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I discovered ‘The Language of Kindness : A Nurse’s Story‘ by Christie Watson while browsing in the bookshop a few weeks back. I loved the title. Also, though I have seen many memoirs by doctors before, this was the first time I was seeing a memoir by a nurse. So I couldn’t resist getting it.

In her memoir, Christie Watson describes how she was an impatient teenager who wasn’t sure what she wanted and kept changing her dreams and career goals and life goals every week and how from there she got into nursing which demands a lot of patience and love, attention to detail, and being calm under pressure. She starts the book with how a typical day of a nurse goes and then she talks about how she got into nursing, the different kinds of departments she worked in and how they demanded different kinds of skills, the senior nurses who inspired and mentored her, the young nurses she mentored, the patients she cared for. Watson appears to have worked for a long time with children and a significant part of the book is devoted to her work in the paediatric ward. Watson doesn’t shy away from describing the everyday life of the nurse, as it is, and some of the stuff she describes is not for the faint hearted. But Watson describes it in soft, gentle prose which cushions the blow. I cried after nearly every chapter – sometimes out of joy and sometimes because of the heartbreaking things that Watson described. My highlighting pen didn’t stop working throughout the book and I highlighted passages starting from the first page to the last. Watson also shares some parts of her life with us which are not related to her work and they are beautifully woven into the narrative. My favourite part out of these is the one in which she talks about her two children, her elder girl who is her birth daughter, and her younger boy, who is her adopted son. When I read these lines at the end of this part –

“The two things of which I am proudest in life are my son’s kindness and my daughter’s love for him. His relationship with his sister is more powerful than anything I have ever witnessed. My son has swallowed all the goodness of the world, and my daughter loves him like the world has never seen love. Parenting them is the greatest privilege of my life.”

– I couldn’t stop crying.

Each chapter starts with a beautiful quote from a famous person and I loved these quotes too – they made me contemplate.

During the course of the book, Watson also delves a little bit into the history of nursing, and describes interesting facts like how the earliest text on nursing was compiled in India in the first century B.C., how the first professional nurse in the history of Islam, Rufaidah bint Sa’ad, from early 7th century was described as an ideal nurse because of her compassion and empathy, how the first hospitals were built by a Srilankan king in the 4th century B.C., how the first hospitals for curing mental illness were established in India during the third century B.C., how a psychiatric hospital was built in Baghdad in 805 A.D. Watson also quotes Florence Nightingale whenever the great lady has an important point to make.

Watson also spends considerable time describing her favourite nurses who inspired her and mentored her – Anna who mentors her, who is an old-school nurse and who is doing her Ph.D while working, in whose team younger nurses stay and work with for years; Tracy who refuses promotion and stays as a lifetime nurse at the same pay grade because she loves taking care of patients and who normally knows more about the medical condition of a patient than what the monitors or reports reveal; Cheryl who nursed Watson’s father when he was unwell; Jo, who treats the children under her care with love (This is how Watson describes her – “there is no objectivity in good nursing care. Jo was a brilliant nurse. She understood that to nurse is to love.“) These parts of the book are very moving and inspiring and we want to meet these amazing nurses who inspired Watson so much.

Watson also describes the challenges in the nursing profession today (and the medical field in general) and those parts are very insightful and eye-opening to read.

I was sad when the book ended – it was so beautiful. ‘The Language of Kindness‘ is one of my favourite books of the year and I recommend it highly.

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“Nursing is a career that demands a chunk of your soul in a daily basis. The emotional energy needed to care for people at their most vulnerable is not limitless and there have been many days when, like most nurses, I have felt spent, devoid of any further capacity to give. I feel lucky that my family and friends are forgiving.”

“In another life – along with my many other career aspirations at school – I’d have been a sonographer. But I don’t study heartscans, as a nurse. I watch the scans happening on the computer screens, as a writer. The sensory experience of the sound of hearts, the beautiful colours of blue and red unoxygenated and oxygenated blood. The patterns we all have inside us are the most beautiful landscape you can imagine. The movement of our blood flow – we dance inside. I carry with me the sound of the whoosh of the heart scan, as some people carry the sound of a drumbeat from a favourite song. I remember beats. The smaller the baby, the faster and louder the whoosh. Babies gallop, racing to live. A scan of a baby’s heart reminds me that survival is instinctive, at birth perhaps more than ever – that will of a newborn, of a species, of survival. We run towards life.”

“Anna leaves early. Before going, she hugs me tightly and quickly. There is no emotion in her face, but I feel like holding onto her and never letting me. “Thank you for being my mentor” is all I can manage to say. I want to say much, much more. How I hope some day to be like her. That she has taught me kindness and teamwork and professionalism; how to be hard and soft at the same time. That I will always be grateful to her. Anna has taught me how to be a nurse. After three years of training, my learning to be a nurse really began on my first day after I qualified. But I still have no language to describe what I’ve learned from Anna. And she’s already rushing away.”

“The language of nursing is sometimes difficult. A heart cell beats in a Petri dish. A single cell. And another person’s heart cell in a Petri dish beats in a different time. Yet if the two touch, they beat in unison. A doctor can explain this with science. But a nurse knows that the language of science is not enough. The nurse in theatre translates ‘your husband / wife / child died three times in there, but today was a good day and, with a large amount of electricity and some chest compressions that probably broke a few ribs, we managed to get them back’ into something that we can hear. A strange sort of poetry.”

“Dying is not always the worst thing. Living a long life and suffering cruelty in old age is the terrible fate that waits for many of us. We will all get sick and die, or we will get old. We can only hope that those caring for us are kind, and that they are empathetic and altruistic.”

Have you read Christie Watson’s memoir? What do you think about it?

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