Review of the month

By Annie O’Dea

Discovering my Empathetic Heart, by Melanie Baker

Inspired by her grandson Jacob, Melanie Baker, having never written a book before, wrote Discovering My Empathetic Heart. Like most grandparents, Mel read and shared stories with Jacob, who loved hearing about her nursing days. It was February 2020, when Mel was last back in the UK visiting her family, that Jacob said to her, “You know what nanny, you should write a book.” And that’s exactly what Mel did.

Mel felt it was important for her grandson to know that not everyone or everything in life is perfect. People have problems and it is fine to be different. Real-life is about embracing all aspects – the highs and the lows that life throws at you – including death. The pandemic has reminded us all of the harsh realities and how much we take for granted. Mel wanted something good to come out of Covid and thought there was more than just food and drink to take from the lockdown. So she started writing her first autobiographical book and it took just six months to finish.

Discovering My Empathetic Heart is based on Mel’s memoirs from childhood to adulthood, guiding her to her career in psychiatric nursing. Her book focuses on Mel’s early nursing career, sharing stories of her time as a student nurse. She also writes about the many challenges facing the NHS and Social Services. Her book is filled with love, laughter and heartbreak.

In the 1970s/80s, mental health was such a taboo topic and people suffering from mental health issues were seen as mad or just crazy. Patients were locked away in asylums, where they were institutionalised and worse. They were never seen by society and never part of the community, but rather they were out of sight and mind of their families to save embarrassment.

Mel writes: “Follow me as I introduce you to the innocence and institutionalisation of poor Hetty, admitted to the old asylum and deemed as being possessed by the devil because she was an unmarried pregnant teenager. Then, how my talent in the art of farting saved my life when a disturbed patient threatened to kill me as he chased me down a hospital corridor, and the phenomena of witnessing a patient with stigmata.”

Mel reflects, “Being part of the patients’ lives and creating fun and laughter as part of their treatment made me proud to make a difference. After all, they gave me the greatest gift of all, the knowledge and experience to enhance my own life, enabling me to help others.”

Mel’s second book will cover care in the community, sharing stories of carers going beyond the call of duty, alongside many heart-warming characters. It will centre around her own Home Care Company and she has already started writing it. She imagines she will finish it by Christmas this year.

Mel draws her personal story in her first book to a close with: “My dreams were now a reality, all thanks to the beautiful meaning of the word EMPATHY.”


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