Christie Watson has spent most of her working life as a nurse, but it was only when she saw the nursing care given to her father when he was suffering from lung cancer that the idea of writing about her life in the wards came to her.
“For the first time I’d been on the other side of the fence and watching this nurse made me understand this job. The smallest of actions this nurse did made the biggest effect. This job is amazing and we don’t really hear about the amazing side of the job,” she said.
When she was thinking about writing the book, Christie, a novelist and graduate of the University of East Anglia’s celebrated MA in creative writing, visited major libraries, but was unable to find any modern piece of narrative non-fiction by a nurse.
“I’d been reading narrative non-fiction written by doctors for years … I suddenly realised we haven’t had any nurses’ voices at all,” she said during a discussion at the University of East Anglia held as part of the UEA Spring 2018 Literary Festival.
While Watson said this was partly a result of gender – she said that, even now, 90% of nurses are women – there were factors beyond this.
“It’s also about our value system. We’re turning away from kindness and community and much more interested in the cult of youth, power, extreme beauty, and we revere narcissism. You only have to look around the world at what’s happening,” said Watson.
“A journalist asked, ‘Would it help if Kim Kardashian became a nurse?’ That’s the situation we’re in.
“Alongside that, we’ve never been more lonely. It’s not making us happier or better or richer in ourselves; it’s making us sad.”
Watson has recently released The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story describing her two-decade career in the profession.
“Nursing incorporates everything you could imagine: maths; physics; biology; politics; the arts. It’s not one thing or another; it’s everything,” said Watson.
She worked in mental health before transferring to paediatric nursing, which she was better suited to, saying that she “really loved working with kids”.
“Communicating with children is really key to any kind of children’s nursing, but all good nurses have that language of kindness,” she said.
“As you get more experienced, you realise it’s about the kindness, the care, the compassion, the little things that make a big difference.”
Earlier on in her career, Watson thought the best thing was to develop a thick skin and not to show emotion in front of the patient. Now, she feels that is bad for both nurse and patient.
“As time went on, I allowed myself to be more emotional. But you do absorb trauma and suffering. It doesn’t end with your shift; you carry it with you. That’s part of the fabric of being a nurse,” she said.
“I’m absolutely sure the vast majority of nurses have got some compassion fatigue or post-traumatic stress symptoms. It’s no different from the military.”
Watson indicated that she feels concerned about the future of nursing in Britain and further afield, saying that the National Health Service is 33,000 nurses short and that the United States is predicted to have a shortfall of one million nurses by 2024. She is critical of the British government’s 2017 move to scrap bursaries for student nurses, noting that this had led to a decline in applications to nursing courses.
“Nurses have never worked harder now and the political pressure is immense. Nurses don’t have time,” she said.
Watson remains a registered nurse and it was only two years ago that she finally stopped working on the wards. She hopes that her new book will start a conversation that could lead to some of her concerns being addressed.
“It’s really important this book starts everybody talking who’s not a nurse. It’s really important this book makes people aware nurses are there from birth to death and after death. Nurses are the ones who are there for all of us; each of us will be nursed at some stage,” she said.
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