Retired nurse publishes e-books with memories of 40 years in the profession

Nurses who have been in the profession for a while have stories to tell. They have had  experiences they’ll never forget and patients who have changed them as people, but few write those stories down.

Lois Gerber, a  community health nurse for 40 years, has written fictionalized stories of her experiences, as well as scholarly articles for nursing journals since the mid-1990s. Now retired, she decided to publish three collections of her stories as e-books last year.

“People kept telling me that I should write down and publish these stories for my children. I belong to two writing groups and someone helped me format them as e-books,” said Gerber, RN, BSN, MPH. “I’m not the type to schlep books around to signing events. This seemed like an easier way to share my stories.”

“The Human Side of Nursing: A Short Story Collection,” “Nurses and Their Patients: Acts of Courage and Conviction” and “Nurses and Their Patients: Compassion and Commitment” ($3.99 each) are available on Kindle and Nook.

“One of the reasons I wanted to write these stories is because I have learned so much about life from my patients,” Gerber said. “I’m a different and better person because of them, their families, the nurses I’ve worked with, and the students I’ve taught.

“I want to share all I’ve learned about courage and compassion in working with others whose backgrounds and values are different from my own.”

Before she was born, a psychic told Gerber’s mother that her baby would be a girl and a nurse like her. The prophecy came true, Gerber relates in her first book.

She learned about nursing  by watching how her mother cared for her brother (who died young from hydrocephalus) and for other family members. She also delivered medicine to patients’ homes for her father, a pharmacist.

“I got used to going into other people’s homes and that led to my interest in community health nursing,” Gerber said. “I liked being a visiting nurse because I got to see the real person. In a hospital, you don’t have a clue about the person’s life. When you go into someone’s home, you have less control. You have to relate to them in a different way that I think is more authentic.

“I always tried to look at the family as a unit of service. Sometimes the caregiver was in more need of help than the patient.”

Gerber worked for health departments and home health agencies in Detroit. She taught nursing at several universities and was nursing director for her own company that provided geriatric assessment and planning services for families in Michigan. In 2005, she retired to Port Orange, Fla., where she volunteers as a legal guardian  for the court system’s children’s foster care program.

Gerber began writing accounts of her nursing experiences for a college English class and received encouragement.

“I’d been a candy striper in high school and certain patients just stick in your mind. I started with those,” she said.

Years later, the people she nursed and her experiences with them stick in her memory. One story tells how Father Dan, a Catholic priest, questioned his faith after being shot by a drug addict.

Another relates the story of a woman who fought with the Polish underground during World War II and suffered a mental breakdown after riots broke out in her Detroit neighborhood in 1967.

Another is the story of a patient whose wealth impaired his recovery after a stroke. “He wondered why he should have to do rehab when he could just hire everyone to do things for him,” Gerber recalled.

The people in her stories are often fictionalized composites of patients and nurses she has known. The stories cut across different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds to show the many ways that people cope with aging, illness and disabilities. As in life, not all the endings are happy, but there is growth and learning.

“The more we understand what others go through, the better off we are, I believe,” Gerber said. “Writing helps me understand myself better and clarify my own values. Putting pen to paper helps me focus and reflect on what is important.”

Gerber wanted the stories to be inspirational and wrote them for other nurses, social workers, caregivers, nursing students and adolescents who might be considering nursing as a career.

“A lot of youth don’t know what nursing is (like). They think it’s what they see on TV,” she said.

Right now , she’s working on new stories, a novel and several clinical articles.

“I’d hate to have to feed myself on what I make as a writer,” she said. “But people tell me they like my stories.”