EXCERPT: Up until that first day as a junior doctor, I had never met death outside of my own family, other than in the detached, leather cadavers of the dissection room and in the neat rituals of a post-mortem. As a medic, I had never found myself face to face with the end of someone’s life, at least not one that didn’t rest quietly upon a stainless steel table, but still I went to the ward on that day to fulfill my first task as a junior doctor feeling more than prepared for the experience.
And I did know how to feel for a pulse and how to look for signs of respiratory effort. I did know how to check for the presence of a pacemaker and fill out the death certificate. I had been taught all of this, and I could deal with it. But what I couldn’t deal with, and what I didn’t know, was how I would feel walking into a room at the end of someone’s life and seeing all the small details around that room that told me who this person was. The small details that told me this person’s story. The bag of knitting and the get-well cards, the half-eaten pack of Polo Mints, and the puzzle books. It was the paperback on the bedside table that stayed with me more than anything else. Closed shut, its bookmark resting forevermore halfway through a story. I took the sight of that paperback and kept it with me. It joined other small details I collected on the wards as I went through my days, not realizing that it was the weight of these details that would eventually break me.
ABOUT THIS BOOK: An intimate, urgent account of doctor burnout and life as a psychiatrist from bestselling author Joanna Cannon
“A few years ago, I found myself in A&E.
I had never felt so ill. I was mentally and physically broken. So fractured, I hadn’t eaten properly or slept well, or even changed my expression for months. I sat in a cubicle, behind paper-thin curtains, listening to the rest of the hospital happen around me, and I shook with the effort of not crying. I was an inch away from defeat, from the acceptance of a failure I assumed would be inevitable, but I knew I had to carry on. I had to somehow walk through it.
Because I wasn’t the patient. I was the doctor.”
A frank account of mental health from both sides of the doctor-patient divide, from the bestselling author of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and Three Things About Elsie, based on her own experience as a doctor working on a psychiatric ward.
MY THOUGHTS: I admire Joanna Cannon greatly. I loved her novels, Three Things About Elsie, and The Difference Between Goats and Sheep. Now I understand how she can write like she does, with such great empathy and understanding.
I have worked in both general and psychiatric nursing in New Zealand, as well as in private practice. I have seen a lot of people, both nurses and doctors, burn out for the same reasons – the hours, the stress, the lack of care and concern for those who care for the ill and dying. People revere actors and sports stars, but are often rude and dismissive of those who save lives. Somewhere, we have managed to get our priorities wrong.
Breaking & Mending is a short but emotional read. This is, as it says in the promotional blurb, ‘an intimate account’ of a woman’s determination to become a doctor, and what happens on her journey.
Next time I need a doctor, I hope that I get a ‘cardigan’, not a ‘coat’.
Thank you Joanna, for sharing your journey with us. I admire you even more than I did before I read Breaking &Mending.
THE AUTHOR: Joanna Cannon is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, which has sold over 250,000 copies in the UK alone and has been published in 15 countries. The novel was longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize, shortlisted for The Bookseller Industry Awards 2017 and won the 2016 BAMB Reader Award. Joanna has been interviewed in The Guardian, The Observer, The Sunday Times, The Times, and Good Housekeeping magazine, and her writing has appeared in the Sunday Telegraph, Daily Mail, and the Guardian, amongst others. She has appeared on BBC Breakfast, BBC News Channel’s Meet the Author, interviewed on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 5, and is a regular at literary festivals across the country including Edinburgh and Cheltenham. Joanna left school at fifteen with one O-level and worked her way through many different jobs – barmaid, kennel maid, pizza delivery expert – before returning to school in her thirties and qualifying as a doctor. Her work as a psychiatrist and interest in people on the fringes of society continue to inspire her writing, and Joanna currently volunteers for Arts for Health, an organisation bringing creative arts to NHS staff and patients. Joanna Cannon’s second novel Three Things About Elsie is published in January 2018 and explores memory, friendship and old age. She lives in the Peak District with her family and her dog.
DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Serpent’s Tail/Profile Books for providing a digital ARC of Breaking & Mending by Joanna Cannon for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
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