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Opening My Heart & An Interview with Tilda Shalof

Well, not my heart.

I was contacted awhile ago and asked if I wanted the chance to read and review Tilda Shalof’s new book, Opening My Heart.  (Amazon link, but NOT an affiliate link – I live in California and due to a new law, Amazon has cut all ties with us).

I had the chance to include a story in a book that Tilda edited a couple of years ago called Lives in the Balance.  So I had fond memories :)

I’ll say up front that I enjoyed the book.  I had a range of emotions while reading it – frustration, worry, happiness.  Frustration because although Tilda is a very experienced ICU nurse, she doesn’t take her own health seriously at all.  I read with disbelief as she described her incredible denial of the obvious need to treat the heart condition she was born with.

I was amused at her doctor’s and husband’s reactions when she tried to tell them that if anything went wrong with her surgery, she didn’t want to be kept alive on machines.   She explained that she used to have a dog and her husband absolutely refused to euthanize the miserable thing.  I liked this passage in particular:  “To Ivan, love means never stopping love or giving up.  This is what families say.  They can’t let go because of love.  I hope no one loves me this much, ICU nurses often say to one another.”

Amen, sister.

Tilda writes about her surgery and subsequent recovery, which I found fascinating.  I love hearing about patient experiences, and having a nurse tell it from her point of view was pure brain candy to me.

She writes a lot about her friends and coworkers and her interactions with them.  I admit I found those particular parts of the book a bit draggy, but maybe others would find them an enjoyable read.

Lastly, she wrote a lot about depression after her surgery.  I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think this is addressed much when the doctor is informing the patient about what heart surgery will be like.  I think it needs to be given more consideration and that patients need to be told that it’s a completely normal thing that happens after such a big surgery.  Not dealing with it can impede healing and recovery.  I was really pleased with how much attention she gave to this particular part of her experience.

Anyway!  Tilda very sweetly agreed to be interviewed!  I am really excited about posting an interview with her on codeblog.

How did you get started writing books?  Did someone come across something you wrote and suggest you write/publish a book?  Or did you write a book and send the manuscript to agents?

I had been writing for many years before I got published.  Taking writing courses, sending my manuscripts out, and receiving numerous rejection letters from publishing houses was the extent of my writing hobby for years.  In 2004, I got a lucky break when I sent my true stories of being an ICU nurse to one of Canada’s top publishing houses, McClelland & Stewart.  To my surprise and shock, they offered me a book contract on the spot.  They said it was a new perspective, a real insider’s view.  Well, who better to provide that than a nurse, I thought?  I hope with A Nurse’s Story and my other books, that I’ve opened a door to more nurse writers to get their stories out.

Have you always been a writer or is it something you started doing as an adult?

Yes, I’ve always been writing, recording my life and observations, but it was only in the last few years that I have been published.  It took me a long time to be ready to share my stories with the public.  I had a lot to learn about the craft of writing.

Many nurses haven’t published books – what is something we’d find surprising about being a nurse author?

The most surprising thing I’ve learned from being an author is not how many amazing nurses’ stories there are – I knew that – but how few are actually undocumented.  Nurses aren’t speaking up enough and thus their voices aren’t being heard. I hope I’ve started a trend with writing about my nursing life.  Other nurses love to read these stories and the public needs to know what we do. It’s a matter of their health and safety to understand more about the roles and responsibilities that nurses have, otherwise, misconceptions and stereotypes can flourish.  Otherwise, we also run the risk of being invisible and completely overshadowed by doctors who traditionally have had a lot more power and stronger voices.

You mention your coworkers and friends many times in the book – do you use real names?  How do they feel about being mentioned?

Yes, I use real names of friends/co-workers and usually ask their permission to do so.  So far, no one has objected, and most are pleased, or at least in agreement with what I’ve said about them.

Do you do a lot of book promotion (signings, readings, etc)?

