Christie Watson, author of The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story, will join supporters to walk 10,000 steps through London – the number of steps a nurse walks in one shift – to raise money for the Royal College of Nursing Foundation. Here she explains why she felt compelled to write the book and champion the work of nurses
When I first had the idea to write The Language of Kindness I went to the libraries to see what was out there because I realised that nurses didn’t have much of a media platform. There weren’t nurses on television or on radio shows or with columns in the way that there are doctors. I was hoping to find a lot of nursing books that weren’t academic in the library. I scoured the shelves looking for narrative non-fiction that already existed, and I found a whole genre of books written by and celebrating medics but I didn’t find a single one about nursing. Actually that’s not true - they had a copy of Florence Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing.
I was shocked. How could this be? How had I never thought about being both a nurse and a writer? What does that say about our valuing nursing? What does it say about our values of society and humanity? I felt compelled to write the book because I think that nursing is the most important job in the world and that nursing matters now more than ever before.
Nursing is the most undervalued of all the professions. If how we treat our most vulnerable members is a measure of our society then the act of nursing itself, and how we treat our nurses, is a measure of our humanity. Nursing is in big trouble and this is a cross-party issue. This is bigger than we can imagine, it’s global. More nurses are leaving the NHS than are joining – we know that. But this isn’t just an NHS issue. In America, by 2022 they will be one million nurses short. That’s the biggest nursing shortage they’ve ever seen. I’m losing sleep about this but frankly we should all be losing sleep about this. Our population is getting older at an unimaginable rate and people have such complex needs. The world has changed and we’re yet to catch up. I wanted to write something about nursing but it’s so hard to get into language what it is we do, how important it is. It was my patients who were helping me to understand.
Nursing is hard to get into language because it’s not one thing or another thing - nursing is everything. Nursing is who we’re meant to be and why we are here, I feel that strongly about it. It predates history books. Although some of the earliest texts written about nursing describe nurses as ‘sympathic’, including a nurse in the first century BC in India. In the history of Islam, the first nurse was described as a good nurse and ideal because she was compassionate and empathetic. Sympathy, compassion, empathy. I often get asked if anyone could be a nurse. I’m sure neurosurgeons – not that I have anything against neurosurgeons – don’t get asked, can anyone be a neurosurgeon? Of course not everyone can be a nurse. I think that to be a great nurse you are born with sympathy, compassion and empathy, because the technical skills we can learn. Sympathy, compassion and empathy are the things that fall away first when nurses do not have time to care. Nursing is saying to people during their darkest hours ‘I am with you.’ It’s giving a chunk of your soul to somebody else.
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THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER
*BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week*
An astonishing memoir about nursing and an urgent call for compassion and kindness
‘It made me cry. It made me think. It made me laugh. It encouraged me to appreciate this most underappreciated of professions more than ever’ Adam Kay, author of This is Going to Hurt
‘A remarkable book about life and death and so brilliantly written it makes you hold your breath’ Ruby Wax
Christie Watson was a nurse for twenty years. Taking us from birth to death and from A&E to the mortuary, The Language of Kindness is an astounding account of a profession defined by acts of care, compassion and kindness.
We watch Christie as she nurses a premature baby who has miraculously made it through the night, we stand by her side during her patient’s agonising heart-lung transplant, and we hold our breath as she washes the hair of a child fatally injured in a fire, attempting to remove the toxic smell of smoke before the grieving family arrive.
In our most extreme moments, when life is lived most intensely, Christie is with us. She is a guide, mentor and friend. And in these dark days of division and isolationism, she encourages us all to stretch out a hand.
‘It is very hard to describe the essence of nursing but Christie’s story captures it. Through her powerful writing the true value of the nurse becomes clear’ Janet Davies, Chief Executive and General Secretary, Royal College of Nursing