May 14, 2018
Issue 5 2018
Booked in

Adam Kay, This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor

I’ve expounded the virtues of nonfiction before, but (somewhat hypocritically) I don’t read it very often. The allure of fiction is just too damn strong. Every now and then, however, I come across a real gem.

This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor is a really long title which I’m going to shorten to This is Going to Hurt for the rest of this review, but it’s also a book by British television writer and comedian Adam Kay, comprised of entries from a diary kept during his time as a junior doctor in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). Alongside the entries, Kay offers reflective commentary on each of the nine posts he worked at over six years, and footnotes which are as amusing as they are informative. It’s like a realistic medical drama. In book form.

A fairly short book and a quick, easy, read (about four hours according to howlongtoreadthis.com, which is a very useful website), This is Going to Hurt nonetheless has a lot going on. Contrary to popular belief, doctors—at least junior doctors in the NHS—are underpaid, undervalued, and overworked. Kay describes the toll taken on doctors’ health and relationships but is also adamant about one thing: saving lives far exceeds monetary value.  

Most of the entries are amusing, like patients offering bribes to be signed off work for longer, and word confusion between ‘hermaphrodite’ and ‘haemophiliac.’ Some are… disturbing, especially if, like me, you’re almost painfully squeamish (one word: degloving). Some are heart-warming: grateful patients and happy endings, which means, of course, that some entries are devastating. In a hospital, you can expect plenty of not-so-happy endings.

After a point, the diary structure started to feel repetitive. Most of the shock value was past and each entry felt like just another anecdote. Not to say it became boring. I’d come to know the Adam Kay who resides within the pages of his book and wanted to find out what it was that made him reconsider his career. I’ll say no more on that—even nonfiction can have spoilers.

In any case, the combination of snarky British humour, surprisingly educational material, life lessons, tragedies, and ‘aww’-worthy moments, was enough to win me over. From house officer to senior registrar; hilarity to heartbreak, This is Going to Hurt does not lie when it tells you—this is going to hurt. Be it your sides or your chest (but please go see a doctor if the pain doesn’t go away).