I bought this book in London Review Bookshop, that I visited as part of my 12 bookshops for 12 months project. I didn’t like the bookshop very much, but this book was a sure crowd-pleaser, I actually noticed it in one of the bookshops I visited earlier this year, but decided to wait as I already had few other books picked. The time has finally come in April.
It is what it says on the cover ‘Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor’, what it doesn’t say on the cover, but in the introduction is that Adam Kay is no longer a doctor, junior or otherwise. Which is why I think he could be so frank about so many things. He wrote the book to try to give everyone a glimpse into the life of a junior doctor working for NHS, which is particularly relevant in the last few years when junior doctors struggle for their rights and the government accuses them of being spoilt.
For the most part the book is funny, at some point it becomes tragicomic and ends with an ode to NHS, quite surprisingly. Kay shows us everything: the crazy hours, crazy patients, crazy doctors, all the bodily fluids possible, impact on the personal life, the whole thing. We go with him through excerpts from his diaries from 2004 to 2010, as he climbs step by step the ladder of medical experience and learning on the job (this is the thing we all try to forget when we go to the hospital, but they do they all learn on the job). He describes his happiness to finally be able to do some real work and then the stifling sense of incompetence when he’s left alone in charge of the entire ward for the night (he was not in any way special, they all have to go through that). The elation of learning something new or making the right decision that saves someone’s life, but also the struggle to keep up, to make sure all paperwork is done, to survive the long hours. The book is basically a series of anecdotes and having some doctor friends I’ve heard some similar stories, but here they’re not told in a party setting and the sheer amount of them creates a picture of such absurd at times that we can only laugh or cry.
I found the moments when after several shifts in a row he is awaken by a call from work (because he’s late for yet another shit) only to find himself sleeping in a car in the hospital car park, a bit terrifying. Imagine how exhausted would you have to be to get in the car and fall asleep right away. And then imagine the doctor you’re seeing in the hospital is in that state or worse and yet he is capable of appearing not only conscious but also competent. Scary thoughts, especially when we think pilots and drivers have very strict limits of consecutive hours they can work for, for exactly the same reason – not to kill people, yet at the same time doctors are asked to opt out from the EU Working Time Directive.
But don’t think the book is all doom and gloom, it really is not, it is more comedy than anything else and I can only hope he had to make up some of those stories, otherwise all hope for humanity is gone, we’re too stupid to survive 😉
Read it for the fun of it, read it for the real picture it gives. Light entertainment with a message, that rarely works, but it worked here.
Quotes from This is Going to Hurt