It’s time for another reading wrap up! Also, what the actual F? We’re now in April. I don’t get it. Anyway, as you’ll probably see from this month’s wrap up, I didn’t read quite as many books as I managed to in February, which I’m hoping is in part due to the fact my IBS has slowly started to behave itself a bit more. Thanks to some medication and a referral to the mental health service, I’m trying my best to get it under control. So, where I haven’t been curled up on the sofa quite as much as I was last month, it’s taken me a bit longer to get through books – but as you’ll probably guess, I’m okay with that. This month’s reading stack featured a bit of a theme, two of which focusing on medicine and life working as a doctor, while the other looked at veterinary medicine and life as a world renowned neurological and orthopaedic veterinary surgeon (spoiler alert – it’s the Supervet, Professor Noel Fitzpatrick).
Breaking & Mending: A Junior Doctor’s Stories of Compassion and Burnout – Joanna Cannon (Wellcome Collection, 2020) ★★★★
From the Back:
“In this powerful memoir, Joanna Cannon tells her story as a junior doctor in visceral, heart-rending snapshots, and shows us why we need to take better care of those who care for us.”
It’s no secret that I love the medical genre, especially those that capture real stories and experiences. I’ve always been weirdly fascinated by hospitals which is why I think I enjoy this genre so much – it’s a snippet of what goes on beyond what you see just walking through the corridors. While every junior doctor’s story I read brings something different, each one demonstrates the same thing – that NHS doctors and nurses deserve better. Joanna’s story is incredibly powerful throughout as she recalls some of the most unbelievable and shocking tales from the early days of her career, including when a more senior colleague left his bleep with her in the middle of a shift because he was leaving to go on holiday, when personal alarms were taken off of doctors working in the psychiatry ward because they weren’t considered as “at risk” than the nurses, when a consultant screamed at her during her progress interview and when she had to provide a death certificate in order to get time off to go to her uncle’s funeral.
The book is also filled with some heartbreaking stories involving patients too, illustrating the incredible compassion that junior doctors show, even when they’re being treated as poorly as they are. What I love so much about this memoir is that there’s more of a focus on the mental health aspect of it, and the fact that Joanna is so honest about how the job affects her shows immense bravery, given that weakness in the profession is such a taboo subject.
I was hooked on Breaking & Mending from the very beginning – up until this point I had only read books on this subject from a more humorous point of view, Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt being a prime example. Yes, there were some incredibly emotional and heartbreaking moments, but these were intertwined with humour, something which you don’t get in this memoir. By no means is that a criticism either – the fact that Breaking & Mending is so raw and visceral means that everything is on the table. The author takes us through some of the most difficult moments of her medical career, such as her first post-mortem and sitting with patients during their final moments – while it’s a difficult read at times, you will be hooked from the first page, and it hits home even more when you think about the current situation the NHS has been faced with over the last year.
In Stitches: The Highs and Lows of Being an A&E Doctor – Dr. Nick Edwards (The Friday Project, 2011) ★★★
From the Back:
“‘Forget what you have seen in Casualty or Holby City, or even ER, this is what it’s really like to be working in an Accident & Emergency.
Dr Nick Edwards writes with shocking honesty about life as an A&E doctor. He lifts the lid on government targets that lead to poor patient care. He reveals the level of alcohol related injuries that can bring the service to a near standstill. He shows just how bloody hard it is to look after the people who walk through the hospital doors.
But he also shares the funny side – the bizarre “accidents,” foreign bodies inserted in unusual places, and other peculiar goings on.
And then there is the unavoidable fact that for some people, the journey to A&E is the last one they will ever make. In Stitches is frequently alarming, often hilarious and occasionally deeply moving. It really is an unforgettable read.
Note to Reader: Ever conscious of meaningless targets, the author would like it to be known that 98% of the stories contained in this book were written in under 4 hours.”
In contrast to Breaking & Mending, In Stitches took a more humorous approach to life in the medical profession, where Dr Nick Edwards takes his through snippets of his career as an A&E doctor. Immediately, one key difference stood out when I compared this to the other books in the genre that I’d read, and that was the time in which it was written. While this edition was published in 2011, the original book was written in 2007.
In between the patient stories, the book also frequently references the political situation at the time, with the author regularly commenting on what Blair has done to the NHS. Of course, reading it in the current time, where the tories have been taking a massive dump on it since day one, I couldn’t help thinking “oh mate, you have no idea what’s going to happen in the next few years…”
Despite there being a bit of a different setting politically, the overall theme of how the NHS is overworked and underfunded still remains the same, and the areas that are actually funded are pointless. In one chapter, it’s mentioned that patients continuously are getting lost on their way to the X-ray department, the cause being that the signs have been replaced with “Department of Diagnostic Imaging” instead – so there’s funding for new, unnecessary signs that make things even more confusing for patients, but no funding to replace nurses who are off sick, leaving departments understaffed. The four hour target for A&E departments is also a recurring theme that the author talks about, explaining that it’s not as straightforward as it sounds and in some cases, can be more harmful to patients. It’s an interesting perspective, because from a patient point of view, that four hour target essentially seems like a good thing, and in most part, it is, but this book really gives you a whole new perspective on the flaws of that particular system.
