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Nursing career inspires Newton Falls poet, author

Submitted photo Newton Falls poet and author Jeanne Bryner, a retired nurse, stands in front of one of her poems, which was placed along a walkway at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Youngstown.

NEWTON FALLS — Nurses chart everything for their patients — temperature, blood pressure, medications and every other detail needed to keep them alive.

“In nursing, if you didn’t document it, it didn’t happen,” Jeanne Bryner said.

The retired Newton Falls nurse, who spent much of her career working in the emergency room at then-Trumbull Memorial Hospital, took her documenting one step further, turning her experiences into poems, short stories, plays and nonfiction work. Her work even can be found embossed in concrete and displayed along a walkway at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Youngstown as part of a project sponsored by Lit Youngstown.

“I guess you could say it was a way of making sense of it,” she said. “Every day, my patients and the things they had to rise to taught me how to love my own life. I was amazed at how fast the rug could be pulled out from under people.

“It really is a sacred space to take care of the bodies of the sick. For me, I needed to write about it. It needed to be documented.”

Bryner, 68, wrote short stories initially. Her writing gravitated toward poetry when she and her husband, David, adopted a baby girl after not being able to have children of their own.

“I had her, and I saw the world through her eyes,” she said. “Once a little person comes into your life, your art will change.”

In 1986, she enrolled at Kent State University at Trumbull, taking literature classes around her nursing schedule to hone her own writing skills. With the encouragement of her professors there, Bryner was one of 10 students nationwide to receive a prestigious Bucknell Writing Fellowship in 1992.

“When people say, ‘That poem really moved me,’ it means more than a good review or anything. To know you actually moved someone, it make you feel, ‘Yes, they do get it. They got what I’m trying to say here.'”

In addition to sharing her own stories, Bryner has helped other nurses share their experiences. She served as co-editor with Cortney Davis on “Learning to Heal: Reflections on Nursing School in Poetry and Prose,” which was published by Kent State University Press and is available through its website (www.kentstateuniversitypress.com).

The book, which has been honored with the Tillie Olsen Award for Creative Writing from the Working Class Studies Association and an American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year Award for creative works, features more than 60 nurses (with more than 1,500 years of combined experience) sharing their educational experiences.

“Nurses are too busy. They don’t put an arrow on their chest and say, ‘Look at me,'” Bryner said. “I want people to really hear these stories and appreciate them.”

While she wishes the circumstances were better, Bryner is happy to see the attention focused on nurses as hospitals treat a growing number of COVID-19 patients. Patients dealing with respiratory distress issues are some of the most demanding and challenging cases a hospital staff faces.

“It’s just really an intense patient, and that’s all they’re getting, just one after another after another,” she said.

The cleaning crews and other hospital staff also deserve credit in these times. Byner said she remembers more than one occasion in which cleaning staff noticed something important about a patient that might have been overlooked otherwise.

She hopes this newfound respect and attention translates into better pay and working conditions.

“I want those people to be revered in a better light. The doctor, he’s the keystone, but he won’t stand without those pillars.”

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