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“This Is Going To Hurt”: a review of Adam Kay’s hilarious medical memoir

Book cover of This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay

Bound2Books is no stranger to medical memoirs. I love reading books about the living and the dead and everything in between. If I can combine medicine with comedy, then we have a real winner on our hands which is the case for Adam Kay’s memoir/diary This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor.

Kay does not hold back in this memoir, which draws upon his experiences as a junior doctor working for the NHS (The U.K.’s public health system) from 2004 to 2010. In those six years it feels like Kay has seen it all from the tragic deaths of patients to removing KFC chicken from a woman’s cervix. Yes, you read that correctly.

If you’re squeamish, this book is not for you. I have never had any filter when it comes to these things and much to the horror of my husband will happily talk about vomit, puss, and diarrhea whilst eating dinner. Perhaps I was a doctor in a past life? All poop jokes aside though, this novel is more than just a gag-reel for doctors, but rather digs much deeper into the mistreatment of medical staff in the U.K. and ultimately the world over.

Kay talks about working 80 hours plus in a week. He talks about missing friend’s weddings, special occasions, and Christmases. He talks about how his personal relationships suffer because of his long hours and how he doesn’t have any time to rest. In fact, doctors are forced to work for insanely long hours without sleep. Imagine being awake for over 24 hours and then having to perform surgery! That is the sad reality of many doctors. Not to mention the insecurity when it comes to income and lifestyle. Kay talks about this myth that doctors, like lawyers, make a mint and live in luxury houses and drive expensive cars. The truth is, according to Kay’s experience, that many doctors cannot even put down a deposit on a house because they don’t earn enough and cannot even stay in one place for very long because they need to do practical interns over the whole U.K. Even when they can settle down, it is still hard to really put down roots.

Mixed up in all the myths about doctors is that we put doctors and medical staff on a pedestal, which on the one hand is a complement to their work, and on the other hand removes the humanity of doctors. At the end of the day, doctors are real human beings who want sleep, love, downtown, and drinks on a Friday as much as any of us do. Yet we, as a society, treat them like they are some superhuman robot void of these basic human desires. And I know it is scary to think of doctors as humans who make mistakes, but by pretending they are something else we rob them and ourselves of a better medical system.

Kay’s memoir highlights the ridiculousness of the medical profession in the hopes to advocate for the better treatment of doctors and medical staff. When Kay hung up his speculum (he worked for many years in obs and gynae), I get the impression that he left with a heavy heart. He knew he couldn’t go on, yet giving up everything he had trained to become a doctor also seemed like a major failure. However, I would argue that his voice is exactly the sort of voice needed to broach this topic. He is funny and charismatic and definitely brings up topics that will get people talking.

Public health, as in free and easy access to health care, is a basic human right that all citizens should be given. Governments around the world need to do better for doctors and medical staff as well as those being treated in these medical facilities.

What are your thoughts on how the medical system works in your country? What would you like to change in medicine? As always, share the reading love.