Drea Horton tends to America’s war wounded during the day and writes about them at night.
Like in the poem she wrote about "a young Joe" who cried in her arms in the Louis B. Stokes Veterans Administration Medical Center in Brecksville, Ohio, where she works:
"Anxiety and nightmares take turns taunting himScattered sand and ghosts visit almost every daySubstance abuse, PTSD; the diagnosis given to himHe cried as he told me this. He said do they know?"
The poem is included in Horton’s second book, "Her Stars and Stripes, A Nurse’s Diary," published by AuthorHouse. It’s full of prayers and thoughts for the men and women who pass through those VA hospital halls where she has toiled for the past 10 years. Horton, 45, says she has been taking care of others since she was 7 years old and going to work with her mother, who was a nursing assistant.
"She had three girls," Horton said during a phone interview from her Akron, Ohio, home. "All of us are nurses now."
Nursing can be a frustrating life, she said, especially in VA hospitals.
"We have a lot of homeless veterans here," she said. "They came back from the war, got discharged and then couldn’t find a job. We patch them up, get them a place to live and do everything we can to get them back on their feet.
"But just a small percentage actually make it."
Like the Vietnam veteran who flagged her down for a ride to the hospital one day:
"On my way to work I stopped at a traffic lightThere stood a man on the corner to the rightHe was pushing a buggy full of his belongingsLooking for what I thought were cans …"
The vet needed a ride to the VA medical center. "In his travels he had injured his right hand," Horton wrote. She took him to the emergency room and handed him over to an on-duty nurse.
"He winked and smiled weakly at meWith all that pain in his handThank you nurse, he saidFor not passing me by like the others."
The book of poetry reads like a diary. It’s an accounting of the battlefield heroes who awaken in the middle of the night screaming at shadows and the men and women who care for them while trying to not get too close, too personal, lest they begin to share in their suffering.
"My heart bleedsFor my patients and their familiesI store those memories in my heart …Drying their tears;While we cry only in our hearts."
Horton said she has self-published one other book of poetry and has several other manuscripts, including a novel, in the works. But "Her Stars and Stripes" was not planned.
"It just happened," she said. "I started writing a poem about the bond formed between a nurse and a wounded soldier and suddenly saw I had 11 poems completed about these heroes."
Horton said she wanted to give human faces to the veterans and the people who care for them.
"We read in the papers about someone being wounded and then never hear about them again. This book is about what happens next," she said. "We nurses become their mothers, their sisters, their families. When they’re crying, we’re there holding and rocking them.
"We’re not supposed to cry. We were taught in school not to cry, to be their stoic helpmates. But sometimes you just can’t hold it in."
Horton said she’s been writing since age 11, but abandoned the craft while she embarked upon a career of nursing, married and raised two daughters and a son.
Now, with her children grown and the marriage ended, she has picked up her pen and returned to her first love — writing.
"Finally I am able to tell it as I see itForever now I can sing my own song …I’m happy for my missing piece that suddenly awakenedLook as I stretch and spread my wings."
The book is available at most major online bookstores and from her Web site at www.dreahorton.com/Index.aspx.
Publisher AuthorHouse is at www.authorhouse.com/BookStore/BookHome.aspx.