When I was asked to review The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story, by Christie Watson, I knew very little about the book, or Christie herself. I’ll be honest with you, when it landed on my doorstep and I read the blurb, upon realising that it was infact Christie’s Memoirs of her nursing career, spanning over twenty years, I instantly assumed that I would find it hard going.
How wrong I was.
I soon learned that Christie’s first novel, Tiny Sunbirds Far Away, won the Costa First Novel Award and her second novel, Where Women are Kings, was also published to international acclaim, and once I had made my way through the many, many, rave reviews about The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story, I realised that actually, this was going to be something really special.
In the first chapter Christie tells us that she didn’t always want to be a nurse, infact she went thorough a number of possible career options, never really knowing what she wanted to be. Having exhausted all options she somehow slipped onto a nursing course, telling us “No more career choice changes and flitting around; I would become a nurse. Plus, I knew there would be parties.”
And that’s exactly what she did. Christie takes us through the highs and lows of her nursing training, the times she doubted that she had what it takes to become a nurse, and the moment when she realised that nursing was the complete of opposite of what she had imagined it to be.
“What I thought nursing involved when I started: chemistry, biology, physics, pharmacology and anatomy. And what I now know to be the truth of nursing: philosophy, psychology, art, ethics and politics.”
Over the next chapter Christie walks us through life in A&E, a facility we are all familiar with and yet entirely clueless at the same time. She tells us, “A&E is frightening. It reminds us that life is fragile – and what could be more frightening than that?”. The wonderful thing about Christie, and the way she writes, is how she never romanticises nursing in the way that others may do, nor does she share only the horrors, although there are many. She paints a picture that is both harrowing and awe inspiring, that is shocking yet comforting, that leaves you feeling such a rollercoaster of emotions but most of all, inspired.
Christie goes on to tell us the next part of her training centred around mental health nursing, a subject very close to my heart, and I was intrigued to read a professionals account as opposed to my own view, as a patient. I’m pretty sure I read the entire chapter without taking a breath, tears streaming down my face, finding myself wishing that in my darkest moments I’d had a nurse as kind as Christie to hold my hand and shower me with kindness.
“I’m beginning to understand what mental-health nursing is, thought it is difficult to define. ‘A mental-health nurse is a dream-catcher in a desperate window,’ I say.”
From mental-health Christie moves on to midwifery and, despite the jumping from one area of nursing to the next, this flows so beautifully, and naturally. Christie adds real warmth to very factual, and medical information, with the introduction of other nurses she met along the way and the lessons they taught her and, in turn, taught us.
“She has a way of explaining things so that I understand, in a way that I don’t understand. ‘Birth holds the hand of death,’ she tells me. ‘We begin and we end at the same time.'”
Something I love, and yet found incredibly difficult at times too, is that Christie is very honest, very open and very real. Her stories are all inclusive, even the ones which undoubtedly break our hearts. As a Mother without my child, having been through a loss so indescribably sad, it was incredibly difficult to read Christie’s account of witnessing her first experience of the death of a baby, and yet I commend her ability to write it so well.
“There is a terrifying pause, then a few seconds of silence, before she slowly shakes her head. Sometimes, even as a novice, I understand that there simply is no meaning.”
At twenty years old Christie qualifies as a children’s nurse and it is evident that she feels she has found her calling, “Nursing people means doing for them what they would normally do, when they have no will to do it, until they have will to do it.” She describes the reality of life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), something again I relate to given that three of our children spent time in there having been born prematurely, including witnessing life saving surgery and organ donation.
She takes us through her work in the mortuary, tackling the taboo of death with such alarming clarity, and yet there is a lesson to be learned in each of her stories. I don’t imagine for one minute that Christie’s story is easy reading for any of us, and yet it is certainly compelling, and leaves you feeling incredibly humbled.
“And the best nursing comes from the heart, and not from the head.”
Interlinked to Christie’s memoirs, we learn of her joy at becoming a Mother herself, giving birth to her daughter and subsequently adopting her son. We learn of the breakdown of her relationship, with a doctor within the same hospital, and her battle to be the best Mother she can be going forward. I love these snippets of Christie, not Christie the nurse but Christie the mother, the daughter, and we see how, although nursing features so heavily in all areas of her life, there are times when she relinquishes her title and allows others to care for her in the same way she cares for others.
“Today I am not a resuscitation nurse. I am not even a nurse. I am a daughter. And it hurts. Everything hurts.”
By the end of Christie’s story I wrongly assumed that as I turned the last page I would feel drained, depressed and saddened by the truth on the fragility of life. And yet the truth is, I felt the exact opposite. I felt energised and inspired, thankful and joyous, and I felt nothing but complete and utter admiration for every single nurse out there, and vowed to live my life feeling far more appreciative that, as a family, we have had little need for nursing.
“Take my hand. Hold my hand tightly. Let us fling open the door and find whatever we find, face all the horror and beauty of life. Let us really live. Together our hands will not shake.”
I urge all of you to read this book, to open your minds to exactly what goes on behind the scenes every single day, and to learn from Christie in speaking the language of kindness. I know that I undoubtedly will.
The Language Of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story is available to buy here at Amazon priced from £8.99.
** I was sent a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. All words and opinions are my own unless otherwise stated. We were compensated for our time. **