Top critical review
A Story of a Nurse's Dedication to a Remarkable Group of People, and Their Unique Community
November 24, 2014
"Call the Nurse" is a charming and interesting book of tales and memories from the author's experience serving as the local district nurse on an isolated island in the Hebrides beginning in the 1960s. As one of only two healthcare professionals on the island (the other an elderly doctor who lived on the other side of a mountain range), she was responsible for making rounds on local patients needing treatment, as well as responding to any emergencies that came up. This often entailed walking miles over unimproved footpaths to outlying cottages, or crossing the treacherous inter-island waters in a small boat to reach isolated cottagers on even smaller islands.
Her patients exhibited the expected range of needs, and in some cases severe challenges, including dementia in elderly patients who could not face life away from their traditional "crofts" (small family farmsteads, worked by hand, often without machinery or electricity), and some cases of horrific abuse among isolated families with no oversight from the local community or authorities. Among her tales of attending to these patients, in trying and impoverished circumstances, she describes her own family's entry to the friendly but sometimes suspicious native island population (where some residents were still "newcomers" 60 years after moving into the local village), and her love of the wild countryside and its beauty.
The stories are interesting but in most cases not dramatic. The author's writing sometimes reaches a truly poetic level, usually in descriptions of the country or the sky, but is often more pedestrian. The author details her colorful and sometimes eccentric neighbors and their remarkably cohesive, giving personalities, but not well enough that we truly come to know them. The book is a kind of human-centered version of the popular James Herriott stories of rural veterinary practice, but without quite the same self-aware sense of humor and broad perspective.
An interesting volume detailing Scottish country life during the dying of the "crofter and laird" social structure, and giving an up-close look at what it was like to live in one of its most extreme geographical reaches at that time. A quick and pleasant read. Not a classic, but a worthy addition to its genre.