In a totally relevant and revealing memoir, Allen Long, a CNA (Certified Nurse Assistant) exposes firsthand the current crisis in our healthcare system, especially in city hospitals!
A superficial reading of Praying for Restraint may have some readers feel that the author is first and foremost exposing a detailed account of the many terrible problems currently facing both patients and staff at the city hospital where, as the story begins, the author has worked for five years as a Certified Nursing Assistant.
Most readers expect a memoir to be a personal story about the memoirist –- a specific event or people dealing with experiences that helped shape the memoirist to become the person we are reading about. However, the larger and more fascinating truth about this book is that it is, in my opinion, two memoirs in one.
Gracefully interwoven between his many harrowing examples of working in a failing city hospital system– one soon realizes that the author exposing these truths is doing so through the eyes and ears of a man who himself had been hospitalized for a major anxiety attack and learned only in mid-life that he had been suffering from undiagnosed PTSD. He was only just beginning to understand why his first marriage failed and why he’d been laid off from several jobs and had lost a business that he had started, as well.
We meet the author after this diagnosis, when he’s already seeing a therapist and having medication available when needed. It then becomes apparent that Allen Long’s personal history of having been severely abused by an alcoholic father is what had previously propelled his personal victimhood. He then turned into a keen observer of himself and others, sensitive to his patient’s needs in ways that many of his co-workers were not.
As readers, we then tuck this fact into our memory. We realize that as a CNA who’s often tempted to report to his superiors how and why the staff and patients are suffering, he knows this will not result in meaningful change. He chooses, instead, to listen to his patients and quietly attempts to help them.
One feels fairly certain that if any of his colleagues had chosen to write a book about the abuse they suffered or how poorly the hospital was managed, they could never have revealed relationships with patients or staff as Long does. He tells us about the hospital while weaving in and out of his own life’s journey. Hence, the two memoirs: one on the surface (the hospital) and the other below the surface (Long’s personal and often painful history of abuse) which helps us understand his genuine wish to serve his patient’s needs. He desires to give them what – perhaps unconsciously – was never given to him: a respectful listening ear while remaining attentive to their needs as best he can, given Malmed Memorial Hospital’s many limitations.
Through his eyes we see management and staff often doing more harm than good. Insufficient funds make needed equipment unavailable, and shortcuts taken leave even some relatively good nurses frustrated, overworked and unable to care for patients in humane and thoughtful ways. Additionally, management often passes the blame onto the staff to cover their own positions. As for the doctors, he believes they are competent but his problem with them is that “they constantly sent combative, mentally ill patients with no orders for sedatives or restraints that would greatly improve patient and staff safety.” But remember, we are learning this through Long’s sensitive interaction with patients and staff (the part of his personal memoir).
There are several conversations he has with patients that are particularly telling of his wisdom and ability to affect change in those who are suffering.
When a patient tells him: “The nurse and doctors here drive me ape-shit. They all look down their noses at me because they think I’m a bipolar junkie who’s never going to amount to anything.” Long then challenges him: “Then show them they’re wrong. You’ve got great potential. Do whatever you need to do to stay clear-minded and straight, get your college degree, and become a pilot.” Hearing that the patient says: “Man, there’s something about you. I’ve wanted to hurt every doctor, nurse, and sitter, but you’re different – you have a calming influence on me. I feel normal when it’s just you and me.”
To the reader, Long comments: “Here was a bright guy with a mostly pleasant personality who’d had the misfortune to be born into mental illness, poverty and drug addiction.”
As he continues to work in this broken system — a city hospital that admits paying and non-paying patients—I wonder how many readers may never have had to be a patient in such a hospital and how these stories may be shocking.
Here on the east coast where I live, the great majority of our hospitals are excellent. Patients are cared for by extremely well-trained physicians and nurses. As has been evident throughout the Pandemic this year, hospital staff have proven to be life savers working twelve hour shifts day after day without taking days off.
Now that Long has educated us about city hospitals, as readers we have the responsibility to learn even more and do whatever is in our power to help improve such broken systems. This is especially true now during this time of COVID, where so many millions of Americans have died in the best of hospitals, let alone in city hospitals.
Also, I would feel remiss if I did not mention how near the book’s end the author shares a very different and romantic day with his wife. Wanting above all else to save his marriage (to assuage his wife’s negative feelings about his coming home each evening complaining about the abuse he, as well as other staff members and patients had suffered), they decide to go on a “date.” They agree to go on a whale watching vessel, something they’d always enjoyed.
