Doctor in the House: Adam Kay on Taking This is Going to Hurt on Tour
No-one tells you what happens after you write a book. Actually, “write” isn’t quite the right term – it suggests the whole business is over once you type your final full stop and pour yourself a congratulatory glass of something medicating. It’s more like giving birth to a book. Quite a handy analogy, in fact, as This is Going to Hurt is a collection of my diary entries from my days as a junior doctor on labour wards, regularly pulling small screaming humours out of other, larger screaming humans.
I always got to hand those babies over, but this particular one was mine to nurture before finally sending it off into the world (thankfully minus the awkward teenage stage of the book telling me it hated me and stomping upstairs to play music at a deafening volume). We were stuck with one another, my book and me. I had to write about it, I had to talk on TV and radio about it, and for months I had to tour the country reading from it.
This book tour was particularly memorable. I broke my ankle 48 hours before it kicked off and turned up to the first few readings in a plaster cast and dosed up on painkillers – looking like I could do with a stint back in the NHS as a patient. And it will be hard to forget the collective throaty wince of anyone in the audience in their seventies when I relayed the story about a patient having his penis “degloved”. Never again will I attempt to toast a croissant in a hotel breakfast conveyer-belt toaster, causing it to catch on fire, and causing a minor emergency. Then there’s was the gig where one audience member thought he was coming to Peter Kay. Plus the dozens of people who asked for a second copy of the book to be signed to Jeremy Hunt – maybe he’s using his copies to keep Big Ben propped up during its renovations?
I was naturally nervous about what sort of critical reception the book would get – they wouldn’t just be slagging off my book – it’s a diary: they’d be slagging off me, my life, my existence. But I was blown away by the reaction I received in the papers – and to see the book take up much-sought-after bed-space at the top of the Sunday Times bestseller list was the icing on the cake. “Never read the online reviews though” said everyone I spoke to. I naturally ignored everyone. And naturally I only read the one star reviews. “More like a diary” said one. Fair enough. “Makes derogatory comments about patients”, moaned a man called Jeremy – which I disagreed with, until I realised which Jeremy it might have been. “Packaging torn on arrival”. Must spend more attention sellotaping the edges of those parcels.
But the best thing, the most wonderful thing, was that people have been talking about it. This is Going to Hurt started a conversation, many conversations – all important ones that I never dreamed I would start. I’m bombarded, in the best possible way, every day by messages on Twitter, Facebook and email. Doctors telling me thank you for speaking up, for representing us, for spreading the word that we aren’t monsters, that we are compassionate, and willing, and doing everything we can – but can’t take it anymore. Patients saying the book has made them rethink their impression of doctors, that they’d never thought of them as human before, how bad things had got, but now they knew and they were on the same side and would never take then for granted again. Messages from people asking what they can do, how they can get involved, how to fight the fight for the NHS. And, most humbling of all, people saying they hadn’t picked up a book for years and how This is Going to Hurt has got them back into reading. Changing minds, changing hearts, getting people finding out more. Is there a greater honour? I doubt it, and I never saw it coming.
Thankfully, while I recover from the shock I may have inspired somebody to think differently, the yang races to find its yin. “Histrionic” reads the one word email.