We are in that very strange period of time in between Christmas and New Year where it is perfectly acceptable to have biscuits for breakfast, chocolate for lunch and mince pies for dinner. Heavenly Christmas food! I hope you’ve all had a peaceful festive period and enjoyed yourselves immensely.
Today I want to share with you a book that I’ve now read twice this year because it is just that good. Adam Kay is back with his festive tales from the NHS frontline: Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas. You may remember my review of Kay’s first book, This Is Going To Hurt, which you can find here. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!
This book is much like Kay’s previous one but with a more festive edge. You may recall that Kay spent a number of years as a junior doctor in our beloved NHS and the novels come from his diaries he was writing whilst working. Kay omitted any festive stories from the first book so it didn’t become too Christmassy and here they are for us all to laugh, cry and read.
It starts off with a open letter really to the reader reminding us that despite it being Christmas time, there will be doctors and nurses who are working Christmas Day. Written with humour, it is a humbling start to jolt us back into the grim reality of the present regarding the NHS.
“A&E departments are busier than turkey farms, thanks for black eyes from carelessly popped champagne corks, fleshy forearms scares by roasting tins, and children concussing themselves by hurtling down the stairs in the box their Scalextric came in.”
Following this introduction, the book takes a simple structure: one chapter for each Christmas Kay spent in the profession. He openly admits to working 6/7 Christmas Days in obstetrics or gynaecology during his practising years. In his first year, Kay tells the story of a family member who has taken a turn for the worst, with the reality of there not being too much the doctors can do now. This moving aspect is something we can all relate to. However, I bet a fair few can say that they ended up laughing hysterically.
“Hoping to show empathy through my body language, I lean in to say all we can do is keep her comfortable and concentrate on her dignity. As I do so, I inadvertently lean on my tie. It is a seasonal tie…Crucially, and disastrously, underneath Rudolph’s red nose – and now the pressure of my elbow – is a button that activates a tinny speaker to blast out a frantic MIDI rendition of Jingle Bells.”
Thankfully the family took it well – hence the laughing!
Christmas Eve 2006 and a number of doctors are being quizzed about a child with an impressively luminous green nose. What could it be? How on earth did this child become so green?
“Answer: he’d dismantled his mum’s novelty earrings and shoved an LED up his nose…”
Kay writes with what I’d call, ‘knife edge humour’. We laugh yet we know we shouldn’t. However, these type of events happen on a daily basis with NHS, all 1.4 million of them, dealing with the consequences of our behaviours which are arguably worse over the Christmas period.
Nevertheless, it is always the harsh reality that brings us to tears. 2006 brought Kay an opportunity that would shape him and change him. Patient SH has a cardiac condition which means that if she continues with her pregnancy, she is unlikely to live. The procedure is grim, not for the faint hearted and highly emotionally charged. In Kay’s words:
“If Patient SH is brave enough to go through this, then I should at least have the balls to step up for her.”
Kay admitted for previously keeping this out of his first novel and still feels the pang of uncertainty in the editing process of this one. Yet, it stays because it was such an impactful moment. Again, it is reality.
Another Christmas Day, another day on the ward. Kay doesn’t even bother to complain and routines are forming – alarmingly. For the next Christmas on the ward, Kay was treated to a nice festive fragrance, cinnamon and mulled wine scent, mixed with every smell to do with childbirth. This did make me laugh out loud.
“It hangs in the air like some kind of acrid death-gas in a James Bond film, its putrid cloud choking every airway, blunting every nerve ending. We’re having the room deep cleaned, but they may well have to knock down the entire hospital.”
It’s Christmas and more often than not workplaces hold an annual Secret Santa and it’s sod’s law that you pick someone out that you don’t like. You hope and pray for the person you desperately want or even for the person you could merely tolerate in the name of the season. Life, or Secret Santa, never seems to go that way. Kay also picked out someone he despises and who despises him in return. H suggested a guinea pig, which was declined.
“I bought him a set of sandalwood styling wax and hair pomade. He is bald.”
I have so much admiration for our doctors and nurses. The hours are relentless, the breaks nonexistent and the patients and their families are sometimes downright rude. However, it is the glimmers that mean the most. The acts of kindness, the ‘thank you’ which make the job bearable. The only other thing that makes the job easier is humour. Those stories that stay with you forever. There’s some right corkers in this book but I think the story next is my favourite.
A child asks his mother if his father was there the day he was born. The answer is no. The reason why – hilarious.
“Well, darling, he made it to the hospital on time, but he was so drunk that he whipped out his cock when the doctor was putting forceps on your head, and they had to call security to boot him out.”
Is it just me or is this hard to believe? Only in England…
The final Christmas is one where, amazingly, Kay doesn’t need to work. Here we see descriptions of Christmas day’s as we know it. The food, the fizz, the party games and the television. Deep down though, any NHS worker will know, it is in your blood and you come to miss it. I feel the same about teaching. I’m so grateful for my time off but in a strange way I do miss not being in the classroom. I feel it more in summer though to be fair.
Finally, The Queen’s Christmas Message is a very important part of Christmas Day for some. Kay offers his own alternative message for us all to reflect upon. Thank your doctors, nurses and ward staff, if you’ve been in hospital. If not, remember the following:
“Stop sticking root vegetables, remote controls, chocolate wrappers, fairy lights – or indeed anything else that’s irretrievable and inanimate (or, god help us, animate) – up your interval cavities for one day a year. It’s only twenty four hours, guys, and you’ll make all their Christmases come at once.”
I loved this book just as much as I loved the first. It’s incredible to believe what people get up to over the Christmas year and what foolish and sometimes humorous decisions people make. Kay has such a unique writing style. He can make his readers laugh and cry and feel utterly dismayed. Massive respect for those NHS workers this Christmas and New Year. We wouldn’t be healthy without you. For all that you do, thank you.
Read this book. Feel it with your heart.
See you before the New Year guys!
Big love all xx