The Comfort Garden, Tales from the Trauma Unit
by Laurie Barkin, RN, MS

When the caregiver needs solace

imageThe Comfort Garden is an account of the five years Laurie Barkin worked as a psychiatric nurse consultant on the surgical/trauma unit at San Francisco General Hospital. Written in a literary style, these true and fast-moving stories disclose many tragic tales and some humorous. Against the backdrop of patients who have survived motor vehicle accidents, falls, fires, fists, bullets, and knives, The Comfort Garden explores what happens to professional caregivers when exposure to tragedy becomes routine.

The title derives from detours into the real garden at San Francisco General Hospital where the author took refuge. Ms. Barkin often visited The Comfort Garden to sort out her feelings and lift her spirits. Throughout the book, she uses humor and beauty to counterbalance the sadness and weight of trauma.

Vicarious trauma can affect anyone who regularly bears witness to victims' stories of violence, abuse, and neglect. As an antidote, regular meetings—to discuss how staff members are coping with what they see and hear in their work with patients—are recommended.

Ms. Barkin also depicts a working parent's ongoing struggle to juggle family life and work, especially when emotions run high in both arenas.

The Comfort Garden will appeal to students, health care professionals, and anyone whose life has been touched by trauma.

Ms. Barkin is a consultant to the Department of Psychiatry at University of California, San Francisco.image


Laurie Barkin is an accomplished and sought after speaker. She speaks at professional association conferences and hospitals on vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue. For more information about how to book Laurie as a speaker for your event, contact us at:



"It's not the Ritz but this is the best place in the city for treating trauma. The nurses and doctors here are trauma experts. This is where I would want my relatives to be," Laurie Barkin tells upset visitors at San Francisco General Hospital who are waiting to find out what happened to their relatives who were among the 14 people killed or wounded in the law office at 101 California Street. The gunman was a disgruntled client toting two semi-automatic weapons and 250 rounds of ammunition.

After the surgeons had stitched them up, it was Barkin's job to help survivors cope with the emotional and psychological reactions to trauma. Barkin, a psychiatric nurse consultant, sees her work as based on the theory that the quicker trauma patients can begin to process painful events by talking about what happened to them, the sooner they will begin to recover.


"... complicating the picture is the astounding number of patients with histories of untreated childhood trauma."


The true stories in The Comfort Garden: Tales from the Trauma Unit recreate the fast-pace of work with patients in the surgical trauma unit at SFGH. Although the names of staff and patients have been changed to protect their privacy, the stories are faithful to events as they unfolded. In a given week, Barkin routinely evaluated and treated patients with stab wounds and gun shot wounds, and those injured in motor vehicle accidents, fires, and falls. Further complicating the picture is the astounding number of patients with histories of untreated childhood trauma:

  • After weeks on the ICU, Keith, a middle-aged drug abuser, finds himself clean and sober for the first time in 36 years. When asked about his family's history of depression, he remembers playing in the playground of his housing project when his mother jumped from the 12th floor and landed in front of him.
  • At 11, Shalimar ran away from home and was befriended by a pimp. Five years later, when she told him she was leaving to get married, he shot her in the back, severing her spinal cord.
  • A lifetime of trauma began for Gina when she was brutalized while growing up in orphanages. She landed in the trauma unit after falling from the roof of a building. Yet, she exhibits unusual resilience in coping with what life has handed her.

In these intimate stories, readers will come to know vivid characters who test the splintering fringes of the nation's safety net. They will begin to feel what police, firefighters, emergency room personnel, and psych nurses feel soon after the headlines subside. And they will understand why people working with trauma victims need support to do the work they do.

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