Making LemonadeOctober 14, 2022
A retired 1199 RN did not let a lung cancer diagnosis dampen her love of writing. Instead she published a book about growing up in Brooklyn.
“I started gathering stories over 20 years ago,” says Tomasina Decrescenzo, a retired 1199 RN operating room nurse at the now closed St. John’s Hospital in Queens, who published her first book Two Left Feet in April 2022.
“During Covid, I found this big box in my closet [of written stories], and I thought, let me take this out and try to put it together,” she said. It’s a story about a curious 11-year-old girl and her Italian family growing up in Brooklyn in 1963. Written on an old-fashioned typewriter, the story weaves together sights, sounds, and characters of her neighborhood and historical events of that time in a fictionalized way. “Originally [the chapters] were short stories about my family, my grandparent’s home upstate, and other little things.
Some things were made up, but most of them were actual people. I changed the names to protect the guilty,” Decrescenzo laughs.
The title Two Left Feet is a reference to an old story about Decrescenzo and her mother looking for shoes in the bin and only finding two left ones. “People think about [the phrase] as someone who can't dance, but really, it's more than that,” she says. “It's about those days we all have when I can't do anything right, things aren't going right, or I mess up everything. I wanted it to have the feeling like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, where she has the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion to help her along the way so, by time she gets to the wizard, she realizes she doesn't need his help at all.
She had what she needed. We all have two left feet during some part of our life, but it turns out okay."
Decrescenzo always had a love for reading and the arts, which inadvertently led her to become a nurse. “I remember when I was a kid, my mother had this big old medical book and I used to like to memorize it, like parts of the body [from it]. I guess I always had an interest in medicine,” she says.
Decrescenzo worked finance jobs before going back to school as a single mother graduating from NYC College of Technology (City Tech) and moving into nursing.
“As a nurse, I knew I was doing something productive and helping people,” she says. “There’s nothing like that feeling you get from patients when they say, ‘thank you so much for helping me.’ I really did love it and really do miss it sometimes.”
Even through being a nurse demanded long hours, Decrescenzo found ways to be creative. “When I was working, I was always involved in creative things like writing and acting, stand-up comedy, dinner theater shows, all those things. I would work night-time shifts so I could be off during the summer to spend time with my family and be creative,” she says.
Decrescenzo retired early in 2005 after receiving a diagnosis of advanced stage lung cancer. She survived that—along with a more recent cancer scare. She says it’s made her thankful and reminds her to make the most of her time.
“I try to live life like every day is a gift and not to waste time. I try to be productive and do as much as I can every day.” Decrescenzo is currently recording the audio book version of Two Left Feet and doing readings in libraries and other local places. She also continues making art, painting and acting in dinner theatre. And she appreciates her retirement from 1199. “I enjoyed my years working as a nurse with 1199, it was a good union. I thank God every day for my pension, I know not everyone is lucky enough to retire with a pension. It was a lot of good times, good memories.”
Two Left Feet is available at Barnes & Noble.com
1199 Magazine | September / October 2022