The Language of Kindness
Christie Watson/336 pages, Tim Duggan Books, 2018
There was a time in your life when you tried everything.
Full-time, part-time, gig-worker, entrepreneurship, you changed jobs like most people change clothes. It’s exhausting and disheartening and author Christie Watson had the same experience: café worker, milk deliverer, video shop clerk, she tried them all but in the new book The Language of Kindness, she tells how she settled upon her best job of all.
Watson was just 16 – a newly-single, homeless, unemployed high-school dropout looking for a job that provided accommodations – when she landed work at a UK community center. She was hoping for a paycheck but, in helping severely disabled adults with their daily lives, she found friends. When nurses encouraged her curiosity for their profession, she found a calling.
First, though, Watson had a lot of learning to do. She fainted at the sight of blood on her first day, but she figured she’d get used to that. Later, she trailed a comfortingly self-assured hospital mentor, afraid that she’d never reach that level of competence. Assisting at her first birth, teary, awed, she was also a little frightened at the sounds, sights and smells. She learned that she loved caring for the disabled and for psychiatric patients, a legacy she got from her Mum; preemie babies and profoundly sick children taught her enough to make her want to adopt a baby of her own. Eldercare schooled her about the importance of dignity and the need to not be patronizing to older patients. Working on the cancer ward taught her the importance of every second of life.
She learned the facts of death from her patients, too: from babies who struggled against Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, premature birth, disease. Elderly and disabled patients taught her about death before they made her laugh, despite their suffering. Watson met death in psychiatric rooms, pediatric wards, bedsides and incubators.
She watched it at the bedside of her own father.
Time and time again, there are surprises inside The Language of Kindness.
The first arrives in a refreshingly blunt account of how Watson came to be a nurse, the difficulties of learning, and the general health of the industry today. Now retired, she writes unabashedly about how healthcare systems fail patients, comparisons in care between countries, addiction problems among her colleagues, and an on-going shortage of compassionate healthcare workers.
Another surprise arrives in the anecdotes Watson shares. The stories will absolutely be of the familiar sort to those who work in the industry, but often-gruesome details may turn the stomachs of lay-readers. Details are in here. Beware.
The biggest, perhaps most appealing, surprise is that this memoir sometimes veers off into things that seem intensely personal, which may have nothing and everything to do with nursing. Watson’s stories are observant and honest. They’re laced with Briticisms, action, compassion and thought. With their attention to detail, they could bring you to your knees. And if that sounds just a little better than perfect, then The Language of Kindness is the book to try.
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 15,000 books.