Dreams that Blister Sleep:
A Nurse in Vietnam

by Sharon Grant Wildwind

River Arts Books, 1999. ISBN 978-1-895-83670-7.
Reviewed by Susan Wittig Albert
Posted on 07/30/2001

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: History/Current Events; Nonfiction: Active Life; Nonfiction: Travel/Adventure

Sharon Grant Wildwind is a Story Circle member who lives in Calgary, Alberta. She is a nurse-educator who does a great deal of technical writing, but has also found time to write a romance, a mystery, short stories, and (of course) her journal. Dreams is her first published work.

Sharon Wildwind's memoir begins on May 14, 1970 and ends exactly a year later—no ordinary year, in no ordinary place. It is a life-changing year that Sharon spends on assignment in hospitals in Pleiku and Qui Nhon Vietnam, where she sleeps in one of the eight nurses' hooches, a tin-and-wood building with screens and sandbags, and spends her waking hours in Intensive Care, the Emergency Room, or on the wards. It's a tough life, but as Sharon's daily journal shows, it's a life that demands courage, and more than that, the honesty to reveal fear, at least in her journal:

May 30. I've discovered I can fly half-way around the world, lie on the floor of a bus waiting for an ambush, go to sleep during a mortar attack. The worst thing that has happened to me so far is losing my duffel bag because I might have had to borrow clothes that would make me look silly and fatter. People scare me. Jim scared me. Ruth scares me. Captain B. scares me. The doctors scare me. Even the corpsmen scare me. I'm most afraid of not living up to my own expectations. And I will never let anyone see how scared I am. This is a place of courage and that's all I intend to show to the world.

And that's what Sharon shows us, on every page of her journal—the courage to face death and dying, the horrible chaos of war, the loss of a man she almost loves. But her journal also reveals the courage it takes to face the grinding routine of everyday life: living with the rain and mud, cleaning the hospital, working fourteen nights in a row, waiting for the mail, waiting for a day off. Sharon never writes in generalities; everything is specific, concrete, detailed:

Dec. 17. Like faint background music I am learning the rhythms of the ward, the changing shifts, the coming and going of the patients, the rattle of the medicine cart's stubborn wheel, the endless card games, the sounds of football and Captain Kirk, the Viet Namese children, the lewd remarks, the rounds, the "Good Morning, Viet Nam" that start each day. It's like a waltz, slow and flowing in three-quarter time. I've been dancing to this music a long time now. I want to keep dancing as long as the men do...

It's a cliché to say that war is brutal, but there are no cliches in this journal of real experiences in a terrible place and time that nobody wants to remember. But we must remember and acknowledge it, or we will be doomed to repeat it. Sharon Wildwind's journal is a window into an experience that is too horrible to remember, too powerful to forget.

Dreams that Blister Sleep may be obtained from The Books Collective, 214-21 10405 Jasper Ave, Edmonton, Alberta CANADA T5J 3S2 (780-448-0590).

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