Fast-paced stories of life on the surgical trauma unit at San Francisco General Hospital

The Comfort Garden: Tales from the Trauma Unit
By Laurie Barkin, RN, MS

“It’s not the Ritz but this is the best place in the city for treating trauma. The nurses and doctors here are trauma experts. This is where I would want my relatives to be,” Laurie Barkin tells upset visitors at San Francisco General Hospital who are waiting to find out what happened to their relatives who were among the 14 people killed or wounded in the law office at 101 California Street. The gunman was a disgruntled client toting two semi-automatic weapons and 250 rounds of ammunition. After the surgeons had stitched them up, it was Laurie’s job to help survivors cope with the emotional and psychological reactions to trauma.

Laurie Barkin, a psychiatric nurse consultant, sees her work as based on the theory that the quicker trauma patients can begin to process painful events by talking about what happened to them, the sooner they will begin to recover.

The true stories in The Comfort Garden: Tales from the Trauma Unit describe the fast-pace of work with patients in the surgical trauma unit at SFGH. Although the names of staff and patients have been changed to protect their privacy, the stories are faithful to events as they unfolded. In a given week, Laurie routinely evaluated and treated patients with stab wounds and gun shot wounds, and those injured in motor vehicle accidents, fires, and falls. Further complicating the picture is the astounding number of patients with histories of untreated childhood trauma.

  • After weeks on the ICU, Keith, a middle-aged drug abuser, finds himself clean and sober for the first time in 36 years. When asked about his family’s history of depression, he remembers playing in the playground of his housing project when his mother jumped from the 12th floor and landed in front of him.
  • At 11, Shalimar ran away from home and was befriended by a pimp. Five years later, when she told him she was leaving to get married, he shot her in the back, severing her spinal cord.
  • A lifetime of trauma began for Gina when she was brutalized while growing up in orphanages. She landed in the trauma unit after falling from the roof of a building. Yet, she exhibits unusual resilience in coping with what life has handed her.

In these intimate stories, readers will come to know vivid characters who test the splintering fringes of the nation’s safety net. They will begin to feel what police, firefighters, emergency room personnel, and psych nurses feel soon after the headlines subside. And they will understand why people working with trauma victims need support to do the work they do.