The Language of Kindness will teach you what it really means to care

With our country’s nurses finally being acknowledged, Christie Watson’s memoir is uplifting and takes you on her twenty year journey of being a nurse

The Language of Kindness, the Sunday Times bestseller, by Christie Watson, is a nurse’s story and an honest, moving account of the twists and turns her career has taken. Few other careers can produce a memoir that will bring the reader to tears, make them laugh, smile and even sometimes fear the next page. This year has given our nurses the deserving appreciation and recognition that has been lacking until now, and most of us are hoping for this to continue beyond the pandemic. Published by Penguin Vintage, it’s a captivating and dramatic page-turner and an important read for anyone who uses our NHS and benefits from the infinite compassion, empathy and love of our nurses.

Comparable to This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay, it’s a passionate and very real non-fictional read which, unlike many memoirs, almost feels like a novel for all the heartwarming themes and poignant, tear-jerking moments. In 322 pages Watson walks us through her decision to train for nursing, explaining that, like many, she initially had an array of exciting ideas for career paths and constantly changed her mind. She explains that she had wanted to live many different lives, stepping into different shoes, but that nursing has provided her with exactly that. 

When Watson had her blood drawn at the start of the career, she was told “you might want to rethink your career”. Twenty years after persisting with that very career, she teaches us that the secret is more to do with the love that nurses can offer, rather than a strong stomach. 

Watson takes the reader through the stages of her career on different wards, from mental health to antenatal. We get to know her patients and feel the empathy and the connections she forms radiating from the words on the page. She teaches us that the bond between a nurse and a patient is a special one. 

‘It forces us to confront an aspect of nursing that many of us have never had to think about.’

We get glimpses into the funny and awkward anecdotal moments. She speaks of the student partying and her failed attempt with her first needle, as well as the time she accidentally fell asleep in her clothes at work. We learn that there is more to nursing than simple facts, figures and medical procedures. Not only is her job one of science and logistics, but to be the rock for patients and families through the most stressful and heartbreaking moments of their lives. She says, ‘Nursing means recognising that when there is a large white cloud at the centre of her child’s scan, a mother needs something important to hold onto.’

There were many moments in the memoir which stayed with me long after putting it down. One of which was the description of cleaning a dead body. It forces us to confront an aspect of nursing that many of us have never had to think about. This scene encapsulates the essence of nursing – bravery in the face of some of the most daunting tasks imaginable. 

The emotional rollercoaster of a book also includes facts about the history of the profession. These are an interesting element exploring the origins of nursing, but the inclusion of these sometimes produced a disjointed read, occasionally feeling as if they’d been thrown in. However, the relevant and inspiring quotes at the beginning of each chapter are a nice addition, breaking up the narrative and adding even more food for thought.  

All-in-all the book is a heavy and touching read, especially if, like me, you have a sensitive disposition. Make time for this book when you’re ready to have a good cry and feel things you didn’t realise you could feel.

It’s both light and dark and even haunting at times. But that’s what Watson intended as that is exactly how her twenty years as a nurse have been, facing death and tragedy everyday. She shines a light on this crucial job in our society, exposing the magnitude of the work they do and the emotional trauma that comes with it. As members of that society, it is vital that we don’t shy away from stories like this one, but learn about them and appreciate them, because we will all be cared for by a nurse at some point in our lives.