Reviews of The Comfort Garden: Tales from the Trauma Unit

Nurse theorist Jean Watson, author of Human Caring Science: A Theory of Nursing
The Comfort Garden is filled with authentic moments that are both caring and healing. Embracing life, the author helps herself and her patients re-pattern traumatic experiences. Inspiring and painful at the same time, The Comfort Garden reveals professional nursing in the real world of human-to-human caring at its highest level. This work shows how the route toward emotional healing transcends medical technology and lies within a patient’s inner experience.”

In The News RNs Need: May 18th Nurse Alliance Roundup published by The Nurse Alliance of SEIU Healthcare (California’s Registered Nurse Union) Katherine Hughes, RN, CCRN wrote: “This book becomes very personal as it tells a story about a nurse caring for patients and, as you read it, the story becomes about you. It is our story for every nurse, everywhere. This book gives voice to the trauma we as nurses and health care providers experience and validates all those crazy things nurses do to cope. Laurie made me smile and cry and sometimes both at once.”

Laurie Anne Pearlman PhD, co-author, Risking Connection: A Training Curriculum for Working With Survivors of Childhood Abuse.
“The Comfort Garden is a great read … With its conversational, personal, yet professional style, this book contains essential information and inspiration for all trauma workers.”

Echo Heron RN, author of Intensive Care and The Story of a Nurse.
“Psychiatric nurse Laurie Barkin gives the reader a close-up look at the heartbreaking and often chilling situations she faced each day in San Francisco General’s infamous trauma unit. The Comfort Garden is the compelling story of one nurse’s struggle to remain compassionate and sane while helping those whose lives have been shattered on the battlefield of the inner city.”

Marie Manthey RN, PhD, president of Creative Health Care Management and author of The Practice of Primary Nursing.
“This extraordinary book weaves a compelling tapestry, at once beautiful and profoundly disturbing … Laurie Barkin’s voice is that of EVERY nurse, or rather, EVERY WORKING PARENT. Every working parent can identify with her ambivalence at leaving her children every day … every nurse, with her passion for practice.”

Danielle Ofri MD, PhD, Editor-in-Chief of The Bellevue Literary Journal and author of Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue and Medicine in Translation.
“Like a pebble hurled into water, a patient’s story ripples outward, lapping relentlessly into the lives of the caregivers. These stories penetrate caregivers in ways that can be wrenching, uplifting, unsettling, dispiriting, corrosive, inspirational, or numbing. The Comfort Garden is one of the first books to examine the effect of these stories on the caregiver. Laurie Barkin takes us into the taut, jarring world of the trauma unit where nurses and doctors face daily battles, both emotional and physical. Barkin tends these battle wounds with empathy, precision, and insight.”

Jack Coulehan MD, Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine SUNY; Fellow, Center for Medical Humanities and Bioethics; author of Medicine Stone
The Comfort Garden, an engrossing journey into the contemporary world of hospital psychiatry…speaks eloquently to the humanity, compassion, and vulnerability of mental health professionals who help their patients navigate through some of the most difficult crises of their lives.”

Margaret E. Blaustein, PhD, Director of Training and Education, The Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute, Brookline, MA
The Comfort Garden tells two intertwining stories: the story of the real individuals behind the countless stories of trauma … hear about far too often (along with those whose stories we rarely hear); and the story of the author, a psychiatric nurse who is among the front line of those who offer these individuals care and comfort. Just as the author is able to significantly impact the lives of those who have suffered, so too do the survivors’ lives irrevocably impact her own life … Ms. Barkin’s text approaches sometimes painful and sometimes redemptive material with honesty, thoughtfulness, and much-needed occasional humor, and should be on the recommended reading list for the range of professionals who work with survivors of acute trauma.”

Cortney Davis, author of The Heart’s Truth: Essays on the Art of Nursing, winner of the American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year Award and of an IPPY Silver Medal in Non-Fiction.
“Whenever we walk into a hospital or a doctor’s office we often assume that the patients are somehow broken, sick or frightened and that the nurses and doctors are whole, healthy and brave. In stories that prove these assumptions false, Laurie Barkin shows us how permeable the line actually is between the cared for and the caregiver. She understands that, no matter, we are all healers and, at the same time, we are all in need of healing. In The Comfort Garden Barkin reveals not only the stories of her work with trauma patients but also equally moving stories of her heart. It is by such intimate sharing we are healed.”

Lenore Terr MD, psychiatrist, author of Too Scared to Cry
“In an age when hospitals have been turning to quicker-acting medications, faster discharges, and fewer deep and meaningful conversations with patients, Laurie Barkin takes the opposite position. She urges us to make the time to use our knowledge of psychodynamic psychotherapy to help traumatized people early in the course of their distress.”

Frank M Ochberg MD, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Michigan State University
“I’ve been there — on those trauma units, at those bedsides, in those staff meetings when the work of fixing broken bones and failing organs gives way to the sick thud of realization: this life is lost, although the body will survive. I’ve been there as a medical/surgical intern in San Francisco and as a psychiatry resident at Stanford. I’ve been there as state and federal administrator, struggling to extend a totally inadequate budget to meet the needs of the severely mentally ill. But Laurie Barkin took me back there and left me sadder and wiser, far more intimately acquainted with the highs and lows of work in the current M*A*S*H milieu of urban America, far more respectful of the role of the consulting nurse, far more sobered by the challenge of providing a decent, humane climate for those who survive physical calamity with profound emotional wounds.

“Laurie is that rare health professional with a gift for narrative and a story tell. She is a nurse, an educator, a wife, a mom and she has remarkable spunk, clarity and resilience. She volunteers to get close, very close, to people at the end of their lives, to parents whose children have been burned, to addicts and AIDs sufferers with obnoxious personalities. She campaigns to retain needed but unprofitable staff “debriefings” — meetings to explore feelings after beloved patients die or after colleagues are forced out of jobs due to budget cuts. She explains her own stress, balancing the joys and obligations of pregnancy and parenthood with the schedule of an overworked nurse at San Francisco General Hospital. Laurie’s book rested, unread, on my desk for 6 months. As a trauma specialist, I like to read for escape, not for re-immersion in yet another world of crime, cruelty and loss. But once in, I couldn’t stop. Her portraits are, at times, humorous, at times harrowing, but always interesting and realistic. She doesn’t dwell on tragedy. She lets the reader learn from her dilemmas — how to relate to a patient who pushes her away; how to find a way to like a person who thrives on antagonizing others; how to confront a young doctor who has little respect for an experienced nurse.

“This is an important book for any health care worker, but especially for those of us who consider ourselves traumatic stress specialists. It reinforces the values and the spirit that brought us into the field. And it reminds us of the obstacles we face every day: human cruelty, social injustice, dwindling resources. Laurie is no pollyanna. She is realistic and she suffers from vicarious trauma. But she copes and learns and survives and uplifts her fellow travelers. Read this. You’ll be better for it.”

Greater Good (magazine): The Science of a Meaningful Life
“Throughout the book, Barkin’s humanity and integrity shine through. She makes a compelling case for why health care centers should attend to the emotional needs of their staff if they want to retain these caregivers and better serve their patients.”

In a profile of Laurie Barkin, a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that Laurie Barkin “sensitively documents the process of vicarious trauma — how caregivers like herself internalize their patients’ trauma.” The article was the feature section front Tuesday, August 16, 2011 in that day’s newspaper.