This may be one of the more personal posts that I have written, so please do bear with me while I explain exactly which spots this particular memoir has hit with a resounding bulls-eye.
I picked this book up yesterday evening as something to read casually before sleep; I plopped up the stairs dragging my teddy bear and book behind me, fully expecting to be asleep after 10 minutes or so. I miscalculated. I had forgotten exactly how glorious this book actually was and instead found myself belly laughing a good couple of hours after I had intended to drop off. It was exactly what I needed.
Earlier in my career I had kept a similar diary of all of the ridiculous and outlandish things that had happened to me since I started working in care 12 years ago. There were the silly things that children said to me, the outrageously surreal moments inspired by the Determined Confused and the most earth-wrackingly hilarious moments I have ever been priviledged to witness, all played out in un-real-life. This was working in care and I absolutely loved so much of it.
This is the side of healthcare that Adam Kay brings to life with witty cynacism and wonderful storytelling. I emplore everyone to read this book at some point in their life – so much of what he wrote resonated deeply with my own experiences working in an acute hospital setting. He describes the dramas and the joys with a beautiful accuracy – It is hilarious, heart-breaking and one hell of a ride.
It is a book which remains true to life on the front line of the NHS.
I had not picked this book with its ending in mind, and so it seems strange that it should have fallen to my hand this last couple of days. Last week a culmination of the last 18-months of working in an acute hopsital setting through Covid, combined with a series of personal events led me to call for help, having realised that I simply wasn’t managing well on that particular day.
I suspect that the readers of this particular blog might understand when I say that there are times when I fantasise about throwing in the towel and going to work in a book store instead. I suspect that helping people pick out their next literary adventure might be somewhat less stressful than working short staffed on acute medicine, with somewhat less serious consequences attached to personal wellbeing and decision making.
So when at the end of this book Adam Kay discusses the reams of people leaving the profession at a rate of knots I found that I could absolutely empathise. Hell, give me another couple of years of this and I am headed into town, CV in hand knocking on the book sellers doors with equal urgency to the emergancy alarm at work.
But while the last year and a half have been tough, ultimately the reasons for sticking with the job remain the same. His description of the bits of the job that he misses hit several spots for me. Every time I turn up on shift I make a difference to somebody’s day – even if sometimes it feels like the only difference is that there’s one more pair of hands to put out fires. More than that, I feel like it really does have to let up eventually?
I clearly remember convincing one patient to reach out to her support network after a suicide attempt that she was unwilling to discuss. I have sat by multiple death beds, I have been the ‘allocated hand holder’ through several stressful situations, and I have belly-laughed with more patients than I can count.
I remember spending a good half hour combing out the knots from the hair of a lady who I suspect hadn’t cared for herself in months. There are patients who have touched me, who have made me giggle and who I will never forget as long as I have my own mind. The ladies who snuck out of the fire escape at 3am to smoke like teenagers, and asked for cheeses and biscuits when they were finally discovered by the rather frantic staff (me), I am far more amused by you now than I was when I found your empty beds. My job is hilarious, heart breaking and one hell of a ride.
I loved this book because it felt to me like somebody that I knew had written about our shifts together, described the post-shift meltdowns and had been there to personally witness some of the more insane moments of my job. Reading this book felt like listening to any of my colleagues describing their day and offloading at the pub afterwards.
And that is why I think you should read this book – it is very real.
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