Monday, August 24, 2009

Title Fifty Seven: A Final Arc of Sky: A Memoir of Critical Care by Jennifer Culkin

So, we all know by now that I'm a sucker for memoirs, medicine-related books, and combinations of the two. (Look, are you reading a hundred books in a year?) So I went to Barnes and Noble one day at lunch, as I tend to do when my friend Lo is craving one of their pizza pretzels, and was trolling for something cool and came upon A Final Arc of Sky. In all honesty, I checked out the flappy thinger that tells you what it's about (my job renders me brain dead, shut up) and put it back. Then I wandered away, wandered back, looked again, wandered away, wandered back, and grabbed it. It promised me tales of Culkin's career as a critical care/emergency flight nurse, and I wanted the blood and guts and syringes and O2 tanks and flying while trying to keep a dude who wrapped his car around a telephone pole going long enough to make it to the hospital. I'm that kind of girl.

Culkin half-delivered. I don't even know if that's a word or if I made it up, but if you had to read spreadsheets all day you wouldn't be coherent either. There are some great tales of accident victims, medical type actions, and the general bad-assery of the job - I mean, for serious, it takes some titanium balls to do everything in your power to keep someone alive while you're flying in a tin can through a storm in Washington state. And that's your job. Like it's my job to look at spreadsheets, it was Culkin's job to keep people alive in the air. During 24-hour shifts. No fancy machines, no team of doctors, no Code Blues. Just a couple of nurses, a pilot, and someone with one foot out life's door. Do you realize how cool that is?

Culkin frames the story in vignettes more than chapters, and it lends a sort of choppy feel to the narrative. I also became disappointed when the story veered off into her personal life and followed the illnesses and deaths of her parents (her dad was kind of a prick in his final months) and then her own struggle with MS. Don't get me wrong, I admire her for speaking up about her own illness, but I think I was so tired of reading about her father that I just couldn't muster up the energy to feel genuine emotion. There were also a couple of chapters about her love of bike riding, and I just didn't care about that. I skipped them. They were, at best, tangential and, at worst, completely unnecessary. Culkin rounds out the memoir with a powerful chapter on a fatal crash and the deaths of the colleagues involved, even though she had gone on disability by that point, and how it affected her. She realizes that it could have been any one of them, and recalls the deceased with affection and respect. Then it just kind of ends.

Honestly, I wish I hadn't spent my money on the book, because it really only comes out as mediocre and uneven on the whole. I did use a coupon, though.

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