He writes: “Suddenly, one of the whales exploded out of the water right alongside our boat, a giant gleaming ebony wall punctuated by a penetrating eye that was wise and timeless, almost as one might imagine the eye of God or at least a god of the sea.”
A perfect ending and poetic metaphor for HOPE.
Thank you, Allen Long, for allowing us into your world with dignity and grace. I wish you much success and hope that this book will make a real difference in our understanding of the current healthcare system, especially within city hospitals.
About the Author
Here’s how I became a writer. When I was a child in Arlington, Virginia, as soon as I understood what stories were, I began telling them to anyone who would listen. As a fifth-grader, I was recruited by the Storytellers, a small group of supervised fifth- and sixth-graders who told stories once a month to kids in the first, second, and third grades.
When I reached sixth grade, my teacher allowed me to skip all of my English assignments in exchange for me writing her a short story each week. In seventh grade, one of my stories placed second in an English class competition.
Storytelling seems to have been hardwired into my DNA.
One of my favorite memories from childhood is telling my younger brother, David, a made-up story every night during the summers we slept in twin beds in our cool basement.
I earned a BA in Communications/Journalism from Virginia Tech. While I was there, I took every creative writing class offered and wrote a story that placed second at a regional literary festival sponsored by nearby Hollins University. During my student days, I also worked half-time for two years as a reporter for The Roanoke Times.
After I graduated, I accepted a scholarship to earn an MA in English/fiction writing from Hollins University, where I wrote the first half of a novel. I then received a second scholarship and a teaching assistant position to pursue an MFA in fiction writing at the University of Arizona.
Shortly after I graduated, I published a story called “Second Honeymoon” in Concho River Review. After that, I decided to continue my writing education by working with master editor Tom Jenks. When Tom was a senior editor at Scribner’s, he completed Ernest Hemingway’s unfinished novel, The Garden of Eden, which became a bestseller.
I published two more stories, and then I decided to change gears and write a memoir called “Soul Breach” about the high level of illegal and unethical behavior I’d witnessed while working in the management consulting field. The story was published, and my good friend and editor, Kit McIlroy, told me it was the best piece I’d ever written, and he encouraged me to write more nonfiction.
I followed his advice and wrote and published magazine-length memoirs about the happiest, most intriguing, and worst moments in my life. These combined pieces became my first book, Less than Human: A Memoir (Black Rose Writing, 2016).
After that, I published memoirs on a wide variety of subjects, including two about my work as an assistant nurse in a poorly managed inner-city hospital populated by challenging patients, including violent mentally ill ones who often were not sedated or restrained.
“Keep writing about that hospital, and you’ve got your next book,” Kit said. I followed his advice, eventually producing my second book, Praying for Restraint: Frequent Flying with an Inner-City Hospital CNA (Legacy Book Press, 2021).
One final comment—I’ve loved visiting zoos and aquariums my whole life, and I’ve raised box turtles, swum with sea turtles, and gone on multiple dolphin- and whale-watching expeditions. Therefore, you may notice that quite a bit of wildlife has crept into my writing. At last count, I spied lions, tigers, giraffes, eland, monkeys, chimps, elephants, alligators, caimans, box turtles, sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins, and humpback whales. Have I missed any?
You can discover more about Allen and his work on his website.
The following is a synopsis taken from the back cover of Praying for Restraint:
Allen Long works as a CNA-certified nursing assistant-at that supposed sanctuary of caring, an inner-city general hospital. What an unforgettable parade of bizarre, needy, abusive, menacing, endearing, and poignant humanity passes through its doors. And those are just the staff and administrators! Meanwhile, the patient population spans the affluent and sophisticated to the homeless, the mentally ill, addicts, gang members, and criminals in custody. Praying for Restraint takes the reader on a journey into the absurd and surreal that is ultimately uplifting and harrowing, both funny and heartbreaking. Long’s struggle to survive a relentlessly toxic work environment with body, soul, and marriage intact is as gripping as the battle against childhood abuse in his previous memoir, Less than Human. Reviewers found that book “inspiring, honest, and beautifully written, engaging, and thought-provoking.” Praying for Restraint earns that praise and more.