Thursday 29 August 2019

Breaking and Mending by Joanna Cannon @JoannaCannon @ProfileBooks #WellcomeCollection #BreakingAndMending

"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 and I shook with the effort of not crying. I was an inch away from defeat... but I knew I had to carry on.
Because I wasn't the patient. I was the doctor." 
In this powerful memoir, Joanna Cannon tells her story as a junior doctor in visceral, heart-rending snapshots.  
We walk with her through the wards, facing extraordinary and daunting moments: from attending her first post-mortem, sitting with a patient through their final moments, to learning the power of a well- or badly chosen word. These moments, and the small sustaining acts of kindness and connection that punctuate hospital life, teach her that emotional care and mental health can be just as critical as restoring a heartbeat.
In a profession where weakness remains a taboo, this moving, beautifully written book brings to life the vivid, human stories of doctors and patients - and shows us why we need to take better care of those who care for us.

Breaking and Mending by Joanna Cannon is published by Profile Books on 26 September and is the first book in the Life Lines series; today's finest storytellers on health and being human, with the Wellcome Collection. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.

I have followed Joanna Cannon's writing journey for a long time now. I used to read her blog and was always touched by her ability to portray such emotion, and such compassion through her writing.
I think most people know her story; she wrote her first novel during her breaks when she was working as a psychiatrist in a busy NHS hospital. That book was The Trouble with Goats and Sheep; one of my favourite books of recent years.  Her second novel; Three Things About Elsie was another huge success.

Whilst I do know a lot of Joanna's back story, and have been lucky enough to meet her on more than one occasion, I was excited to learn that she was publishing this memoir, about her time as a junior doctor.

Breaking and Mending is not a long book. It's just 166 pages in total, but every single word is perfect. There were times when I had to put the book aside and gather my thoughts, and reign in my emotions. It is one of the most beautifully written books that I've ever had the pleasure to read.

Joanna's experiences as a junior doctor are not unique to her. I'm positive that most doctors would read this book and nod their heads in recognition. I've worked in NHS related jobs for many years and have seen the effects of the unrelenting work load on the professionals that I sit alongside.
However, I doubt that there are many other doctors who could put their feelings into words such as these. Joanna Cannon's ability to convey every feeling, every emotion and every single moment of hope, desperation and frustration is utterly compelling and so powerfully done.

Joanna Cannon was an 'older' medical student; deciding to undertake her medical training much later in life than most people. She was given a 'wild card' by the admitting Consultant; given a place at medical school despite her doubts about what she was doing. We follow her through her journey as a brand new student; as she undertakes placements; as she works her first shift as the only doctor on duty.
Writing with honesty and clarity, and pulling no punches, this author clearly details the immense pressure that our dedicated and treasured medical staff come under. It is a both shocking, and thought-provoking and it is my hope that it conveys to all readers the incredible dedication that drives most doctors who carry on their work despite often horrendous conditions and pressures.

As with this author's fiction, she uses her words to create the most wonderful imagery, this passage from the book particularly moved me:

'There are some rooms in a hospital which are designed for delivering bad news or made especially for people to sit in whilst they wait to receive it ............
............ Good news is allowed to wander around freely and stretch its legs. It's allowed to travel through cubicle curtains and make its way around the ward and be heard by anyone who might happen to walk by. It's bad news that needs to be contained. Trapped. Kept tightly enclosed in a small room with four easy chairs and a coffee table, just in case it should manage to escape and be heard forever.'

Painfully honest, harrowing, heart-breaking and so so human. Breaking and Mending is a book that must be read by everyone who ever has any contact with our NHS.

Joanna Cannon graduated from Leicester Medical School and worked as a hospital doctor, before specialising in psychiatry.
Her first novel The Trouble With Goats and Sheep was a top ten bestseller in both hardback and paperback and was a Richard and Judy pick.

She lives in the Peak District with her family and her dog.

Twitter @JoannaCannon


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