Let’s Talk with Nancy J Cohen

From Nurse to Writer

By Nancy J Cohen

People ask me if I’d ever considered writing a mystery series about a nurse. This is because I worked in nursing for ten years before I got married, had children, and retired. As a registered nurse and holding a master’s degree, you’d think I would have steered in this direction when planning my first mystery. But I like to write humor and didn’t regard nursing as anything funny. It wasn’t humorous in my mind to write about sick people and a stressful occupation.

However, my nursing background sneaked its way into my Bad Hair Day series featuring hairstylist Marla Shore. My critique group has told me many times that I’m too clinical in medical descriptions. I know if someone has a head injury that they’re not going to bounce right back up again. And if you get a wound, you’d better treat it so as to prevent infection.

But I had special fun when I sent Marla into an undercover role as a nurse’s aide to wealthy Miriam Pearl in Body Wave, #4 in the series and recently released in a newly revised Author’s Edition. Not only does Marla forget to set the brakes on the old lady’s wheelchair at the top of a hill, but she doesn’t know how to use an old-fashioned thermometer. Consider this scene that I found immensely entertaining to write. Marla is getting her client ready to go to dinner downstairs with the family.


“You’d better check my temperature before going to all this trouble,” Miriam advised after fitting in her teeth. “You wouldn’t want me getting worse sick by going downstairs.”

“It can’t do you any good to stay in bed all day,” Marla muttered. She noticed the disapproving look on Miriam’s face. “Oh, very well. Where’s the thermometer?”

“Look in the bathroom, top right drawer.”

Marla hadn’t seen an old-fashioned mercury thermometer in years, but then she rarely took her own temperature. “Open your mouth,” she ordered the old lady when she returned.

“Don’t you know anything? That’s a rectal thermometer.”

Marla’s nerveless fingers nearly dropped the instrument on the floor. “Excuse me?”

“You have to shake it down first. Look at the silver bar to get a reading.”

Marla shook the thermometer then peered at the instrument, but for the life of her, she couldn’t figure it out.

“Where’s the lubricant?” Miriam gave Marla an exasperated look.


“You need to put some K-Y Jelly on first. You’ll find it in that same drawer.”

“Oh, right.”

While Marla scurried to comply, she heard Miriam mumble, “If that gal is a trained nurse’s aide, then I’m twenty years old.”

Back in the bedroom once again, Marla squeezed the petroleum jelly around the thermometer’s tip. Uh-oh, I should have brought a tissue, she thought when it dribbled onto the bed linens. This is worse than that bikini wax I did in my first job as a beautician. She’d never forget the customer who’d demanded that particular wax job, and Marla had vowed never to repeat the experience. This holds a close second, she thought, perspiration beading her brow.

“Look, I can’t do this,” she confessed. “There has to be an oral thermometer in the house. They make those digital ones now.”

“Oh, forget it, dearie. I wouldn’t be getting so riled if I was sick. It makes me wonder, though, where you received your education.”

Did I really take temperatures that way in the old days? Things sure have changed for the better! I still can’t conceive of writing a humorous crime series about a nurse but at least my background in this field has proven useful.



Leave a comment below for a chance to win a free ebook copy of Body Wave. Drawing will be held in one week and the winner will be announced here.



  1. I don’t have an e-reader and I like to read real books and patronize our book store, so I don’t try for e-books.

  2. Salliecootie wins the free copy of Body Wave. I’ll contact you for your email address.

  3. I think it would be hard to be a sleuth and a nurse and be comical or romantic and in reality today. When my mother and Grandmother watched soaps, this character or that character was going in for surgery or a terrible illness and iffy recovery; plus the romances–it all made hospitals such an exciting and exotic place. That was then this is now. Doctors are no longer “gods”, but lackeys to insurance companies. There are so many laws for confidentiality, that a nurse-sleuth would be hard to make realistic.
    And, just for clarification: mercury thermometers are not safe. Mercury is a chemical spill. Use temporal scanners, thermometers that are plastic for rectal thermometers and there are thermometers to insert into the outer ear canal. Ask your pediatrician. No mercury. lol. Peace!

    • Yes, mercury is poison. It’s best to safely dispose of those old thermometers and buy a digital one in the drug store.

      Harlequin’s Mills & Boon might still be publishing medical romances. Those used to be very popular.

  4. tinawhittle says

    I remember breaking one once, and my nurse mom intervened to keep us from getting into the mercury. But I also remember how pretty it was, that little ball of liquid metal. Ease and safety and quickness aside, there’s something so esthetically pleasing about the old glass thermometers.

  5. donnadurnell2013 says

    Oh yes, I remember those thermometers — used them on my kids even.

    I do still have a ‘manual’ oral thermometer which I used not that long ago. Actually had to replace it (with one of the same) because I hit the end when I was trying to ‘shake it down’.

  6. In this age of instant gratification, who would sit tight for a couple of minutes to get their temperature taken? Ha! Not going to happen.

  7. Gail Fuhlman says

    I so agree with you I have several of them. The older thermometers, were to hard to read. I still have a few of these around.

  8. Debbie F. says

    I wish we still had the mercury thermometers, they worked much better than the digital ones. Love your books.

  9. sallycootie says

    I never could read the thermometers – always had to call on my husband when the kids were sick. Funny excerpt.

  10. Somehow we still have a mercury thermometer in this house. I can’t remember using it in the last ten years or so though. I love the new kinds of temperature taking apparatus.

    We have a digital thermometer that works pretty well, but the early strips you placed on a forehead to tell temperature didn’t work too great. Those strips reminded me of mood rings. Now you know how old I really am, LOL!

  11. I do remember those thermometers, both as a child and a new mom. Guess I’m old!