RAD Book Club Members have been entertained and made queasy, in equal measures, by reading or listening to Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor. Doctor turned comedian and writer, Kay presents a series of anecdotes from his years of medical training. Eight Book Club members contributed to a discussion about the book, which had produced strong reactions in all of us.

First published in 2017, and now followed by Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas, this book comprises a selection of diary entries in which Kay presents the realities of what it means to go through medical training and the life of a junior doctor in the NHS today. The book not only presents the funny and the bizarre, the unexpected and the repulsive aspects of everyday life in any A&E and hospital ward, but also the stress and the pressure imposed in all hospital staff and the huge impact this has in their personal lives. This book constitutes a political statement about the many issues in our health care system and about the many misconceptions around what sort of lives hospital staff, in particular doctors, lead. To represent the many meals NHS staff must grab from vending machines, and to honour the work of all NHS staff, our refreshments for the meeting was a box of ‘Heroes’ chocolates.

We all agreed this is an enlightening book providing some interesting and worrying insights into the workings of the NHS. We enjoyed its light-hearted and entertaining tone, and found it very easy to read. The episodic, short nature of the anecdotes presented gave the book a very dynamic feel, which encouraged us to keep on reading or listening. Initially perceived as just a collection of funny anecdotes, we discovered that the book gradually developed into a more mature, caring, reflective view of the experiences of a junior doctor.

We discussed how perhaps the first half of the book was written from behind the protective barrier that the author had built against the distress that health workers have to deal with, and the second half was written as he realised that it is not possible to remain emotionally distant. This development allowed us to warm to the author more, especially since most of us felt not very sympathetic towards the author during the first part of the book. The author’s sense of humour was also well received by most us, particularly the pithy, witty remarks that provided amusing, provocative insights into the author’s particular view of the world.

Given its subject matters, footnotes seemed inevitable. Those who read the book seemed to find the footnotes disruptive, if not irrelevant at times and would have preferred a glossary of medical terms instead. Those who listed to the audiobook, however, appeared to enjoy the footnotes a bit more, since they flowed better within the text in this format. On many occasions, where the footnotes were used for comic effect, some felt that they were justified.

We all reported particular passages that had caused powerful physical reactions in us. Many of the anecdotes were often very graphically illustrated and left us feeling squeamish, and uncomfortable, although very often producing a few good laughs along the way. We found Kay too flippant sometimes and felt he had taken some of the stories a step too far. This left us wondering how far Kay’s original diary entries had been rewritten or embellished for the purpose of this book.

Our score as a group is 7 out of 10. This reflects how much we enjoyed the humour of this book and how much we think raising awareness about the NHS and its staff matters.

Book Club will meet again on Tuesday 07 April 2020 at the usual time of 1-2 pm in the Library to discuss the three-act play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by American playwright Tennessee Williams, an examination of family relations dealing with issues around desire, repression, and death.