Book Review: The Language of Kindness – Christie Watson

Continuing our review series, we take a look at inspirational reading from Christie Watson who charts her life in nursing in the book, The Language of Kindness.

‘I have been a nurse for twenty years. But it is only when my dad is dying…that I begin to understand the importance of kindness and the depths of humanity and philosophy underneath. When all else has failed…it’s the nurse at his bedside who offers something else: dignity, peace, even love.’

Nurses are underrepresented in literature. Occupied in the everyday caring for others, maybe they do not frequently get time to put pen to paper – when reading The Language of Kindness by Christie Watson we can be thankful at least one nurse has.

The book begins with a whistle stop tour of the hospital, each scene painted vividly and familiar to all who have visited or worked in a hospital. We hear the chain of events which led Christie to nursing and, jumping back and forth through time, she tells us stories of the remarkable and yet everyday; of laughter and tears. We follow Christie onto the wards through corridors and cubicles, learning as we do, the dedication and love required of this role ‘that demands a chunk of your soul on a daily basis’.

Nursing is not known for glamour, but the stories which unfold in this book are the quiet extremes – lifting the veil on this most underappreciated profession, from the tireless selflessness to the person behind the uniform. She tells the haunting memories of mistakes and trauma – scenes which will rest with the reader for some time after the last page is turned; such as the young boy paralysed from the neck down in an accident, his hospital room decorated for his 10th birthday, his father arriving with a sack full of presents yet he had only wanted a bike.

If you have nursed, Christie’s eloquent writing will bring back the sights, smells and emotions and if you have not, it will give you a deeper understanding of this beleaguered profession.
Throughout the book, Christie explores what it means to be a nurse, her expectation that it will be a mixture of chemistry, biology, physics, pharmacology and anatomy, quickly evaporates and is replaced by a much more complex understanding, ‘Nursing, like poetry, is the place where metaphorical and literal meanings cross borders. A hole in the heart is a hole in the heart; the nurse is the thing at the centre’.

Exploring the breadth of the role, Christie discusses the importance of treating the patient, addressing their mental health needs as well as the physical, ‘Nursing people means doing for them what they would normally do, when they have no will to do it, until they have the will to do it’. This message of empathy and humanity to the vulnerable is threaded throughout.

‘I learn then that nursing is not so much about tasks, but about how in every detail a nurse can provide comfort to a patient and a family. It is a privilege to witness people at the frailest, most significant and most extreme moments of life, and to have the capacity to love complete strangers.’

After twenty years of nursing Christie left the profession after winning the Costa first novel award and now teaches creative writing. We can be thankful for her contribution to literature however we can’t help but be saddened by the loss of yet another talented nurse from the profession.

‘Nursing is – or should be – an indiscriminate act of caring, compassion and empathy. It should be a reminder of our capacity to love one another. If the way we treat our most vulnerable is a measure of our humanity, then the act of nursing itself is a measure of our society. Yet it is the most undervalued of professions.’

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