By Adam Kay
This book was recommended to me by a friend of mine who is not usually a reader. With two young kids and a full time job, she never seems to find the time for casual reading, in fact I can count on one hand the books that she says she has read in full. This is however, a good indication for me of a good book. If she’s managed to make the time to read it, and not only that, but read it in the space of one week, then it is definitely something I should be reading. She lent me this book straight after she managed to get through it in less than a week, but not just that, she loved it. And as a result I bought her the Xmas version of this book for her Christmas present this year, and she finished that before Christmas Day even rolled around. “Twas the night shift before Christmas”.
I have seen this book doing the rounds for the past couple of years. It was originally published in 2017 by Picador and is described as a “collection of diary entries written by Kay during his medical training from 2004 – 2010.
Kay is now a comedy writer for TV, with credits on such programmes as “Mrs Brown’s Boys”, “Mitchell and Webb” and “Crims” and many more.
The book is written based on the diaries that Kay kept during his training and years working as a Junior doctor in the gynaecology and maternity wards of the UK. He is very respectful of patients by using initials only and even states that there are some stories he has had to leave out due to the unmistakable nature of the patient. That being said, there are some stories in this book that I feel, if it were you, you’d know.
One of my favourites is the woman who decided to propose to her boyfriend on a leap year with a kinder egg centre insert – bear in mind that this is the gynaecology department and I feel I need to say no more.
Although Kay is a comedy writer now, something which does come through in his writing. There are some very hard hitting and emotional stories in this book, stories of when child birth goes wrong or when gynaecological issues cause major health issues and in some cases even death to the patient/patients. It is not a book for the faint hearted, you need to go into it with your eyes open.
Ultimately, this book is the story of a junior doctor who spent the first ten years of his life, working his arse off, making huge life sacrifices and who eventually gave it all up because the emotional and psychological strain became too much, in a system where mental health and support is not on the radar, let alone openly talked about.
Kay does not hold back when it comes to speaking about the way in which NHS staff are treated, the sacrifices which they make in their personal lives and the terrible way in which their mental health is taken for granted. It really does make you appreciate all the hard work which they do, the hours which they put in and the pressure which they are put under and all for much less money than they deserve. I’d suggest that this book be read as source material for anyone due to take on the job of Health Secretary in the government. I’d suggest it, but even if it was compulsory, i feel that the politician in the chair would simply get an intern to read it, summarise it and then never read that vital document before going in and cutting staff budgets once again.
It is a great book, well written, both funny and heartbreaking in equal measure. Easy to read quickly as it is separated into sections which cover Kay’s many assignments. Within these sections, the book is laid out in chronological order, with each entry receiving it’s own section. This makes for such ease when picking up and putting down. The book is very much based on diary entries with some additional annotation explaining some of the more technical medial terms and an introduction at the beginning of each section explaining where Kay is in his career and what the impact of his work is having on his relationship and friendships.
There is also the overarching story of his friendships, relationship with long suffering H and his late night frequent phone calls and impromptu counselling sessions with the chronically depressed Simon. Things which kept me reading this book even through the rough stories, just to find out what happened to these people.
I read a lot of books which contain hardship, suffering and often death, but this one affected me more than I expected. In truth it is probably the knowledge that these people are real people, each baby Kay helped deliver is now a person, each death he witnessed affected friends and family of those people. He often says that it is the fact he ‘made a difference to peoples lives’ which keeps him going and you can really see this in his writing. People with a weaker disposition would not have made it through some of the things that he, not only witnessed but had to take part in. Troubleshooting the human body when it all goes horribly wrong and managing those life or death situations whilst managing a team, the expectations of the patient and the patients family, all whilst experiencing crippling imposter syndrome. Not many people could do it.
Sometimes Kay does come across as a bit arrogant, but you know what, I’ll let him have it. During this time he was working all hours of the day and night for not much money, learning each and every day and not only bringing new people into the world, but also saving peoples lives. If that doesn’t allow him a little arrogance then I don’t know what does. This also sets him up well for a career as a TV comedy Writer.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves real life stories and anyone who loves a good emotional rollercoaster, but not to anyone who is currently pregnant or planning on being so soon. Some of these stories will stay with me for years to come and are likely to be forefront in my mind the next time a friend tells me their “wonderful news”.