Cover image for Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371 By MK Czerwiec

Taking Turns

Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371

MK Czerwiec

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$29.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-07818-2

224 pages
8.25" × 7.25"
184 color illustrations
2017

Graphic Medicine

Taking Turns

Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371

MK Czerwiec

“MK Czerwiec’s tales of her nursing work on an AIDS unit chart a remarkable episode in the history of medicine. It’s a time of staggering loss but also remarkable change. Through the lives and deaths of individual patients, written and drawn in documentary detail, we see the power dynamic between doctor and patient begin to shift. When cure is not an option, care takes on a new meaning.”

 

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In 1994, at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, MK Czerwiec took her first nursing job, at Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, as part of the caregiving staff of HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371. Taking Turns pulls back the curtain on life in the ward.

A shining example of excellence in the treatment and care of patients, Unit 371 was a community for thousands of patients and families affected by HIV and AIDS and the people who cared for them. This graphic novel combines Czerwiec’s memories with the oral histories of patients, family members, and staff. It depicts life and death in the ward, the ways the unit affected and informed those who passed through it, and how many look back on their time there today. Czerwiec joined Unit 371 at a pivotal time in the history of AIDS: deaths from the syndrome in the Midwest peaked in 1995 and then dropped drastically in the following years, with the release of antiretroviral protease inhibitors. This positive turn of events led to a decline in patient populations and, ultimately, to the closure of Unit 371. Czerwiec’s restrained, inviting drawing style and carefully considered narrative examine individual, institutional, and community responses to the AIDS epidemic—as well as the role that art can play in the grieving process.

Deeply personal yet made up of many voices, this history of daily life in a unique AIDS care unit is an open, honest look at suffering, grief, and hope among a community of medical professionals and patients at the heart of the epidemic.

“MK Czerwiec’s tales of her nursing work on an AIDS unit chart a remarkable episode in the history of medicine. It’s a time of staggering loss but also remarkable change. Through the lives and deaths of individual patients, written and drawn in documentary detail, we see the power dynamic between doctor and patient begin to shift. When cure is not an option, care takes on a new meaning.”
Taking Turns is an important work that takes the field of graphic medicine in new directions, both in terms of its object—the philosophy and practices of a clinical unit dedicated to the care of people with AIDS in a particular place and historical moment—and its approach—drawing on the comic artist’s own experience as a nurse on the unit as well as her interviews with other practitioners and patients.”
Taking Turns bears important witness to a specific moment in the history of HIV/AIDS through the testimony of caregivers, patients, and volunteers. MK Czerwiec’s story also issues a gracious challenge: knowing that we all live in vulnerable bodies, knowing that we will all ‘take turns’ needing others and being needed, how can we make this one life we have meaningful? This luminous graphic novel models how we can start: through creativity, community, generosity, and vulnerability.”
“The emotional honesty of the comic book is quintessential to the visceral experience of Taking Turns—funny, terrifying and heartbreaking. As much as it informs the reader about the devastation of HIV/AIDS, the book allows the reader to see the disease through the eyes of a person who is literally on the front lines.”
“[Czerwiec’s] chronicle reminds us that the era was marked as much by courage and compassion as it was by the tragedy of lives lost too soon.”
“For health care providers, the years that followed [the first official reporting of what would become the AIDS epidemic] were a time of tremendous loss, requiring a new type of caregiving in the face of a disease with no cure. MK Czerwiec, a nurse and the artist-in-residence at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, captures this tragic time with great reverence and attention to detail.”
Taking Turns chronicles [Czerwiec’s] experiences on the evening shift at Unit 371 with patients and other caregivers, often told through voices other than her own, some of the stories funny, some very touching, especially the stories about patients with whom she became close before they died.”
“The author’s deft handling of the multiplicity of relationships involved in patient care is the strength of the book, and they are all represented throughout the narrative. Czerwiec does an excellent job of showing how Unit 371’s commitment to care facilitated a depth of intimacy between provider and patient not often found in today’s productivity-driven medical care.”
“Among the takeaways one has after reading MK Czerwiec’s graphic novel Taking Turns is that even in the form of sequential art, the story of the early days of the HIV epidemic is a visceral and heart wrenching experience.”
“Czerwiec . . . does much more than just provide younger readers with a history lesson. For example, she thoughtfully explores what it means to be a healthcare provider. Czerwiec also explores the role of boundaries between healthcare providers and their patients and the need for empathy. These topics, I believe, would resonate with and be useful to students interested in medical or allied health careers. Instructors can use the book as a way to begin these conversations.”
“With first-person perspectives, simple line-drawings, and straight-forward language, the reader is able to place themselves within this important time of medical history and absorb what occurred, and in this sense it does not only [prompt] the reader to empathise with HIV/AIDS patients but with the health professional narrator, making a contribution to ‘the cultural role of graphic medicine as critique of the medical profession.’ It is not likely that one will ever cry with such empathy over a medical scientific publication, but far more likely that one will be brought to tears over four panels on a page in Czerwiec’s book.”
“With simple, even amateur panels and wise words, Czerwiec reveals a hospital at the heart of the AIDS crisis. Working as a nurse on a unit for AIDS patients, she and her colleagues helped patients die, celebrated life, and strove to combat the poorly understood disease. Cathartic and clinical, often simultaneously.”
“Czerwiec’s role as a writer and illustrator of graphic medicine texts as well as one of the primary theorists and advocates of the genre, means that this, her first single-author entry into the form she helped establish is, like its author, doing the work of defining and practicing this new and compelling literary and artistic form.”

MK Czerwiec is a nurse who uses comics to contemplate the complexities of illness and caregiving. She is the artist-in-residence at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, co-curator of GraphicMedicine.org, and co-author of Graphic Medicine Manifesto (Penn State, 2015).