For this remarkable piece of reporting, Hallman gained first access into the ward, via the administrators, and then, more vitally, access into the “hearts and minds” of the nurses. Hallman told the listserv WriterL that he got into the ward through persistence and tact. He made it very clear what he wanted to do and told administrators he would have parents sign releases before he used their names.
As for winning the trust of the nurses, Hallman told WriterL he took his time. He spent many hours on the ward, becoming a part of the place, in an effort to get the nurses to speak openly.
The piece itself is remarkable. It contains some of the most intimate, emotional material we’ve read in a newspaper narrative. (The intimacy is all the more striking given its setting amid beeping medical machines and sterile equipment.)
We believe the piece might have been even stronger had Hallman more deeply and closely followed one character, rather than several characters, for the length of the series. We found one of the piece’s most powerful moments to be a scene in which a veteran nurse warms a baby who has died before bringing it to its mother so she could say goodbye. The description of what this nurse has learned to do to help parents grieve is affecting. In the end we found ourselves more interested in the veteran nurse than in the novice whom Hallman follows more closely. We wanted the depth such a veteran could offer, to learn from her, rather than follow several characters a bit more superficially. We would have then, perhaps, gotten a more complete and satisfying narrative arc.
As it it, the arc is more thematic than narrative. The narrative occurs in the unfolding of action, rather than in a real arc of building action and resolution. We say this simply as an observation. We recognize that the topic was a complicated one and did not lend itself to clear, classic narrative progression. This is a powerful piece.
Read “Fighting for life on Level 3,” by Dan Hallman Jr.