I love the NHS. Not just because it’s free (which is bloody amazing when you think about it), not just because it’s there for all members of my family, not just because it does not discriminate, but because the people at the heart of it are so inspirational that it can make even the most cynical of cynics applaud their work.
And so when I picked up The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story by Christie Watson I was so interested to find out what their side of the story is.
I haven’t been in hospital loads during my life. I had my appendix out when I was seven, which led to a week-long stay, and then I’ve had two babies, both in hospital.
I don’t remember much of my stay when I was little, but of course the birth of my children are days that I will never ever forget. The care I received at the hands of midwives was incredible. They are patient, they are kind and even when you’re sure they must have been knackered, they carry on with a smile on their face.
From my point of view the people who work for the NHS are heroes. It takes a certain kind of person to devote your life to such a career. Yes, they’re being paid but it isn’t a fortune, by any means, and they face abuse, long hours, extra shifts and horrible situations that would leave most of us in tears.
So to be taken on a journey through the career of Christie – a nurse-turned-author who worked on the wards for more than 20 years – was absolutely fascinating to me.
First of all, her style of writing is just incredible. She’s able to transport you right there to the wards, with all of their chaos, humour, sadness and hope.
She describes the patients and fellow staff in such beautiful detail that you can picture them in your mind’s eye.
The little quirks of individuals, the smells of the wards, the tension, the drama and the hope are all brought to life by Watson’s writing.
Christie describes why she became a nurse, after much deliberation about her career path, and the different roles she has held in NHS hospitals.
There are a lot of sad stories in this book. The truth is that if someone ends up on a mental health ward or the paediatric intensive care unit, their tale is not going to be a happy one.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking elements of the book for me were the stories of young children suffering awful illnesses. One young boy was trapped in a sealed room because his immune system was so desperately weak.
Another lad was just nine and was paralysed from the neck down in a car accident. Imagine losing the ability to walk at that age? Imagine being stuck in a hospital for months on end when you are so young? But it was Christie who was by his side every day for more than 12 hours, trying to lift his spirits as well as care for his body.
I confess that I shed more than just the one tear while reading this book. The stories of individual patients were so moving.
And yet for all of the sad stories from Christie’s life on the wards, the overwhelming message of this book is positivity. Because the point is that there are people like Christie who choose to suffer through the sad stories, to see people at their worst, and help them however they can.
Christie describes instances where she stayed late at work to keep an elderly woman company, or times when she held a dying orphan who had no one else in the world to help them.
She explains how she shows kindness to her patients, and their families, and that this is the real role of a nurse. To be kind.
For all of the training and expertise that Christie amassed over her career, from reading the book it seems that her biggest strength was her ability to support and lift people up when they are at their lowest point.
If you aren’t already a HUGE fan of NHS staff, then after reading this book you will be totally in awe of them.
This witty, charming, hilarious and blunt book is absolutely vital reading for our time – when the NHS is under ever-increasing threat. It shows us why we must treasure and protect our beloved NHS, because it’s not just about facts and figures.
There is a human heart to the NHS that can never be allowed to stop beating.