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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


An insider's look at life on the wards

By David Chilton
Special to the Toronto Sun

Tilda Shalof loves her job as an ICU nurse taking care of some of Toronto General Hospital's most desperately ill patients. She loves writing, too, and has combined both passions in A Nurse's Story - Life, Death, and In-Between in an Intensive Care Unit, her new book based on her 20 years nursing in Canada, Israel and New York.
Toronto General ICU nurse Tilda Shalof wants her book -- which is bleakly comic in parts -- to be helpful to nurses as well as the public

Shalof says she wrote the book to help the public see nurses as human beings; to give them an insider's look at life on the wards; and, last but emphatically not least, to empower nurses themselves.

"I would like the role of nurses to be better understood by the public," says Shalof, an affably thoughtful University of Toronto graduate whose parents left Pennsylvania in 1963 so her three brothers wouldn't be drafted and shipped off to Vietnam.

Familiar situation

She allows she grew up as a caregiver for her parents and one of her brothers, so minding the sick was a situation she was familiar with. Nevertheless, that early informal training didn't automatically catapult her into nursing, and Shalof strains just a bit describing those days. She admits there were certain obstacles she had to overcome personally before she took to nursing, and acknowledges the "ironic twist" her life has taken.

Shalof received her nursing degree in 1983 but, in a rite of passage familiar to a generation or two of Canadian nurses, she couldn't find a job. She decided to travel instead, and on her wandering nursed in Israel and New York City.
Tilda Shalof
Author and nurse

Shalof came back to Canada in 1987 and Toronto General hired her, sending her on a 10-week critical care course at what was Ryerson Polytechnic Institute (now Ryerson University) and a berth on the medical-surgical critical care unit. There she nursed until she was laid off in 1997, then got called back and now works at TGH part time by choice. Shalof is married and has two young children.

She enthusiastically accepts the challenges of intensive care nursing. "We have such interesting cases," says Shalof. "It's a thrilling job. There are 20 or 30 pressing things to be done all at once."

Shalof wants her book -- which is bleakly comic in parts -- to be helpful to nurses as well as the public, but counsels new nursing graduates to steer clear of intensive care immediately after graduation. She says they should stick to general nursing at first and learn how to handle less acute situations first. Then once they have some experience they can consider the ICU.

Agonizing decision

The question would-be critical care nurses have to ask themselves is do they like to deal with crises, says Shalof, explaining that it's not just patients who are critical, it's their families, too. For example, in the book she recounts the story of a teenage boy struck down with a cerebral aneurysm and the agonizing decision his parents have to make; or the case of the mother who is pulled from a burning house, is then resuscitated and survives, only to see her child die.
  • A Nurse's Story is published by McClelland & Stewart at $34.99
  • This is the author's first book
  • Tilda Shalof has been a nurse for 20 years and works part time in the ICU at Toronto General Hospital
  • Shalof came to Canada with her parents and brothers in 1963 from Oil City, Penn.

  • Despite a workplace that seems grim and unrelenting to the outsider, Shalof is resolute and upbeat about the ICU.

    "I believe everyone who comes in has a chance. I believe we can help them."

    And even for those patients whose time is at hand -- the brain dead, for example -- Shalof prefers to look at the lights that are still on rather than complain about those that have been turned off. Remember, she says, donated organs mean the former can still help the latter.

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