Posted in bloggers, Medical, Politics, Reviews

Book Review: This Is Going To Hurt – Adam Kay (and also, A Love Letter to the NHS)

As someone who will officially become British in the next 6 months (after dropping a whopping £5000 on residency and naturalisation fees of course), I now feel like I have the authority to list some of the things from my adopted country that I’m most proud of.

1. Harry Potter

2. The very commendable ability to insult someone while still managing to sound polite

3. Scones, clotted cream and jam (yum!)

4. Intermediate rent for key workers

5. The Tube (believe me, I’ve travelled a lot and I’ve yet to find a more extensive or well-run transportation service)

6. That damned accent that makes everything sound like a Shakespearean play, even when someone is telling you to sod off

7. The NHS

This post, and this book review, is really an ode to number 7. I freakin’ love the NHS. Call me naive, but I think its a modern miracle. And I say this both from the perspective of working in it, and from having been a patient needing its services.

I arrived in London seven years ago, and within the first four months I managed to get myself bitten by my landlady’s dog to such an extent that it necessitated actual surgery.

Up to this point I had never been admitted to a hospital, never had a cannula put in and have never had to take anything more serious than the occasional antibiotic. Unless you count the cholesterol-lowering medications but hey, I blame genetics for that.

ANYWAY. I was totally unfamiliar with the country’s health system. Heck, I didn’t even know where or what my nearest hospital was. I had to take a bus to a certain hospital in North London and hoped someone there would know what the hell needed to be done with me and my gaping leg wound.

I arrived at the A and E and was seen within the hour (I was later to learn that this was an exception rather than the rule). I had a line put in for the first time in my life, was given antibiotics and was asked, quite stupidly in my opinion, if I cared about the appearance of the leg.

Being somewhat vain about my legs, I said of course with an admirably controlled level of incredulity that such a thing needed to even be asked. I was then informed that in that case I would need to head to another hospital which specialised in plastics and that I would most likely need surgery.

Off I go, taking the Victoria Line and changing at Green Park to take the Jubilee line, stopping somewhere in the general vicinity of Hampstead before taking the bus to get to where I needed to go. I got to the hospital and was scheduled for a day surgery procedure the next day.

On the day of the surgery I was seen by a very lovely and good-looking plastic registrar. I would have given him consent to do anything and everything but all he wanted was my ok to do a washout +/- skin graft procedure. I was wheeled into the anaesthetic room and asked to count backwards from 10. And that was the last thing I remembered before waking up in the recovery room an hour later.

After a couple of hours, I was discharged with take-home meds, dressing instructions and a smile. I then took my very stressed mother and aunt (who were supposed to be on holiday to visit me in London) to eat some peri-peri chicken at Nando’s.

I did all these without having to pay a single penny, and without having to worry about insurance, or my lack thereof.

I don’t know any other country where anxious patients, especially those new to the country like myself, would be able to expect this kind of service. Its a privilege that we take for granted everyday because we are so immersed in it, but that’s exactly what it is: a privilege.

Its a privilege to have the services that the NHS provides, and its a privilege to be a part of those services.

I haven’t read other reviews of Adam Kay’s book and I don’t give a fig what other people say. To me, what I got from it was a love for the NHS, despite the stress, the understaffing, the unbelievable pressure to meet somewhat unrealistic targets and the perpetual financial crises that meant you rely on the goodwill of the staff most of the time.

This Is Going to Hurt is in turns funny, poignant, frustrating, touching, and above all things, wonderfully and painfully accurate. I laughed at the bits I recognised (because I experience it day in and day out) and teared up over the things that, despite our best efforts, we health professionals can’t do anything about.

There were moments that seemed so absurd that non-medics would think its fiction. But believe me, the number of times I’ve gone to work and been in a situation where I’ve said after “You cannot make this shit up” cannot be counted on both hands.

I bitch and moan about work as much as the next person, but it only takes me 5 minutes to remember that without the NHS I will not have a career, nor would I have had the experiences, opportunities and relationships that I’m blessed with today.

The NHS is neither good or bad. It simply IS. At the end of the day, one learns to suck it up during the bad days because inevitably, there will be good days that make all the effort worth it.

Like when someone is walking pain free for the first time in their life because of a well-done knee replacement. Or when you help deliver a couple’s firstborn after they’ve experienced more than one miscarriage.

These moments are everything. And for the cynics who say that the NHS provides sub-par services and that I’m idealising the whole situation, believe me, I’M NOT.

I’ve had days where, just like Adam, I felt like throwing in the towel and maybe moving to the private sector where I will at least be paid more. But something keeps me staying and sticking with the NHS. I really truly believe we get it right more times than we get it wrong.

I, for one, am glad that someone finally made the effort to make the general public more aware of what really goes on within the four walls of the hospital.

Once, someone I knew who worked in a different country shared an article written by a nurse who used to work for the NHS, and who had quit because she had gotten traumatised over the deteriorating quality of services in her hospital.

This nurse highlighted a lot of things that are true in most hospitals in the country. Its a tale of a health system that’s on its knees and a government that continues to be ignorant about its plight.

We get daily updates about Brexit negotiations but no one thinks it important to point out that patients with serious health conditions are delayed in seeing a doctor because of an A and E that’s full to bursting? Ridiculous.

Anyway, this person sharing the article erroneously thought that the nurse didn’t have the right to complain because third-world countries have the same problems and the nurses get paid even less, the message being that NHS nurses should just suck it up and get on with it like the rest of the world do.

While I acknowledge that the UK still have it better than, say, the Philippines, the fact is that the point of the article was not about salary or any kind of compensation. The article made an effort to bring to light some of the very real issues the NHS faces, and to bring it the level of something as crude as money is to take away the power of the message it was trying to get across.

What can we do to help?

That’s a question Adam Kay got asked a lot during his book tour apparently. The answer is as varied as the medical field itself.

Maybe next time you see a junior doctor who’s spent more than 24 hours on shift answering bleep after bleep after bleep, or a nurse at the end of the operating list who cannot decide whether she’s more tired or hungry, you’ll find it in your heart to offer them a KitKat.

Maybe during the next election think long and hard about who you’re voting for and ask yourself whether they are the once in a lifetime politicians that will actually care about our health services. (Something to keep in mind now that I can actually vote).

Or if you are part of the noble majority of the population that work for the NHS, maybe be a bit kinder to your colleagues. We are all on this (sinking) boat together, and we’ll hold on to it until they tell us we need to jump ship and swim.

I am extremely proud to work for the NHS, and I am extremely overjoyed that books like these exist.

5 stars.