The Language of Kindness

Watson, Christie

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney
  • Date of entry: Aug-21-2018


Author Christie Watson begins her memoir with these words: "I didn't always want to be a nurse." Indeed, the first several pages of the introduction give witness to Christie's many interests, her career starts and stops, and a peek into what she names her "flightiness," including leaving school at age sixteen to move in with her older boyfriend and his four lodgers (page 5).  Then, still sixteen years old, she begins working with the "Spastics Society" helping to assist disabled adults.  This is the first time she sees nurses in action, and one of them offers Christie a suggestion: "You should do nursing. They give you a grant and somewhere to live" (page 6).  At age seventeen, the author enters nursing school--and like most nursing students, she is "terrified of failure." During her health screening blood draw, Christie faints; a nurse suggests she rethink her career.  But Christie persists, graduates, then spends twenty successful years in nursing.  This memoir--densely written, action packed--is her account of her work especially in the Special-Care baby Unit, in the medical ward, and in Accident and Emergency.  The author brings us as well into the cancer ward, pediatric ICU,  and the geriatric ward, painting vivid portraits of her patients and the many acts of kindness she offers them along the way.


Hospitals can be, at times, frantic places, filled with noises, actions, sights, and smells, all assaulting us at one time.  And when there is an emergency, the doctors and nurses who respond to these situations must hurry, fast forward!  The author often captures this feeling of rush, of multi-tasking, of urgency in her descriptions of her work.  At times, I found the density and rush of this memoir difficult and disjointed, yet I also sensed that it perfectly mirrored the author's sensory experiences and the stresses of healthcare.  Frequently, the author interrupts the flow of her narrative with several paragraphs about the history of medicine, of nursing, of Florence Nightingale, of hospitals.  Often these "asides" come smack in the midst of a good story.  On page 46, the author muses that she might be developing a phobia about blood, but writes, "I am already in too deep and am too proud to admit that nursing might not be the best option for me after all." I wanted her to stay with this thought, to dive deeper, but the next paragraph begins, "Caring for minds sounds as if it would be easier to cope with than caring for bodies." She then continues to explicate the history of the words "psychiatry," "mental-health nurse," and the eighteenth and nineteenth century term "keeper" (title for nurses working with the mentally ill).  Such editorial inserts occur often, ranging from a few paragraphs to several pages--I wondered if an editor had asked the author to add this information.  These interruptions were educational but dry, and they didn't add to the author's story, which needed no such embellishments.  On page 311, the author writes of standing by a mother whose son has died. Christie, the nurse there for support, tries not to sob. "My ice-heart crashes." Those are the personal moments, the memories, that truly help readers understand what nursing is all about.


This memoir is replete with patients' stories and examples of the language of kindness, acts that are not heroic or unique but are part of every good nurses' vocabulary: offering a blanket to an elderly patient; staying with the dying; crying alongside the bereaved. In addition to being a nurse, Christie Watson is an award winning novelist whose books have been translated into fifteen languages.  Reading this memoir, I often had the feeling that the novelist Watson was writing rather than the nurse Watson.  It was when nurse Watson took over the pen that the book became most engaging.


Tim Duggan Books

Place Published

New York, NY



Page Count