Book Review: This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay


Adam Kay was a junior doctor from 2004 until 2010, before a devastating experience on a ward caused him to reconsider his future. He kept a diary throughout his training, and This Is Going to Hurt intersperses tales from the front line of the NHS with reflections on the current crisis. The result is a first-hand account of life as a junior doctor in all its joy, pain, sacrifice and maddening bureaucracy, and a love letter to those who might at any moment be holding our lives in their hands.” – Goodreads excerpts

Book Cover
Book Cover: This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

This is a small book, 256 pages but by God, it seemed like it took me forever to finish it.

There’s a lot to be said for British humour in this book. Much like Eleanor Oliphant Is Fine, there’s no shortage of sarcasm, puns, innuendos, self-deprecation or intellectual jokes. You know those jokes you have to process a little before you get them? Yes. His numerous references to cartoon characters was particularly entertaining.

Told in the first person, it was hilarious and intriguing to experience the medical field from a man’s perspective given my last 2 or 3 books have been told by women. Let’s just say the part about wanking during a night shift was a little embarrassing to read but still funny.

Written journal style – with concurrent dates, the reading experience is much like a collection of short stories during this doctor’s time in training and hospital. It took so long to read because some stories struck so hard, I had to go back, read it over and be sure of what I had just read. After which I spent the next 30 minutes or more laughing or sober, sharing with my sister and pondering how any of that could be plausible.

My first encounter was a handsome young Italian man who attended hospital with the majority of a toilet brush inside of him (bristles first), and went home with a colostomy bag. His big Italian mother was grateful in ways that Brits never are, lavishing thanks and praise on every member of staff she met for saving her son’s life.’

In addition, this book is super enlightening, communicating a balanced perspective of what it is really like to be a doctor in obstetrics and gynaecology fondly dubbed “obys and gynae;” the ridiculous cases, the lying patients, risky, challenging, and if not unfair working conditions, the toll it took on his personal life and relationships and the trauma, Summarily, loving and hating the job at the same time.

So I told them the truth: the hours are terrible, the pay is terrible, the conditions are terrible; you’re underappreciated, unsupported, disrespected and frequently physically endangered. But there’s no better job in the world.
Infertility clinic: helping couples to fall pregnant after years of trying, who’ve all but given up hope – it’s difficult to explain how special that feels. It’s something I’d happily do in my own time and for free (which is handy as I frequently did – those clinics overran by hours). Labour ward: a true rollercoaster, by which I mean everyone generally ends up alive and well despite the fact it seems to be against the very laws of nature. You dart from room to room, delivering any baby who gets sick or gets stuck, making an indelible mark on the lives of these patients. A low-grade superhero – your utility belt containing a scalpel, some tongs and a wipe-clean hoover

It was frightening to see a doctor as a man, human and emotional. I mean this is the guy my life depends on when it really matters. To be faced with the fact that at some point, he may not know what he is doing, or may be exhausted and running on fumes, to know that he is dealing with everyday life like the rest of us was surprisingly frightening. Plus, I had no idea hospitals were as busy and as understaffed as he made it sound. Worse, dispelling the myth that doctors are rich was quite disappointing.

Related: Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Adam also highlighted the negative effect of media, particularly porn on young impressionable teenagers and the devastating effect it has on body image and perception.

I booked her into gynae outpatients for a few weeks’ time and we had a bit of a chat, emergency now out of the way. She told me she ‘didn’t think it would bleed’, to which I didn’t have anything to helpfully reply, and that she ‘just wanted to look normal’. I reassured her there was absolutely nothing wrong with her labia; they really, honestly, did look normal. ‘Not like in porn though,’ she said.
There’s been a lot of media noise about the damaging effects of porn and glossy magazines on body image, but this is the first time I’ve seen it first-hand – it’s horrifying and depressing in equal parts. How long until we’re seeing girls stapling their vaginas tighter?*
* The answer, as it turns out, was a year. A colleague saw a patient who’d superglued the introitus of her vagina because her boyfriend had been pressuring her to.

He also gave some insight on female genital health problems and graphic advice on how to prevent them. (graphic)

* When you reach a certain age, your body attempts to turn itself inside out via your vagina, but you can avoid all this by performing pelvic floor exercises. There are leaflets that describe these exercises in confusing detail, but I always just used to tell patients, ‘Imagine you’re sitting in a bath full of eels and you don’t want any of them getting in.’

Finally, after reading “85 per cent of doctors have experienced mental health issues, and 13 per cent admitted to suicidal feelings” and that a 2009 paper in the British Journal of Psychiatry showed that young female doctors in the UK are two and a half times more likely than other women to kill themselves, I think a lot more can be done by the National Health Service (NHS) UK; first encouraging more people to join the profession by improving the selection criteria, and then rewarding those in the profession better. I also think just like police officers, the psychological well-being of medical personnel can be taken a bit more seriously, to ensure their competence and the safety of the patients.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007
One of the house officers turned up in A&E last night, having attempted suicide with an overdose of antidepressants. There’s a shared sense of numbness amongst the doctors. The only surprise is it doesn’t happen more often – you’re given huge responsibility, minimal supervision and absolutely no pastoral support.* You work yourself to exhaustion, pushing yourself beyond what could be reasonably expected of you, and end up constantly feeling like you don’t know what you’re doing. Sometimes it just feels that way, and you’re actually doing fine – and sometimes you really don’t know what you’re doing.

This book left me itching for a local perspective for comparison; to know what it is like to be a Nigerian doctor in a Nigerian hospital, and what our health care system is really like. Sadly, I don’t think any Nigerian doctor has written a book like this or perhaps I haven’t come across it. If you have, please leave the title in the comment section.

It is an emotional and educating story, one that will have you sad and thinking, laughing and learning about the health care system in the UK from a doctor’s perspective, leaving you full of respect, admiration and appreciation for these superheroes and the work they do for us.

Have you read This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay? Let me know what you think in the comments!
As always, thank you for reading!

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Diana says:

    Amazing review! This sounds like an interesting read, enlightening too. That extract on the passage about the super-glued vagina is horrifying. I haven’t heard much about porn and body image. Definitely adding this book to my TBR.


  2. Mama Cass says: of the best reviews I’ve ever read. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Red says:

      Why, thank you for reading!


  3. Sophia Ismaa says:

    Absolutely amazing review. I have to add this to my TBR now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Red says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hauwa says:

    Great review. Feels like I’ve read the book already. Now, I’m really want to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Red says:

      Oh I’m glad you like it! Thank you so much for reading and comment!


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