Book review: ‘When Being a Nurse was Fun’: Memoir of a Deerfield-born nurse recounts trials and tribulations of one of the hardest jobs


For the Recorder

Published: 08-25-2023 11:06 AM

“When Being a Nurse Was Fun”by Ann WattStillwater River Publications

Just about everyone comes into contact with nurses at some point, and just about everyone likes them. It’s hard not to admire people whose mission in life is to be competent and caring.

Nevertheless, most of us don’t know a lot about nurses’ day-to-day work. In her debut book, “When Being a Nurse Was Fun: Tales From My Life as a Nurse,” retired nurse Ann Watt shares anecdotes about her 30-year career as a critical-care nurse.

Watt grew up in Deerfield. She now lives in Rhode Island and will represent the Association of Rhode Island Authors in the Rhode Island Building at the Big E on the fair’s opening day (Friday, Sept. 15).

Her book is engrossing. I found the title slightly misleading. There are indeed some descriptions of fun times in the book, including tales of parties and gags with other medical staff. Overall, however, the book is serious. It reminds us how hard nurses in this country work.

For most of her career, Watt put in 12-hour night shifts in Intensive Care Units.

In wry, matter-of-fact prose, she describes stressful situations on the job, from dealing with patients who can’t seem to understand that they are not a nurse’s only charge, to learning to insert needles into people’s bodies … and learning to accept death.

Perhaps the inclusion of the word “fun” in the title also refers, as Watt suggests early in the book, to the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic changed nursing into a more dangerous profession.

I also think the disappearance of fun from nursing might be related to the reasons for Watt’s retirement. She was twice phased out by corporate takeovers in health care, a growing trend.

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First, the hospital for which she had worked for 20 years was taken over by a corporation, which offered her less attractive assignments and less pay. (Because she was new to the corporation, she lost the seniority she had gained over the years in the hospital.)

She then settled into a fascinating career as an online e-ICU consultant, advising nurses via video conference … only to have the company for which she had worked move its staff to a right-to-work state, where it could pay workers significantly less money.

Appropriately but insultingly, she was informed of this change remotely, in a heavily populated conference call.

“In an impersonal way, we were notified we were dispensable, despite our hard work and dedication to make the e-ICU program thrive over the years,” she recalled in the book.

Not surprisingly, she chose to retire instead of trying to move across the country for her job. She seems to have made the best of retirement, however, staying fit by hiking frequently and honing her skills as a writer.

In “When Being a Nurse Was Fun,” she has produced an enlightening, often moving memoir.

Tinky Weisblat is an award-winning author and singer. Her most recent book is “Pot Luck: Random Acts of Cooking.” Visit her website,