Book Review: This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

What’s it about?

Now a successful comedian, Adam Kay was once a junior doctor. This book is his diary entries for those years (I presume heavily edited for privacy purposes), from when he first stepped onto a ward to when events took such a toll on him that he was forced to step down. It’s a no-holds-barred account of his time in the NHS, complete with sleep deprivation, relationship declines, and a veritable gallon of bodily fluids.

My thoughts

My best friend is married to a doctor. He’s been a doctor (or a medical student) for the entire time I’ve known him, quietly getting on with doctoring people, always on a new rotation somewhere. When I finished reading this, I felt compelled to text my best friend and say that I had no idea how hard his job was.

“I know”, she replied, “I have no idea how he does it”.

That’s really the point of this memoir. Kay talks of weddings, birthday parties, other social engagements missed because he needed to cover another shift, or there was a patient he couldn’t leave. He’s not unusual, either; these doctors, nurses, therapists miss life events for their patients day in day out, because they believe in the NHS. Personal sacrifice is assumed in the course of duty.

The result is a rather bittersweet tone. Kay clearly believes in what he’s doing, despite the long, long hours. However, he is quite clearly worked to the bone; when another young junior doctor arrives in A&E after attempting suicide, Kay is surprised that it doesn’t happen more often. It reminded me at times of an ex-French Foreign Legion member I once heard speak. He spoke of his perception of normality becoming so skewed that nothing shocks anymore, but becomes risible; a kind of occupational Stockholm Syndrome.

Having said that, this is a very funny book. Stories of objects being extracted from various orifices, of the patient who maintained no condoms could fit until Kay established that he was pulling them over his testicles too, of itchy teeth and other nonsense symptoms all make this a highly amusing read. There’s a bit too much pathos to make it side-splitting, but to be honest, it’s well-balanced.

This is definitely worth reading for all those who use the NHS. For those who get frustrated at its many failings, and for those who know those failings but love it anyway. Actually, it should be required reading for all those who use the NHS; it’ll make you value it more.

Would I recommend it?

Yes, for sure.

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay is published by Pan Macmillan priced £8.99. Although you can probably find a copy half price in most supermarkets.


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