Taking Turns is a memoir in graphic novel format from MK Czerwiec. She was one of the nurses caring for HIV / AIDS patients at Chicago’s Illinois Masonic Medical Center in the 1980s and 1990s. I found this book on Hoopla after reading The Great Believers. Rebecca Makkai, who wrote Believers, mentions Czerwiec’s book in her acknowledgments.
I thought it’d be interesting to see the same time period from a caregiver’s perspective, and to compare a novel with a memoir. I was right! Taking Turns is a short, but affecting read. Czerwiec tells about how she came to work on Unit 371. She explains how and why it was different to take care of critically ill AIDS patients, especially at a time when treatments were scarce.
Caregivers are taught about maintaining boundaries with their patients. And Czerwiec struggles with her boundaries, because the patients and the disease made the situation unique. Ultimately, she begins to use art to process her myriad feelings and thus, Taking Turns was created.
Reading this memoir was a great companion to The Great Believers. The novel is told from the patient and family point of view. On the other hand, Taking Turns is the health care professional’s perspective. They complement each other perfectly.
Czerwiec clearly cares deeply about her work. She chooses some moving stories to tell about her patients, along with a few quotes that utterly gut-punched me. In addition, she talks about doctors. research, and treatments in completely accessible ways. While this is a deeply personal book, you’ll also learn many aspects of the early years of the AIDS crisis.
Although the subject matter is heavy, Czerwiec creates art with sunny colors and simple lines. The counterpoint to the subject matter is effective, and keeps the mood from bogging down.
Little did I know that another book would create not just a pair, but a triptych. Ironically, Czerwiec creates a triptych in her memoir with one of her patients / friends. My third book is Cancerland by David Scadden, M.D. Part of his work was connecting the science learned in treating AIDS to treating cancer. It’s freaky (in a good way) to have all three so close together. Review on Cancerland coming soon.
If you’re curious about nursing, critical illness, patient / caregiver relationships, and the history of HIV/AIDS, I would recommend this graphic novel.