This is Going to Hurt
You might expect a book with the subtitle Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor to be an unrelentingly bleak and graphic catalogue of failures of a public health system, with a grouchy, overworked, but idealistic, young protagonist at its core. And good news – that’s exactly what you get with Adam Kay’s bestselling memoir. What you don’t necessarily expect to get is a conveyor belt of belly laughs, stemming from an incredibly thick skin and an accompanying jet-black sense of humour.
Kay, now a successful comedy writer with titles such as Mitchell and Webb on his CV, spent 12 years in total training to be a doctor, ultimately specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology. Having graduated through the system to become Senior Registrar, Kay gave it all up when he realised the physical and psychological toll it was taking. Throughout those years, he kept a sporadic diary of his steep medical learning curve, which neatly doubled as a catalogue of his negligible personal life.
Much of it is jaw-dropping: Kay calculated that Senior House Officers earned just £6.60 an hour, significantly less than a shift supervisor at McDonald’s; doctors were expected to move hospitals every six to 12 months to learn from a range of consultants; and ‘in order to encourage use of public transport’ they often had to pay for parking, cold comfort if you live an hour’s bus journey away after an 18-hour shift. Which is not to say he didn’t find the work rewarding, because he did; it’s just that, ultimately, that wasn’t enough.
Kay is a hugely talented writer, successfully running the gamut from touching, to hilarious, to poignant – after many years of reneged promises and missed dinner dates with his partner ‘H’, there’s a fleeting reference towards the end of him moving into his ‘depressing new bachelor pad’; he’s now in a relationship with the BBC’s Head of Comedy Development, James Farrell. One line in particular, to a bantering, casually racist father-to-be about what will happen if his kid comes out black is batted back with killer line you won’t forget in a hurry.
Kay includes an open letter to the UK Health Secretary at the end of the book and he met Jeremy Hunt on its initial publication; apparently the meeting didn’t go well and it’s clear why that might be the case. I’d have given anything to have been a fly on the wall at that one.