The Comfort Garden - Book Review

The Comfort Garden - Book Review
This book took me a long time to read, but it was well worth it. I got a free copy of it from the author.

Laurie Barkin has written a memoir-type account of her work experience as a psychiatric nurse and woven her personal life throughout. The account read like a good novel, and the personal life experiences rounded this therapeutic story. Laurie's personality shone through her expertise as a nurse; her sensitive care of her patients made me wish there were more nurses like her. What we have lost in quality patient care has touched all aspects of society and has caused costs to skyrocket instead of decrease. Laurie mentions this issue throughout her chapters; she has direct insight from having worked in a hospital when managed care was just taking off. I related to the notion of vicarious trauma that some caregivers experience; this is probably more widespread than some of us want to admit. Although I did not work with such severe trauma cases as Laurie, I did work for a facility that ministered to special populations and after 5 years of working there, sought a career change.

One has to admire a person that loves her job and that loves helping people with traumatic histories. Laurie related these stories in a sensitive manner while making an impact on the reader. I found myself wanting to know more about them and how they had survived such conditions. She did admit that there were a few people she did not warm to, and this added to the book's credibility. I related to her worrying more about her loved ones and wondering if her luck would run out in her own life. It is impossible for many of us not to wonder if our relatively stable lives will all of a sudden be shattered as is the case for many. I am a worrier and I feel like I have to walk on glass sometimes so as not to disturb life's rhythm; although, I am much better as I age. I suppose there is less time left to worry.

Laurie seemed cautious as the book began, not going into too much detail on the first patient she described, but as the book unfolded, the descriptions of the patients and their histories made more of an impact. I especially liked the description of Mr. Livermore, the seemingly cold, inhuman patient who appeared near the end of the book. Then, there was Will Avery, who wondered why the doctors saved him; he felt worthless. I liked Mrs. Holloway, who had gotten a knife wound, from one of her neighbors, and the comical Jack Whitman, who joked about his injury.

Laurie balances the sad horror stories of her work with anecdotes of her home life, her last pregnancy, her husband, and three children. They live a good life, the reader watches Benny, her last child, grow; they take vacations and do normal family activities. Toward the end of the book, Laurie describes her pounding heart and her growing misgivings about her work situation. She finally reaches the breaking point, and as the book ends, she decides to take a break from work and worries about reinventing herself. Will her identity survive when she is no longer a nurse? This is an issue many of us grapple with when we make a career change. Will we succeed, or will we fail? It was therapeutic to share the author's feelings and thoughts throughout this book. Readers will find many issues to relate to and share in the ways that Laurie works through them. Is is obvious to me that she is a success; a book is a great accomplishment. In the acknowledgments, she says it took her nine years to write her book; the work she did is evident in the carefully written accounts of her career.

This book should be read by anyone thinking about going into the mental health profession, and it would be therapeutic for those already in it. It really describes the day-to-day struggles and triumphs in the helping professions.

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