Not much book promotion per se, but a lot of speaking to groups of nurses, doctors, and the public at large about what nursing is all about.  Now that my new book, Opening My Heart is out, I enjoy speaking also to patients.  I love to be invited as a guest speaker and wherever I am invited, I am thrilled to go.  Also, I enjoy connecting personally with nurses on my Opening My Heart Facebook fan page and one-to-one emails through my web-site – www.NurseTilda.com.  That’s truly the best part about being a nurse author – connecting with other nurses.  If anyone writes to me, I always write back, usually in a day or two.

Do you have marathon writing sessions or do you write a little every day?

Both!  I love the opportunities to immerse myself in my writing world for extended periods of time, but for an hour in the morning after a night shift, or on a day off from work, in between household responsibilities and being with my kids – two boys, 16 and 14 – I squeeze in some writing, too.  If you wait for the perfect conditions for writing, you might not ever do it.  You just have to plunge in amidst the chaos of a day.


I thought Opening My Heart was a great read and I recommend it.  And thanks to Tilda for taking a few moments out of her day to answer some questions!


(My post about this project and a list of interviews done so far is linked here.)

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But first… some housekeeping issues. My enormously patient and talented husband has decided against expandable comments, with the explanation that loading them will take too long. So until I can nag him sufficiently and bend him to my will, or he succeeds in keeping my nagging at bay, we’ll just have to live with reading comments on another page. There there now… there are more difficult things to live with.

Oddly, the expandable “keep reading…” thing now works in Safari, with no intervention from us. Weird. But cool.

Anyway. I’ve added a new category – Book Report! I’m sure there’s a more elegant phrase, but I’ve never been one to be elegant. For my first Book Report, I’ve chosen “Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science” by Atul Gawande. (Parts of this book have also been reflected upon by Blogborygmi.)

I really enjoy reading medical books, especially nonfiction. “Complications” was 100% brain candy as far as I was concerned, and I’m assuming you’d like for me to get to the point of why already. First of all, it’s written very candidly. Dr. Gawande has a very easy-to-read writing style. He gets your attention within the first few sentences and doesn’t let go. He has numerous anecdotes and stories woven in with his own personal take on several different topics, including medical malpractice suits, surgeon burn-out and even the Friday The 13th Curse.

He goes on to describe the error-laden science of human beings treating other human beings. Illnesses sometimes present “textbook,” but most don’t. In trying to figure out what the heck is going on, doctors and surgeons sometimes… make mistakes! He writes about several of his own mistakes as well as a few of his colleague’s. Even though I work in the medical world, I was surprised at how in-depth his writing is concerning something that is usually a taboo subject; how willingly he opens the doors into the mind of a person who is In Charge Of Saving Your Life Right Now But Is Scared Witless NoneTheLess.

As an example of this, I’ll tap out an excerpt: If I had actually thought this far along, I would have recognized how ill-prepared I was to do an emergency “trache.” As the one surgeon in the room, it’s true, I had the most experience doing tracheotomies, but that wasn’t saying much. I had been the assistant surgeon in only about half a dozen, and all but one of them had been non-emergency cases, employing techniques that were not designed for speed. The exception was a practice emergency trache I had done on a goat. I should have immediately called Dr. Ball for backup. I should have got the trache equipment out-lighting, suction, sterile instruments-just in case. Instead of hurrying the effort to get the patient intubated because of a mild drop in saturation, I should have asked Johns to wait until I had help nearby. I might even have recognized that she was already losing her airway. Then I could have grabbed a knife and done a tracheotomy while things were still relatively stable and I had time to proceed slowly. But for whatever reasons-hubris, inattention, wishful thinking, hesitation, or the uncertainty of the moment-I let the opportunity pass.

Being a surgeon, he writes about some of his own patients (gastric bypass, a futile spinal surgery, among others) and interestingly, he actually follows up! We get to find out the patient’s progress from surgery to how they’ve gotten on with their lives years later, for better or worse. The very last chapter, “The Case Of The Red Leg” kept me up waaaaaaay past my bedtime.

And really, what better praise for a book is there??

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  • profileI am Gina. I have been a nurse for 15 years, first in med/surg, then CVICU, inpatient dialysis, CCU and now hospice. This blog is about my experiences as a nurse, and the experiences of others in the healthcare system - patients, nurses, doctors, paramedics. We all have stories!

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