Written by Spencer Goodheart ’18
Like the rest of us, the speaker fans her face as the paradoxically hot winter air strolls through the building, shedding sweatshirts and jackets around the room. The leap in temperature over the last two days has wreaked havoc on my throat, nose, and eyes, resulting in almost fever-like symptoms. Fortunately for the speaker, she shows no sign of this pseudo-sickness. MK Czerwiec’s face has a bubbly, cherub quality to it. Round cheeks smooth like pebbles from a gentle shoreline, a mellow hammock of a smile, and the inviting eyes of an enthusiastic teacher waiting for questions.
Czerwiec introduces herself as a “comic nurse.” Clicking the button to her projector, she flips to an image of a simplified, cartoonish version of her with wobbly lines and pitchfork hands. We all laugh at the image drawn with nostalgic ease. Above the caricature, a small speech bubble holds the words “I’m sad.” The laughter takes on an uncomfortable vibe, then dies completely when she tells us she started as a nurse during the start of the AIDS pandemic in the late 1980’s.
During this time, Czerwiec found it hard to convey her emotions about patients she attended to who had died. She thought of them as forgotten histories—people whose lives slipped by without notice. But even with their passing, each one left an intangible weight on Czerwiec. This lead to her first drawing—the small, single panel of Czerwiec with a deep frown and the words “I’m sad” above her.
From there, Czerwiec started drawing more, branching out to capture the experiences of her ride alongs and day-to-day bedside chats, collecting emotional accounts of her days spent as a nurse. And it is through this collection that she compiled her graphic novel/memoir, “Taking Turns.” Czerwiec says that making these day to day panels helped her cope with patient deaths, as well as other events that occurred while working in the Illinois Masonic Medical Center, and strongly believes that it can help us as well. Drawing out our problems and issues is healthy for us. It allows us to take the time to examine the complications of life in depth—flesh out exactly what we think has a grip on us. It is in this that I believe graphic medicine has power. Visualising a problem is one thing, but taking the time to create the lines and fill in the blank spaces helps us figure out exactly what it is that’s hooking us.