Meet Carol Gino: International Best-selling Author of "The Nurse's Story"
Carol Gino RN, MA , has been a nurse, author and teacher for many years. She was the close companion of Mario Puzo, the famed writer of The Godfather. As a nurse, she has worked in all areas of nursing, including Emergency Room, Intensive Care, the Burn Unit, Med/Surg, Pediatrics, Pediatric Intensive Care, and Hospice Care for the terminally ill.
Ms. Gino still coaches one-on-one with individual clients, and acts as a Nursing Consultant in Healing Imagery. Her Masters in Transpersonal Studies focuses on new modalities for healing, changes in consciousness, and cross-cultural healing. She is the author of many books, including “The Nurse’s Story,” a bestseller that has sold more than 1 million copies and been translated into numerous languages.
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You’ve been a nurse for many decades; how and why did you first enter the profession?
The reality: my grandmother was a nurse and a midwife who was divorced, drove a car and carried a gun, way back when. We lived with her as I was growing up and I was crazy about her; she died when I was 7 years old and I was devastated. My father always said, “You come from a long line of Pioneer women; be worthy of that legacy.”
So, upon my next big loss – when my marriage fell apart – I was frantic; suddenly I was a single mom with two young children and no way to support them. I didn’t know what to do, so I prayed!
One night I had a dream about Florence Nightingale. Within the following week, I heard from a parish priest that there was help available for those in “my situation.”
After a lot of begging and pleading with hospitals and churches (and even more hard work), I was admitted into an LPN nursing program through a Title 5 government program for aid to dependent children.
The “Why” is a much bigger story; in fact, that’s why I wrote “The Nurse’s Story.”
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You have a strong social media presence. How do you use social media to communicate with nurses?
I spend some time each day– between meditating and writing– to connect with and provide support for nurses who are troubled or want to care for patients the way I did. I try to show them how important they are and how to maintain their center and value themselves.
These are the nurses who are headed for burnout and need resources to keep their love of nursing alive while not betraying themselves, falling apart, and leaving because of the state of the current healthcare system. They mostly need to be heard; I know how invisible most of us have been for too many years.
As one of the most famous nurse writers on the planet, what keeps you inspired about our profession?
I believe in the power of healing. I believe in the necessity of helping each other. I also believe that, aside from disease, loneliness is one of the biggest killers – as is fear. I also believe nursing is the most valuable education and career choice that any human can make; it helps to heal the patients, and, if done well, it heals the healer too. It’s boot camp for life!
Anyone who has a body should know how it works. I can’t even count how many thousands of dollars (and even more important how much stress and worry) I’ve saved over the years because I knew when to go to a doctor or take my kids or loved ones to an ER; I knew when to be afraid and when not to.
Most people are afraid of the unknown; disease and death are unknowns. Nursing gave me a chance to become familiar with life and death; it gave me a chance to see life in light of the poignancy of those I cared for who had a limited amount of time. It allowed me to see life as they saw it, and learn how precious it was.
What is most crucial for nurses to understand about healthcare and nursing in the 21st century? What do nurses need to know?
Nurses’ roles have expanded so much since I first started fighting for the image of nursing. Now I’d like them to know that the opportunities in this changing healthcare system are virtually unlimited. The systems that are in place now are broken, and so they will change even more over time; the education and experience a nurse receives provide her with an opportunity to become anything she wants to be.
Nurses know how grueling their courses are. Despite the hardship of gaining more education and measuring it against the recognition and salary that we have now, we have to see it as “lifetime learning.” Studies have shown that a BS in nursing is the hardest to get; that means we’re smart. We have endurance. Even more important, we care about others.
Once we have experience, we know how to make life-saving decisions quickly, as well as emotionally support patients and families. We certainly know how to multitask. We’ve learned to lead because we have to. Often, nurses are left to make the really hard choices.
You were the life partner and companion of the writer Mario Puzo, who wrote “The Godfather” book series. What was his view of the nursing profession and what kinds of conversations did you have about it?
Mario said he thought that nurses were more important than doctors because when doctors couldn’t do anything, nurses could. He was the one who encouraged me to write “The Nurse’s Story” after I had taken care of his wife before she died. He even wrote a screenplay of “The Nurse’s Story” called “Gwyn”.
You have published a number of books of a spiritual nature. How do you view the connection between nursing and spirituality?
I always laugh about that because it seems all the same thing to me. Call it love another as yourself, call it be your brother’s keeper, or karma yoga; I believe one is an outgrowth of the other. I don’t know which came first, but I do know that as a nurse, I’d seen the limits of medicine to heal, and I’d seen miracles. Also, anyone who has seen a patient once they have made the transition to what we call death knows that something essential leaves the body at that moment.
What is your opinion about healthcare reform in the United States? Do you see the possibility of universal coverage?
I see the necessity of universal healthcare coverage. As we evolve into a global economy and people travel from one place to another, communicable diseases can be spread much more readily. We often think of those carriers as “others” but even in our country, poor and rich all shop in the same supermarkets and malls, and our kids go to the same schools; if we are not all covered, how are any of us really protected? That’s the practicality of it.
The morality of it has been ignored in America for a very long time, even while those who live in other less progressive countries have acknowledged and practiced it for a long time. This will leave many more opportunities for nurses to practice independently; they can create jobs that they would be willing and happy to fill.
If you were to speak at a nursing school commencement, what pearls of wisdom would you want those new nurses to walk away with?
That they are embarking on a professional path that can heal hearts, minds, and bodies.
That a good life is not only a “moneyed” life, though they can have that too.
That nurses are educators, and that if not constrained by institutions, they will always be necessary to any society since there will always be the sick and dying.
That nursing is a path for transformation as well as an unlimited source of opportunity, creativity, and business, but in order to take advantage of those opportunities, they have to unite and claim their power. Only small people bully; power needs to be understood to be empowerment of self.
That in order to be true to themselves, they must stand against those people and forces that don’t stand for the values they do.
Nurses mustn’t push back against the people they care for, but against those who try to limit them by labeling them in any way that implies they are “less than.”
Nurses need a team in which they can encourage each other, stand together, and see themselves for who they really are.
They must have courage, for courage will be called for, not to mention strength; they certainly will need these qualities, and must be brutally honest about their own motivations.
I would tell them to be kind to themselves, but that they must face their fears before they can be all they can be.
Your most famous book, “The Nurse’s Story”, is an international bestseller. What is it about that book that struck such a chord with people?
I think it was the passion, the authenticity, and the true humanity of it. The technological changes have changed the way a nurse acts and goes about her tasks, but not the idealism of the young nurse who really touches her patients with her caring.
It is the story of a hero’s journey; not only the nurse protagonist, but of all those patients who live and die with dignity. It is a story from the inside, not only from the corridors of healing, but also the truths inside of every human heart; that’s what is available to each of us if we look. It’s a story about us – all of us.