Working in a world of hurt

Trauma and resilience in the narratives of medical personnel in warzones

Authors: Carol Acton and Jane Potter

Working in a World of Hurt uncovers and analyses the range of responses to psychological trauma by male and female medical personnel in wartime in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Until now, academic and popular studies have focused on the trauma experienced by soldiers and civilians, saying very little about the mental strain endured by their healers. Acton & Potter seek to understand the subjective experiences of British, American and Canadian doctors, nurses, and other medical workers by studying personal accounts contained in letters, diaries and memoirs, both published and unpublished, and in weblogs. Offering an interdisciplinary understanding across a large chronological sweep of both the medical experience and the literary history of war, Working a World of Hurt demonstrates that while these narratives are testaments to the suffering of combatants, they also bear witness to the trauma of the healers themselves whose responses range from psychological and physical breakdown to stoical resilience and pride in their efforts to assuage the wounds of war.

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‘Acton and Potter have embarked upon a refreshing interdisciplinary approach to reading wartime narratives, by focusing on those whose history 'lies concealed', those who served as medical personnel in warzones (p. 2). It chronicles the writings and memories of medics, largely British and American, including nurses, field medics, ambulance drivers, doctors and surgeons. The chapter structure chronologically traces their experiences from the First World War, through the Second World War, the Vietnam War, and concludes with a nod to the memoirs of Iraq War veterans. The authors have adeptly communicated the ways in which medical narratives of 'trauma' and 'resilience' are distinct from those of combatants and directly related to the medical duties they performed. Despite identifying some universal characteristics in medics' narratives, the authors have also firmly grounded their analysis in specific historical, cultural and medical contexts…Overall, the prose is fluid, sophisticated and confident throughout.'
Nicole Cassie, University of Glasgow
War in History, Vol. 24, No. 3

‘[…] an excellent and necessary intervention into two important aspects of cultural history: those of medicine and warfare. In synthesizing an impressive range of primary sources with such confidence and coherence, Acton and Potter have written a book that must form essential reading for any scholar working on the histories of war, medicine, or trauma.
First World War Studies
January 2020

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