I enjoyed this book, but for some reason, I didn’t take to it quite as much as I did Breaking & Mending, or last month’s Trust Me, I’m a (Junior) Doctor, and I’m not entirely sure why. I feel as though it may have something to do with the fact that politics are quite a strong theme throughout and you often get a bit overwhelmed by figures and dates. I get it, why wouldn’t there be a political focus? It’s a book about working on the frontline of the NHS. Of course there would be some sort of politics involved. Yet, I feel compared to the other books in the genre I’ve read, there’s more of a focus on the author themselves and their personal story in spite of the politics involved. On the plus side though, it gave an interesting take on what happens behind the curtain in A&E departments, everything from items being stuck inside people to the time-wasters who are frequently fliers to the hospital after drinking themselves into a stupor. Another plus from me was how easy it was to dip in and out of – rather than lengthy chapters, the tales were broken down into small snippets, so it was perfect for picking up when you had a spare five minutes and didn’t want to get too engrossed.
How Animals Saved My Life: Being the Supervet – Noel Fitzpatrick (Trapeze, 2020) ★★★★
From the Back:
“It has been thirty years since Noel Fitzpatrick graduated as a veterinary surgeon, and that 22 year old from Ballyfin, Ireland, is now one of the leading veterinary surgeons in the world.
The journey to that point has seen Noel treat thousands of animals, many of whom were thought to be beyond help – animals that have changed his life, and the lives of those around them, for the better.
If the No.1 Sunday Times bestseller Listening to the Animals was about Noel’s path to becoming the Supervet, then How Animals Saved My Life is about what it’s like to actually be the Supervet. Noel shares the moving and heart-warming stories of the animals he’s treated and the unique “animal people” he has met along the way. He reflects on the valuable lessons they have taught him – lessons that have sustained him through the unbelievable highs and crushing lows of a profession where lives are quite literally at stake.”
As Noel explores what makes us connect with animals so deeply, we meet Peanut, the world’s first cat with two front bionic limbs; 8 year old therapy dachshund Olive; Odin, a gorgeous five year old Dobermann, who would prove to be one of Noel’s most challenging cases – and of course his beloved companions Ricochet, the Maine Coon, and Keira, the scruffy Border Terrier, who are always by his side.
Honest, moving, and deeply personal, this is about how animals have saved Noel’s life – and can yours too.”
I read Noel’s first book Listening to the Animals while on holiday in Madeira in 2019 (I very nearly said “last year..” ffs), and what instantly became apparent (if you hadn’t already seen so in The Supervet) was the utmost love, respect and compassion he has for animals. I was so excited when he announced in 2020 that he was releasing a follow up memoir, and couldn’t wait to add it to my TBR list when I received it for Christmas. While Listening to the Animals focuses on his past and the very early stages of his career, How Animals Saved My Life is more focused on the last few years up to the present day, where he experienced a dark period of mental health as a result of a life-threatening accident and a complaint against him to the RCVS (Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons), and how his loyal companions, Keira, his Border Terrier, and new addition, Ricochet, the Maine Coon cat, along with many previous patients over the years, kept him going with their unconditional love.
Throughout the book, Noel recounts some of the most challenging patients of his career and the ethics he and his team are faced with every single day, while championing his ultimate goal of One Medicine for all animals and humans. It featured some cases I remember featuring in The Supervet, including Olive, the miniature dachshund who spent her days working as a therapy dog, and the heartbreaking story of Anne, and her beloved cavapoo, Reuben, who was by her side while she endured years of cancer treatment.
As an animal lover, so many of the stories Noel recounts in the book really got to me, in particular, the story of Russell Brand’s cat, Morrissey, which just completely broke me. I often finished some of the chapters with tears in my eyes and had to go and give Tilly a hug. Throughout, you’re just presented with the amazing bonds between animals and their owners, and how Noel and his team have given so many families hope over the years. In addition to giving you so many incredible animal stories, Noel makes a point around his goal of One Medicine that has stuck with me – that animal testing has allowed human medicine to advance as far as it has, but veterinary medicine is still second beset to it. I loved the stories Noel tells throughout the book, and the compassion and love he has towards all animals – especially Keira and Ricochet – is incredibly heartwarming. In short, if you love animals, read this book.
So, while I didn’t manage quite as much an impressive book stack as I did in February, I’m okay with it. While I had a couple of wobbles, I wasn’t quite as sofa-bound as I was last month, so I’m putting that down as a win. I still have a pretty hefty TBR list though, so hopefully throughout April I’ll be able to get through a few more.
What have you been reading in March? Have you read any of the above? What did you think? Let’s chat in the comments 🙂