Monday, April 28, 2014

Hospital Week: Welcome To Nursing Hell(o)

Welcome To Nursing Hell(o) is another welcome addition to first-person memoirs regarding employment in the medical industry. Joel Craig is a nurse in L.A. whose husband is also a nurse; indeed, it was his husband's decision to quit acting and go to nursing school that inspired Craig to do the same thing. There's a lot to like in this loosely-organized, almost stream-of-consciousness account of several years spent in a job that's enervating and only occasionally rewarding. Craig is funny and spares no one in his quotidian accounts of the sort of things a nurse must do on a ward--least of all, himself. He states upfront that he got into nursing because he knew he could do it and wanted a steady job, not to "help people" (the standard answer) or otherwise be Florence Nightingale. There's a running dialogue with his imaginary fairy godmother, Madonna, that allows Craig a chance to vent properly while giving her advice on her acting career. There's a palpable tension in this book as Craig despairs of being able to have a creative outlet while working a job that in many respects is soul-destroying.

Craig is an amateur artist, and it shows in this book. First, the printing for the book was terrible. The line quality is fuzzy at best throughout, and there are many pages where it threatens to fade away entirely. Craig's linework is crude but does have a certain energy as he keeps to a 2 x 3 grid. It creates a nice rhythm that allows the story to flow along. The biggest problem with the book is its inherent disorganization. There are multiple starts and stops, as well as scenarios that get repeated several times. The book badly needed an editor to cut some sequences and rearrange others to create a more fluid and less repetitive storytelling effect. It's clear that he wanted to create a rhythm for readers, but he got in his own way more than once. Another problem is that the frequent and sometimes random invasions of text were a major culprit in this repetitiveness, as Craig was telling instead of showing. One senses that he didn't have enough confidence in his comics storytelling to let it speak for itself, and so he turned to text to clarify it. This was completely unnecessary, as his story was easy to follow.

Nurses are the backbone of every hospital, expected to have an understanding of how to care for patients while performing demanding and unpleasant scutwork. Craig gets at that challenge and frustration and doesn't spare himself in depicting how often he loses his temper. A hospital is a bureaucracy, and if part of that machine decides to be slow and incompetent, there's nothing that can be done. At the same time, Craig recognizes his own limitations as a person and a nurse, especially when looking back on his early years when he made a number of rookie mistakes. Craig details being reprimanded for swearing on the job, which is poor customer service on the one hand and an effective venting method on the other. He also goes into detail what kinds of people he sees in a hospital ward, including psych cases, drunks, addicts and others who are essentially beyond help but require service in any case. In an institution where morale is low, burnout in nurses like Craig can be fairly common--especially when that institution is in cost-cutting mode.

The other thing that distinguishes this book is the way in which Craig works in his personal passions as a frustrated artist, as well as the relationship with his husband. He notes that in terms of queer comics, there wasn't much out there that he happened to be interested in, and one reason he decided to start drawing the book was to create the canon he wanted to read. Living in (more-or-less) gay-friendly Los Angeles is a reason why the depiction of his relationship is so matter-of-fact, but it's also something that interests him less than talking about his job and his interest in the arts. In a way, this book feels like Craig's undergraduate degree in comics, as he learned how to figure out storytelling, pacing, page design, etc. Next up will be learning how to put it all together in a more coherent package with better design values. Craig has a voice worth listening to, and I hope he continues to refine it.

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