Struggling (yet again) to get through Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, I asked my cousin if she had anything I could borrow for a bit. Her bookcase is a bit limited for choice- she palms off a lot of her books once she’s finished with them but, just by chance, she happened to have a moderate sized book in a completely different vein to that of Year of the Flood. I took This is Going to Hurt, Adam Kay’s debut non-fiction title all about his experiences as a junior doctor. This book has received its fair share of circulation since its release in 2017, achieving success amongst commercial book clubs and TV talk shows, plus I’ve seen it in the hands of many friends.
I rated it 5/5 on Goodreads and honestly, that doesn’t happen very often. I can see why This is Going to Hurt has become an induction text for those with aspirations of becoming a healthcare practitioner. I can also understand how it’s become an empathy tool for those who are years into their careers in the NHS: pass this book to any relative and they can take a brief glimpse into the realities of your job. There’s no glamour and there’s certainly no compassion from the general public, influenced as they are by the convoluted messages from the government.
Adam Kay manages to cover a lot of ground within his sordid diary entries and does a fantastic job of involving the reader, prompting laughter and tears from beginning to end. Kay’s voice is familiar and relatable: he’s sincere, armed with deadpan humour and genuinely invested in the protection of NHS workers. Having been there and done that, Kay’s retrospective account is hardly flattering. Don’t get me wrong: there’s reams of hilarity with stories of questionable objects in questionable places, silly queries from dim patients and sleep-deprived misunderstandings. Yet there’s also a picture painted of a very troubled healthcare system, one with ancient equipment, nonsensical protocols put in place by oblivious politicians and the sad plight of over-worked and under-paid medical staff.
Kay outlines the rewarding aspect of his ex-occupation (he’s now a comedy writer), literally bringing new life into the world safely and protecting mothers on the gynaecology and obstetrics ward. This would be glorious were it not for the brutality of shifts that never end on time, exotic holidays being booked only to be cancelled at the last-minute due to an emergency and the failure to maintain most social commitments. He describes the deterioration of his relationship with his partner (at the time), friends and family. It’s horrible. Yet somehow, he endures and endures until one day it’s simply too much.
It’s hard to read at times, knowing that since this book was published, there has been explicit evidence to suggest that our incredible NHS is further threatened by backstreet talks of privatisation. Our sacred preserver of humanity in the UK is being systematically destroyed and, believe it or not, the first to be affected won’t be the patients in need of emergency care. Yes, they’ll die without the quality care they require but that will only be because there won’t be enough professionals left to prop up the sorry remains of the NHS. Between factors such as low pay, exhaustion, constant stress and an increase in suicide rates for health professionals, the pressure on NHS workers to stay in the game is immense. Especially when there’s a drought of nurses and various other professionals in training.
These individuals are on the front-line facing all sorts of medical disasters with limited time for recouperation as well as barely-existent trauma treatment, which you’d think would be an essential aspect of the health-worker package (in that they deal with blood, guts and death on most days) but, hey ho.
The message is clear: Kay’s overall motivation with the release of this charming debut is to encourage more support for health professionals and to destigmatise getting help. Kay’s depiction of the chaos within NHS wards is both hilarious and poignant, all at the same time. It’s an essential book that ought to be read by everybody in order to understand exactly what our absentee friends in training or uncle (who is only seen at a birthday party every four years or so) are really going through.
I would very much recommend this book and also have to note these particularly incredible sections:
Chapter 6: Registrar – Post Two (in my edition, this was page 136-139)
Thoughts on the value of the NHS vs privatised care.
Sunday 26th April 2009 (p. 179-181)
Extremely disgusting, vomit-inducing diary entry about something stuck in a woman’s vagina. 10/10 would recommend.
Wednesday 21st April 2010 (p. 212-213)
A gory account of a penis-related fiasco involving a desk-fan.
An open letter to the secretary of state for health (p. 265-266)
A passionate and very strong-worded plea to the powers that be, implicitly asking if they can stop being absolute knobheads hell-bent on depleting the NHS until there is finally nothing left.