and considers what she didn't know then and what she could have done better.
Brown mines her time as a nurse for insights into the health care system’s flaws, never shying away from her own shortcomings ... In between her searing critiques, Brown offers glimpses of how things might go if only medical workers saw beyond the tasks at hand and had more time and fewer tasks to manage ... Brown writes that universal health care, improved electronic health record-keeping and a fully nonprofit system are what’s needed to create space and time for more compassion in American medicine. However, at less than a single page, Brown’s prescription for improvement is so brief as to be unconvincing. While her prose is easy to understand, the multitude and length of the chapters in Healing — 39 in all, each two to eight pages — can feel disjointed. At times, attempts to be clever fall short ... With her newly acquired 360-degree perspective on medical care, one can’t help feeling disappointed that Brown, the nurse, is no longer walking the halls of a hospital or dashing from one hospice appointment to the next, ready to put her newfound wisdom to work for patients.
Brown invites her reader on a roving path which oscillates between two timelines ... It’s crucial to mention that Brown does always get the answers she needs eventually, either by calling up powerful people in her healthcare network, or her husband, to tug the strings for her. I would’ve been pleasantly surprised to see the perks of being a white, college-educated, upper middle-class woman with access to the inner workings of the healthcare system addressed more explicitly. Especially since Brown delves into the intersectionalities of care, addressing the inequities that arise in America for poor people, Black people, and poor Black people ... Given all her analysis of modern healthcare’s shortcomings, the issue could’ve been pushed further ... Brown’s strengths shine in the re-creation of scenes, where her nursing identity comes to life through dialogue and patient-as-character descriptions ... She’s also skilled at owning up to her own humanity, saying that while people failed her when she was a patient, she also failed patients when she was a nurse ... Brown never fails to reveal her own humanity. Healing is a book not only for breast cancer patients and their loved ones, but for anyone else who cares about caring. Most importantly, Brown shows us the importance of perspective.
Brown offers no gushing gratitude for her care team, nor thankfulness for a chance at personal growth stemming from a life-threatening illness; she wants no part of the 'cancer is a gift' approach. What she does offer lifts Healing above the usual fare in the ever-expanding genre of illness memoir: an unflinching look by a former nurse at the lack of compassion in our health-care system and the harms that patients suffer because of it. A longtime contributor to the New York Times on health-care issues, Brown writes with a winning combination of passion, humor and medical knowledge ... Admirably, she does not exempt her own nursing from scrutiny, telling lively stories about her interactions with patients and finding that she could at times have done more.