This Is Going to Hurt

Performing an elective caesarean section, assisted by a hungover medical student … Baby delivered, and just as I was sewing up the uterus, the student fainted, face-planting right into the open abdomen. ‘We should probably give the patient some antibiotics,’ the anaesthetist suggested.

Adam Kay

In medical school, we all think that we’ll be the doctor with a serviceable social life, enough residual zeal, and, all things considered, viable mental health. But as the title implies, even for doctors as optimistic and altruistic and humorous as Mr Kay (to still use his medical prefix, since surgeons go by Mr instead of Dr), sometimes the profession still breaks you.

The anticipated relatability of this was what kept me from articulating a review when I first finished his memoir almost a week ago. Not to mention our insane schedule from next month onwards, à la SARS-CoV-2 (though I’m happy Hong Kong hospitals are able to reopen their doors to us, I really am). Or my persistent OCD, with which I have grappled since secondary school.

Every lesson in the wards is a voluntary voyage between the Scylla and Charybdis of contamination – will my white coat touch a rubbish bin? A sputum sample? A patient’s urine? Barely making it through compulsory sessions is one thing; understanding the necessity of clerking (what we call strutting into the wards to practise our clinical skills on any poor patient naïve and awake enough to let us do so) outside of school hours is another.

Evidently, medicine is one hell of a marathon. But even from across the finish line, Adam Kay somehow administers more salve than salt. If anything, his hysterical insight into the ninth circle of this particular hell inspires (weary) pride and determination, and I already envision myself recalling the most preposterous anecdotes to pull me through the rest of my career. It is a strange contradiction.

Either way, this is a book everyone should read. In fact, especially people outside of the medical field. Looking pointedly at you, politicians. I only wish I had gotten onto the bandwagon earlier, when I was still cruising through my Enrichment Year, blissfully far from medical school. Maybe I wouldn’t have had a quarter-life crisis upon coming back if I had read this then.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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