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.

Posted in Careers, Medical, Nursing

Chronicles of a theatre nurse: Chapter One – A day in the life

Ok, so anyone who knows me knows that I have an aversion to seeing myself on film. Photo? Sure. I’ll jump in front of a camera and strike a pose. But live action video? Aghhh. I can’t.

About 2 years ago, one of our anaesthetists asked if I could be in this short film they were doing so that people would know what its like working in our operating theatres – the highs, the lows, the challenges we face and ultimately, why we love it so much. I have to say I’ve never seen this video in its entirety. My boss recently re-posted it as part of a recruitment drive. I cringed at the thought of watching it but its actually quite good. My part in it was “engaging” and you could apparently tell I really enjoy what I do.

If I had to do this video now, would my answers be any different? Probably. Being in education poses a whole new challenge but it also comes with the sweetest rewards. One of my students just got her pin last week making her a qualified practitioner after three long years of hard work. I have another three graduating in October. Two of the staff I helped train for orthopaedics are now doing really well. There’s so much that we’ve achieved as a team and I’m so proud of the work that we do. I have that now on top of the clinical aspects which I do still love. 

Working in theatres is exciting. You never really know what your day is going to be like. You depend a lot on other people because surgery is a team effort. And I like that, I like the camarederie and rapport that comes when team members work regularly with each other. I love that I can have a laugh even when its a stressful day; I love that I’m not facing the challenges alone because I always have a team with me, both clinical- and education-wise.
Enjoy this video, blabbaholics! 

Posted in Careers, Nursing

Blood is thicker than water: things I learned from mentoring my sister

18 months ago, my sister moved to London to work at the same hospital as I do and I could not have been more chuffed. In the months before she arrived, all I could talk about was my sister and how excited I was for her to join us. And when she did arrive, I went around introducing Arlene to anyone and everyone. For weeks every time I see someone the first words out of my mouth would be “have you met my sister?” Now that would be fine if Arlene loved being the center of attention (like her big sister lol) but she’s not: she’s a bit shy and reserved when it comes to people she doesn’t know well and she doesn’t let people in easily (unlike me, who’s Ms Congeniality). Although we share the same interests, we are as different as two people could be.

I’ve been teaching my sister as far back as when she was still studying at uni. I started my teaching career as a clinical instructor in the Philippines and my sister was one of my students. It was awkward as hell, but also a lot of fun. Of course I had to be careful to be professional and impartial, and for the most part I achieved that. It was also good that my sister was not a problem student; in fact I think that while academically I got better grades, skills-wise and clinical-wise my sister is the better nurse. 

But that was school, where I had authority and she HAD to listen to me. Things are not quite the same when you’re colleagues. 

A couple of months ago, we were so short of practitioners for my speciality that it became imperative for me to train and develop a couple of people who had potential, my sister included. Arlene didn’t think she could do orthopaedics and left to her own devices I don’t think she would have made that choice voluntarily. However, I was always of the opinion that my sister doesn’t give herself enough credit; she is capable of anything if she puts her mind to it, all she needs is confidence. And practice. And perhaps someone to nudge her (some people would say I push but WHATEVER). And so started her career in orthopaedics, which, as everyone knows is my second all-consuming passion (career-wise anyway).

Its been an experience mentoring Arlene in orthopaedics. It felt a lot like supporting a child through a piano recital or something. There’s a reason why they call the operating room a “theatre” because it has all the elements of a performance. The surgeons and the scrub nurses put on gowns, gloves and mask (costumes!), there’s music in the background, and for me even after all these years I find it so exciting. I’m lucky enough to be in a speciality that I genuinely love. And I want my sister to love it as much as I do so I guess sometimes I get a little bit overeager. Here are some of the things that I’ve realised over the past couple of weeks working with Arlene.

There will be arguments.

This is unavoidable. Arlene is the quieter of the two of us but don’t let that deceive you. She’s strong willed and she’s got a mind of her own. So when two really strong personalities come together, clashes are inevitable. Yesterday just in the amount of time it takes to prepare for the surgery, at least three arguments and one semi-shouting match may or may not have occured in the prep room. 

I will become a stage mother.

Like I said, its like watching your kid do a piano recital. You get so anxious, and every time they miss something you feel it. You take criticisms against them personally. I have to watch myself constantly from putting too much pressure on my sister. I constantly have to readjust my expectations so that I don’t get too frustrated. Or you know, try to leave her training to someone else and not get too involved because there is NO WAY I can be detached or impartial if its a combination of Arlene and orthopaedics.

Teaching requires commitment. And you gotta love it. 

This is true of anyone I teach, regardless of whether I’m related to them or not. People don’t realise how much of myself I give when I decide to teach or train someone. Sometimes during my free time I find myself thinking of creative ways to get people to learn, or when I see something on the telly or read something from a book I immediately think about whether its something I can apply as an educator. You spend two hours every day on a one-to-one basis with these people trying to support them, giving them feedback and encouragement, helping them improve…it takes a lot out of you. But I can’t really see myself doing anything else. I’ve always loved to teach. That lightbulb moment when someone finally gets it is worth everything to me.

It will be worth it.

This week my sister scrubbed for a total hip replacement on her own for the first time, and she did marvelously. One month ago she was struggling to even understand the concept; as recently as two weeks ago she could barely muster up enthusiasm for the speciality. Last night she was enthusiastic and excited about it; it was the most animated I’ve seen her since we started this. It felt great to be sharing something that I love doing with someone I love.

At the end of the day, we will still be sisters.


There is something to be said for having a colleague who’s also family. You can always rely on unconditional love from a family member, they’re obligated to love you even when you annoy them to death. Blood is always thicker than water. 

To Arlene, I am so proud of everything you’ve achieved and everything you’re still trying to achieve. Love you shob, please continue to cook me dinner. Lol