Book choice: This is going to hurt

Review by Dr Greg Dollman

. ADAM Kay’s bestseller, now in paperback, has perhaps done more than any investigative reporter or reality TV show to highlight what it is really like to be a junior doctor. Hilariously funny throughout, This is going to hurt closes with a very solemn message to society: “Remember [healthcare professionals] do an absolutely impossible job, to the very best of their abilities. Your time in hospital may well hurt them a lot more than it hurts you.”

The book is a collection of amusing stories from Kay’s “secret diaries” whilst a junior doctor. Think Adrian Mole in a lab coat (and after the infection control lead nurse visited, bare below the elbow). These include the obligatory “lost in translation” funnies (including medical students trying to make sense of a new vocabulary), the literary gems produced by outsourced dictation services, the inevitable “unexpected objects stuck in orifices”, the banter between colleagues, and of course the abundant humour patients bring, wittingly or often more so unwittingly, with them to hospital. And Kay was a trainee in obstetrics and gynaecology, so expect plenty of body fluids gags.

And yet, Kay tells us that he “hung up his stethoscope” when “one terrible day, it all became too much for me”. This is a very personal story of how the vocation took its toll.

I would think that all doctors can relate to the hurt that Kay describes in his book. There’s the seemingly endless hours of overtime, the many missed or cancelled personal activities, the numerous changes of clothes covered in someone else’s body fluids (for me, it always seemed to happen when wearing a new pair of trousers), the constant move to new departments or hospitals, the anxious wait after a needle stick injury, the endless suffering of patients. And yet, doctors return day after day, to continue their extraordinarily valuable (if not always valued) efforts.

I, like Kay, no longer work as a clinician, yet I share his immense “respect for those who work on the front line of the NHS”. I also agree with his recommendation that doctors talk about “the sad stuff, the bad stuff” they encounter during their work. This is a wonderful book. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you angry, it makes you think. And most powerfully, it reminds society (and politicians) of the sacrifices that doctors make.