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Book Review:

Cooked by Carol Karels

Reviewed by

Kari O’Brien
The University of Arizona



What does a nurse really do?  Better yet, who are they?  What possesses an individual to enter nursing school in the first place?  In the book Cooked, author Carol Karels shares her own answers to these questions.  Karels recounts her experiences as a teenager who enlists in the Cook County School of Nursing in the 1970‘s.  Through her heartfelt, honest words, Karels invites the reader to explore a time in her life when danger, gangs, hospital politics and nursing school collided.

From the very beginning, Karels submerges the reader in the world of nursing school as she tells of her first fainting spell.  She paints real vivid pictures with her words, making the reader feel as if he or she is right there alongside Karels as her entire being is overwhelmed by all of what Cook County has to offer her.  The reader feels the sweltering heat, sees the blood, and feels all of the intensity in the delivery room as Karels’ body falls into the arms of her fellow classmates.

Cooked is more than an illustration of the brutally unpleasant human realities so many people think of when a nurse comes to mind, however.  Karels’ words speak of more than bright bloody dressing changes, pungent odors and human suffering.  After grabbing the readers attention by describing her first fainting spell, Karels takes time to reflect upon the events leading up to her introduction to the school and the dormitory.

Through Karels’ honest reflections, we learn all about this young woman and the circumstances that lead to her introduction to Cook County School of Nursing.  It is here that Karels makes a true connection with her readers and we begin to understand her as more than a nurse; we see her as a daughter and a young women not quite sure of what this world has to offer.  Karels’ vivid word choices allow her to depict an adventurous, spirited young woman nudged by her mother, preparing to embark into the world of nursing.

Once in nursing school, Karels describes the hospital as overpopulated and an often dangerous place to be.  She expresses her fears, trials, and tribulations concentrating in her classes as well as her part- time jobs as a hospital admitting clerk and a volunteer.  Here again, Karels rhetoric transports the reader back to the 1970’s.  It is as if we are right there with her, working as a clerk, struggling to get through nursing school, and participating in strikes to improve patient care.  Karels’ words immerse the reader in nursing and the world of Benito Juarez Free Clinic.  Not long after enrolling, Karels is asked to breathe for a patient for the first time, bathe the homeless and care for a dehydrated illegal citizen. The events that transpire are both realistic and shocking. Cooked ends with Karels reflections as a retired R.N, looking back at all of what possessed her to go to nursing school in the first place.

As a nursing student myself, I found that Karels’ book spoke to me unlike anything I have ever read before.  Even though our exact experiences and circumstances vary, I related with much of what she had to say.  It is Karels’ overall sense of true compassion in even the most unlikely of places that is what really resonates with me.  However, you need not be a nursing student or a nurse to be touched by and appreciate Karels’ words.  The story that Karels tells is one filled with the excitement, danger, and most importantly the compassion she encountered at Cook County School of Nursing.


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