We are all nurses – Christie Watson

12 May
Photo of Matt Holland and Christie Watson

Matt Holland and Christie Watson ©Fernando Bagué

I’m drawn to kindness, and I was pleased to see an event on this subject at this year’s festival. We live in a country of increasing homelessness and poverty (again) – to hear/read about kindness feels more important than ever. 

I’ve also been a psychiatric nurse myself during the 1980’s and 1990’s, in one of those old asylums, and sometimes kindness was not part of care: lack of time and lack of resources always pushed kindness to the outer edges in those cold enormous wards, and people were dehumanised by this. 

Christie Watson’s book is impressive. She raises the awareness of the quality of good nurses through stories that highlight her own twenty years of kindness and dedication: “Sympathy, compassion, empathy: this is what history tells us makes a good nurse.” (p.8). 

This was an honest, passionate discussion. We heard about ‘terrifying A&E’ and ‘sad mental health’ – a nurse’s experience of finding the kind of role to suit a blood-scared 16 year old faced with a dirty sanitary towel stuck on her nursing home toilet door, and the HIV blood-checking in occupational health that led to a fainting and those woeful comments of, ‘you’re in the wrong job.’ Becoming a resuscitation nurse helped Christie find her place in the NHS. ‘People can find a job that suits their personality.’ 

We heard about Betty from Chapter 1: A Tree of Veins. 

“The woman with sad eyes wearing the red coat … tiny and frail-looking. She is even smaller when her coat comes off.” 

Betty didn’t need medical intervention, she needed kindness: really good nursing care. This is very true. I was once threatened by a very angry, very tall patient wearing a black gum shield – he was a millimetre from my face and shouting. I offered him a cup of tea in my kindest nurse voice (I had one of those) and he sat down, took out the black gum shield and said, ‘yes please nurse.’ I took a breath and put the kettle on.  Kindness can save your life, and make a big difference. 

What is bad nursing care? Can our nurses be good when they are over-worked, stressed, tired, and even hungry? Nurses need time and resources to care well. They also need Christie’s book:

Question: ‘Do you think all new nurses should have a copy of your book?’ (A Tweet today from Peter Carter: “Picked up my copy today. Congratulations Christie I’m really enjoying your book, it’s powerful and moving & should be on the syllabus for all student nurses.”)

Answer: ‘I think all politicians should be given a copy of my book.’ (Reply to Tweet – “I hope it’s on the syllabus for politicians (from all sides) too… #fornurses”)

Christie is a novelist now – Her first novel, Tiny Sunbirds Far Away, won the Costa First Novel Award and her second novel, Where Women Are King, was also published to international critical acclaim. Her works have been translated into eighteen languages. She talked about the growth of her imagination, and her fascination for the stories of people she nursed. But it was the experience of her own father’s nursing that led her to writing, The Language of Kindness. ‘Everyone should be allowed a dignified, comfortable death and caring should be part of our value system. Care has become a dirty word. Kindness = Unity: a collective kindness is necessary.’ 

‘The Magic Money Tree’ raised its unkind head – is there enough money to care, to be kind? ‘Yes’, said Christie Watson. ‘I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t pay more tax for good social/health care. WE JUST NEED MORE MONEY.’ 

Yet wealth is held by 1% of our unkind world. This old Magic Money Tree grows in 1% of gardens! Kindness is growing too, and is required in the other 99%. We need a kindness revolution. 

This is what I took away from this wonderful discussion. 

Christie Watson talked about The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story to Matt Holland at the Swindon Arts Centre, as part of the Swindon Festival of Literature, 11 May 2018.

Words by Hilda Sheehan. Photo © Fernando Bagué

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