Book Review

I Wasn’t Strong Like This When I Started Out: True Stories of Becoming A Nurse/ Edited by Lee Gutkind. InFact Books, Creative Nonfiction Books, Pittsburgh.

Reviewed by Zohar Lederman (

Bookmark and Share

The book collects personal stories of approximately 20 nurses who provide us a window to their professional and personal lives. These nurses are not only good and kind people who did, and continue doing, excellent work, but their writing is superb as well. I read the book with awe. I cried, laughed, empathized, lost all hope and re-gained it, and that’s even before page 150. The authors took care of extremely difficult and sad cases, and they write about them for several reasons. First, it is a coping mechanism. They write because they cannot forget, they do not want to; it’s these cases indeed that made them stronger than when they first started. Second, like nurse Coleman, they do not want us to forget; the patients, the deaths, the misfortunes that should never befall any human being. Third, they are making an announcement: nurses are important, nurses are essential, and, in the words of Nurse Shalof, nurses do not only make a difference, they heal people, they make all the difference.

Nurse Baker writes perhaps the most profound words in the book: “each person is her own body of literature that waits to be spoken. The words can remain with the patients, flaking off in dead cells left behind for only the mites to mouth, or they can be given their own space to be shared.” These words capture the essence of this book, and the essence of medical narratives in general: patients have a voice, which may readily be heard by anyone who cares to listen. Those who listen best, heal best. This book makes an argument and defends it successfully 21 times: nurses are and should be at the forefront of patient care. Their work should be acknowledged and commended. They do not perceive themselves to be heroes, but indeed they are, if only because, in the words of nurse Casper, they “…wouldn’t trade an evening on the floor for any night out.” Before reading the book I had the maximum amount of respect and appreciation towards nurses. After reading the book, it quadrupled.

If you can afford reading only one book of non-fictional medical narratives this year, this book should be it! Otherwise, you will not grieve, together with nurses Condon and Kraynak, over the untimely death of a baby, nor will you laugh with nurse Gool about a messiah who never wanted to be the messiah but was “forced” into it by everyone, notwithstanding their disbelief in him being the messiah... a gem!

Nurses:  in the words of Patricia A. Nugent, I hold your service in gratitude and salute you for a book well-written…and a job well-done.


About the Author

  • Photo of author

    Zohar Lederman is a medical doctor and a B.A Humanities student at the Open University of Israel. Next year, Zohar will begin his PhD program in Bioethics at the National  University of Singapore. His academic interests include: Philosophy of Science and Medicine, One Health and Environmental Ethics, Deliberative Ethics, Animal Ethics, Family Presence During Resuscitation and End-of-life Issues. When Zohar is not reading a medical- or just a normal- book , you could find him exercising at the gym, running, swimming, hiking with his wife or eating, not necessarily in that order.






  • Published: June 5, 2013