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Book cover: Lives in the Balance
Courtesy of Mcclelland-Stewart

Stories from the Intensive Care Unit

Tilda Shalof's books unmask the high-pressure world of nursing

Tilda Shalof (BScN1983) calls herself a nurse first and an author second, but her two professions are intimately connected. “I write because I want people to know that when they come in the hospital, their care is not all dependent on doctors,” says Shalof, the author of three memoirs about the often-unseen world of nursing and the editor of Lives in the Balance, a new collection of nurses’ stories. “I want them to understand the kind of skills and responsibilities we have, and the ways we keep patients safe and help them heal.”

A creative writing course at U of T’s School of Continuing Studies in 1993 helped launch Shalof’s second career as an author. “I’d always written, but until then I didn’t know how to shape my material into stories. It got me thinking about how I could apply what I learned to tell true stories about my life as a nurse,” says Shalof, who has been working in Toronto General Hospital’s Medical Surgical Intensive Care Unit for 24 years. A Canadian company has recently optioned the rights to the grip-ping tales in her books A Nurse’s Story: Life, Death, and In-Between in an Intensive Care Unit and The Making of a Nurse, with plans to create a TV series.

In Lives in the Balance, Shalof compiles real-life stories by 25 nurses who work in intensive care units across North America. They describe the intellectually demanding, physically draining, messy and emotionally intense job of caring for patients with life-threatening illnesses or injuries – from the thrill of resuscitating a patient in cardiac arrest to the heartbreak of losing a young accident victim.

Born into a family where both parents and one brother had chronic medical conditions, Shalof was a caregiver from her earliest days. Yet becoming a confident, competent ICU nurse was a long struggle, recounted in The Making of a Nurse. Her most recent memoir, Camp Nurse, is a much lighter read. Out in paperback in April, it chronicles the six summers Shalof has cared for children at camps in northern Ontario – where she encountered everything from homesickness to a suicide attempt.

Shalof’s frank accounts of nursing life have resonated with readers inside and outside the profession. “Nurses feel very confirmed and proud that someone is telling their story,” she says. “Patients and families find it comforting to know that nurses are as skilled and knowledgeable as I portray them. They say my books open up a world they didn’t know, and they’re grateful to be let in.”

For more info on Shalof and her books, visit

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