Book Review: One Child, by Torey Hayden

Six year old Sheila was abandoned by her mother on a highway when she was four. A survivor of horrific abuse, she never spoke and never cried.

She was placed in a class for severely retarded children after committing an atrocious act of violence against another child. Everyone thought Sheila was beyond salvation – except her teacher, Torey Hayden.

With patience, skill and abiding love, she fought long and hard to release a haunted little girl from her secret nightmare – and nurture the spark of genius she recognised trapped within Sheila’s silence.

This is the remarkable story of their journey together – and odyssey of hope, courage and inspiring devotion that opened the heart and mind of one lost child to a new world of discovery and joy.

Warning, contains some spoilers regarding themes.

One Child is a book that I have come back to multiple times since I discovered it as a teenager, and upon reading it again this week I am forced to realise that the message that I get from reading and re-reading it has evolved as I have grown. As a teenager I was very idealistic and identified fiercely with the message that everyone was salvageable through love and empathy. Today I most empathise with the worry of toeing that fine line between an honest connection and professionalism.

I have always admired the concept that kindness and compassion can cure anything – it is an ideal that I came into nursing with and have tried to maintain to the best of my ability. Compassion is absolutely essential, and I have used it to help others far more than any clinical skill I ever learnt during my training. But that idealism that anyone can be helped is really challenging to maintain after it becomes clear that you have been taken for a ride a few times. Again this is something that Hayden battles with when Sheila rails against her at different times in the book – when she is violent, destructive or actively trying to hurt people you can feel the struggle that the author goes through. She ultimately comes back to the same conclusion again – I need to approach this differently.

The relentless optimism that Sheila could be saved, and the love described in the book is something that is reminiscent of Call The Midwife, the bits at the end where the narrator gives us the moral of the story, talking about how the human connection is the strongest. It is something that I have clung to when my job has become particularly hard, and it something that I still listen to for inspiration on the power of kindness and compassion.

I am a nurse, and my journey to where I am today has been littered with instances where I catch myself wondering the same thing Torey Hayden dwells on at multiple points throughout the book – how close is too close? It is a little different for me; as a nurse we are taught that compassion is key whereas this book was published by a teacher in 1980’s America and she reiterates the training multiple times – don’t get too close.

So how close is too close? That is the question that Hayden contemplates throughout the book – was it fair of her to take an ‘it is better to have loved and lost’ approach in helping Sheila to heal? When I was studying, the ‘too close’ question was discussed frequently; on a course which teaches the value of empathy and compassion while also advocating for resilience it was a fine line to draw which I never heard answered satisfactorily. This leaves myself and my fellow students to go out into the world with our common sense and good intentions to guide us.

How close is too close? How can you show empathy and compassion without feeling the pain of others? I was given two bits of great advice over the years, both of which came back to me while I was reading this book.

1 ) It is okay to cry when someone dies, it is okay to show emotion. It is not okay for the patient/ relative to be comforting you. Then you have lost your professionalism.

2 ) You can accept and empathise with the feelings of people you care about without them becoming your feelings.

It is a graphic book, know that before you start. There are some strong emotions and difficult circumstances described in this book which you need to be prepared to read, but it remains a permenant fixture to my shelf. I do not think I will ever outgrow this book. I hope that others get as much out of it as I have done, many times.

If you liked this, you may also like:

Book Review: This Is Going To Hurt, by Adam Kay

Book Review: The Pull Of The Stars by Emma Donoghue

Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Published by BeckyBookBlog

My name is Becky and I run a blog about Books

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