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Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas – Adam Kay

Hello Everyone!!

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!

Overview

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.”

Final Thoughts

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

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Filed under Book review, Christmas

This Is Going To Hurt – Adam Kay

Hi Everyone!

I hope January is treating you well and the new year has got off to a splendid start. Today I want to share with you a book that I absolutely loved for so many reasons. The book: This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay.

I read this book because (without going into too much detail) I spent a lot of time over the Christmas and New Year period going backwards and forwards from hospital. I saw first hand the staff who after 12 hours were still there, with a smile looking after a small armies worth of patients. I felt for them, wholeheartedly.

Adam Kay was a junior doctor for 6 years. This book is essentially made up of his diaries from 2004 to 2010. Whilst it’s incredibly witty, it does show the extraordinary work of the NHS. There’s also tears along the way too.

 

What’s it all about?

This book shows us the journey from being a teen, choosing your life career to the time when Kay decided that enough was enough. This first hand account of the daily grind at the NHS shows exactly what happens on the front line every single day.

“Reading back, it felt extreme and unreasonable in terms of what was expected of me, but at the time I’d just accepted it as part of the job.”

Rather than spoiling a number of the anecdotes here, I wanted to share with you just a few of my favourites. The first is when Kay experienced his first ‘degloving’ injury. An eighteen year old patient was out celebrating (who hasn’t been out and done something we regret the next morning?!) when he decided to take a shorter route home, via a lamp post. Naturally, there were some injuries to the penis which made my eyes water!

“It brought to mind a remnant of spaghetti stuck to the bottom of the bowl by a smear of tomato sauce… when asked if the penis could be ‘regloved’…Mr Binns, the consultant, calmly explained that the ‘glove’ was spread evenly up eight foot of lamp post in West London.”

However, it is the reality of the situation that stands out, arguably more, than the stories from the wards. In an entry from Christmas Day, Kay reveals how he has overslept in his car. The hours are long, the patients often challenging and doctors are usually exhausted.

“It takes me a while to establish where I am or why. Good news: it seems I fell asleep in my car after my shift last night and I’m already at work, in the hospital car park.”

Another hilarious anecdote that I enjoyed in this book was about car parking. As you may be aware, hospital car parks are incredibly expensive. However, Kay reveals that there is no staff car parking due to a health initiative. Therefore, to save himself a longer commute, he uses the visitors car park.

“Today, however, the jig is up: my car has a clamp and a £120 fine for removal jammed under the windscreen wiper…The parking attendant has scrawled on the back, Long fucking labour, pal.”

The diaries are funny and honest and yet sometimes completely unbelievable. The following anecdote made me laugh and cry. Kay remarks on how patients seem to enjoy placing various objects into different areas of the body.

“Christmas in particular has rewarded me well, with a stuck fairy (‘Do you want it back?’ ‘Yeah, bit of a rinse and she’ll be grand,’ a grossly swollen vulva from a mistletoe contact allergy and mild vaginal burns from a patient stuffing a string of lights inside and turning them on.”

As we progress to the end of the book, the laughs end too. Kay reflects on his time as a doctor. The difficult outcomes and the reality of the situation that every single day our doctors are faced with life or death decisions. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, things still go wrong.

“If you’re going to survive working in his profession, you have to convince yourself these horrors are part of your job. You can’t pay any attention to the man behind the curtain – your own sanity relies on it.”

 

Overview:

I loved this book. It’s honest, compelling and heartbreakingly sad at times. I feel it does show the complete picture of our NHS. I have a lot of respect for them. The majority are excellent and care for their patients. I appreciated the letter at the end of the book to the Secretary of State. It’s honest and real and this is why this book is brilliant. I urge you all to read it.

Big love xxx

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Filed under Book review, NHS