I was a bit worried about spoiling it but it actually says right there in the introduction that he resigned as a doctor in the end. So here you go, you know it now. A person who was trained for six long years and was in the job for another six long years, quit one day. Are you not curious about what happened?
Adam Kay, the author, put this book together from his diary entries during the years when he worked in the hospitals from a new graduate student to a senior registrar. The funny, the stupid, the tragic, the rollercoaster of emotions, the sense of achievement and meaning, the overbearing load. It was written partly because he was clearing out old paperwork in his house and this diary triggered memories. But partly, he wrote it to give junior doctors a voice, especially in the face of government reform of the NHS a few years ago. It fills me with respect for all the hardworking and amazing doctors out there, but somehow at the same time, it fills me with dread if I ever have to go to hospital again.
First and foremost, it’s eye-opening about medicine as a profession. I’m thankful that I don’t go to the hospital very often. But even if I did, I wouldn’t be speaking to them about their personal life, hopes and fears. So naturally, I had no idea. Now after reaching the end of this book, I really can’t see a doctor as just a ‘doctor’ anymore.
I was taught recently that a non-fiction book should be a mixture of the inside and the outside, the personal feeling and the hard facts. And it should not be a pure diary. So from a writing point of view, I was quite curious how this book broke the rules. I realised pretty quickly that yes it was a personal diary, but it certainly was not a diary of a self-centred teenage girl. Most of the time it described medical situations, patients and the working environment he faced day in day out, only a small proportion was his rants. And I have to say, they were mostly very legit rants and I felt for him.
I guess that was what touched me most about this book. It made me see: behind hospital doors and theatre curtains, behind the sanitised cold face of just another doctor, always calm and collected. It gave me a chance to see behind all these, and it made me feel. I felt his good humour on almost every page (I particularly enjoyed the ‘wearing her like a sooty’ episode). I felt his frustration facing many unchangeable circumstances that were out of his control. I felt his pride and joy as a doctor, like when he first saved a life; his pride and joy in the medical profession as a whole, and in providing the best care for his patients, most of the time for the mothers and the newborn babies at their most vulnerable. I felt the heaviness of the daily dealing with life and death, such as when he witnessed the first death, (“the blood jetted everywhere: on me, on Hugo, on the walls, curtains, ceiling… the sound was the worst part. With every breath the poor man took you could hear the blood sucking down into his lungs, choking him…”), particularly in the later chapters.
The author went on tour after the book was published and spoke to people about the healthcare situation in the UK. Many people responded to his story and asked ‘what can I do to help’. His answer was simple but profound: ask them how their day was, and don’t be British about it by accepting one-word ‘fine’ as an answer. Like he says, the NHS isn’t made up of hospitals, pharmacies and GP surgeries, it’s made up of the people who work there. (I very seriously tried this out on a doctor friend that very evening, repeatedly asking ‘but really how was your day?’ She said I’m fine I’m fine. But really really? She said ‘I was on leave today…’)
Overall, very easy and enjoyable to read, plus the educational value, I would definitely recommend. This book was written years ago so obviously has nothing to do with COVID-19 which darkens large parts of the world as I write. But it does give a perspective.
Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash.