The good: It’s also quite funny.
The not-so-good: The ending is heartbreaking.
Why I chose it: Enjoy a medical memoir.
Publisher: Picador (Pan Macmillan)
Setting: Hospitals of England
I’m a sucker for medical memoirs/non-fiction, especially when they come from junior doctors. Picture being fresh out of university, knowing a lot of theory and not a lot of practicality, and everyone else telling you what to do. You don’t know if what the nurse or pharmacist telling you is correct – in fact, you’d like a couple of minutes to Google fact check – but the place is busy non-stop and you’re the one with authority. So starts Adam’s life in medicine, from junior doctor to senior. It’s a busy life where work comes before family commitments, relationships, earning money and generally having a life.
Adam’s time is told as a series of diary entries – some in great detail, some not so much – but all of them pack a punch or two. They range from the absurd (you put what up where?), hilarious (clueless people) and heartbreaking (errors leading to changed lives). The book is sorted into his time as he progresses through the ranks of being a doctor and chooses a specialty, obstetrics and gynaecology. It’s also a blunt look at life in England’s NHS (I believe before some of the reforms capping working hours came in) where being busy, understaffed and time poor is almost the norm. It’s clear that Kay loves and believes in the power of the NHS, but isn’t blind to its faults. The hierarchal behaviour of medicine also comes through in Kay’s training – the consultant on call who doesn’t want to be called ever or the private doctor who won’t let him touch a patient. It’s also an exploration of the different personalities that make up a large organisation and how to function with them to get the work done. Which always happens, no matter how behind Kay is or what’s going on. He is there for his patients and sometimes it’s to the detriment of everything else – weddings, Christmas and relationships.
Although the final diary entry is heartbreaking, most of the book is absolutely hilarious. It’s black, it’s crude – but absolutely essential to wellbeing of the staff. It’s those light-hearted moments that help staff to bond and to break the tension, sadness and abuse that can come from those who the medical profession is trying to serve. Let them laugh at someone (in private of course) who ‘accidentally’ sat on a carrot or someone complaining on painless spots on their tongue (read taste buds). As demonstrated in this book, NHS staff are people too with feelings. Sometimes letting off steam with a bad joke is how they cope with IT that doesn’t work, things not where they should be, double shifts or ineptness. You don’t have to like it, but it exists.
I loved this book – it was raw and hilarious. Adam Kay is talented at finding the humour and translating it to the page.