“Three a.m. attendance at labour ward triage. Patient RO is twenty-five years old and thirty weeks into her first pregnancy. She complains of a large number of painless spots on her tongue. Diagnosis: taste buds.”
Author: Adam Kay Published: 2017 Pages: 278
Well, this is one of the easiest five stars I’ve ever given to a book. I’d heard a lot about This is Going to Hurt before I managed to pick myself up a copy, and every single review had been overwhelmingly positive. Its author, Adam Kay, used to be a doctor, and is now a comedian, so as you can imagine, his memoirs of the days he used to practice are suitably hilarious. The book is laid out in a series of diary entries, with very helpful footnotes to explain any medical terms which would not be in the everyday vernacular of his readers. Spanning over six years of medical experiences, Kay’s recounting of his life as a doctor is painfully honest but totally heart-warming too.
It’s not hard to see why Kay is a comedy writer; every story in the book, no matter how dire or visceral, is somehow turned into a funny anecdote by him. I think this is mainly due to the fact that the majority of his patients were absolutely fine after their experiences, so he probably doesn’t feel bad telling a joke at their expense. (Plus, all doctors, patients, friends, and anyone who appears in the book remains anonymous by Kay’s choice to replace their names with either initials or Harry Potter characters – which is excellent.) Also, as much as he shares the sacrifices it takes to be a doctor, he also doesn’t hold back in sharing how rewarding and remarkable it can be – as an obstetrician, he was welcoming new life into the world everyday, and that’s probably something which feels pretty damn good.
The humour throughout almost made me forget that he was dealing with life and death situations everyday, but by the end, this book becomes a sobering reminder that a doctor’s work is life-saving. The whole thing is a strange mix of hilarity and shock; I knew that doctors were unappreciated before reading this, but this novel makes you realise just how much – it’s safe to say I won’t be taking any doctor for granted any more!
There were a few note-worthy anecdotes from the novel which I will write below as an advert for just how great this book is:
“Today crossed the line from everyday patient idiocy to me checking around the room for hidden cameras. After a lengthy discussion with a patient’s husband about how absolutely no condoms fit him, I establish he’s pulling them right down over his balls.”
“A news story in the paper about a hospital porter who’s been jailed for pretending to be a doctor for the last few years. Just finished one of those shifts where I wondered if I could get away with pretending to be a porter.”
“Prescribing a morning-after pill in A&E. The patient says, ‘I slept with three guys last night. Will one pill be enough?'”
The book gets progressively more stark as each diary entry unfolds, and although Kay still tells it as his funny self, you can’t help but sympathise for this man, clearly stretched to his limits, doing all he can to help, but realising that even his best isn’t good enough to keep control of all the situations which require him. I write spoiler-free reviews, so I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say that my heart dropped in the last diary entry of the novel – I was not prepared for how heart-breaking this read was going to be.
I cannot recommend reading This is Going to Hurt enough! The novel is hilarious, heart-breaking, and honest; it’s ability to see the humour in our medical idiocy and various aliments is brilliant, but it is also a striking reminder of how thinly our NHS is stretched. Read this if you’ve ever had an encounter with the NHS (which I’m sure everyone has) because it will make you appreciate it in a way like never before.
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