I used to work in a bookshop sorting out the shelves and putting away stock, and glanced through the first few pages. It looked pretty interesting, so I bought it, and in the last year or so read it about three times.
As somebody who has considered medical training and has worked within the NHS, I found it fascinating, and really refreshing to see somebody being brave enough to highlight some of what really goes on in our hospitals!
This intense story follows a newly qualified doctor taking on his first house officer role in a hospital, detailing the fall from fresh-faced idealism to cynicism in the face of impossible beurocracy, negligence, cover-ups and incompetence. It can sometimes make for uncomfortable reading, but in a really fascinating way, making the book difficult to put down once you start.
One thing this book does really well is highlight that medical professionals, although seeming invincible and infallible, are humans too, and just as prone to mistakes and worry as the rest of us. It's quite a sobering thought, but gives you a whole new respect for the people who work crazy hours in unforgiving circumstances to improve our quality of life.
I love this book, and would recommend it to anybody. It has also been made into a gripping BBC series, which, although slightly adapted for better screenplay, carries the same intensity and genius writing - well worth a watch.
Heres a list of people Ive discussed Bodies with over the last week: my mother on a plane to Germany; my trampolining buddies at a Christmas meal out; my colleagues as we waited for a meeting to start. Not one of these is a doctor, though a few are medical students in varying levels of their degrees. The fact remains though, that the BBC 2 series is drawing in a mixed audience every Wednesday night. This op is not about the show I dont have a TV, and only know about it because I was over-nighting in a hotel for work, and my trip coincided with the season premier which I randomly tuned in to. Instead, its about the book on which the show is based also called Bodies by a former NHS doc, Jed Mercurico.
For those who dont know the story, Bodies follows the life of a young houseman on his first placement in a hospital somewhere in the middle of nowhere. While the show took place in Obs and Gynae, the original book was set in general medicine, incorporating A&E and medical (but not surgical) wards throughout the hospital. This change was made, according to the author, because the show couldnt rely on the heavy narrative featured in the book or, to put it another way, because the general viewer is quite likely to be familiar with the concept and process of child birth, even if they have never experienced it personally.
There are other differences between the show and the book, the most major of which is the anonymisation of the latter. Its all Dr K and Mrs F in the novel, something that wouldnt have translated well to the screen. The patients also get pseudonyms breathless lady, smoke inhalation, Young gangrene man, blue numbers. This made me smile as its something Ive often done to friends, colleagues and acquaintances, from big boob girl to nice Mrs GoldCard lady.
The main theme of both the show and the book concerns consultants. Consultants who dont follow protocol. Consultants who are more concerned with getting their findings published than with keeping their patients alive. Consultants who are quite frankly inempt..and yet remain unchallenged precisely because of who they are. In the book (and perhaps in the show I only saw episode one, remember) someone who has been there long enough to know better blows the whistle and the situation is promptly dealt with with her suspension. The HSJ featured this book recently and expressed displeasure at the way (a) health service managers are portrayed (it is a journal for said managers after all) and (b) how over the top the show becomes as the weeks progress. I read the book in a day while abroad, and though it was a lot of medical jargon to take in (especially when I was supposed to be on holiday and thus away from it all) it seemed a perfectly feasible story in my mind. There may be policies to protect whistle blowers coming in to force now, but its not hard to believe these were just a wishful dream a couple of years ago when the book was published.
The story is crude. Its raw. Its dark. Its down right dirty at times (this is one doc who makes sure the nurses get regular, thorough examinations). Though its not a gory as the show, the descriptions are not for those with weak stomachs. The narrator sounds a lot older than his 23 years, a mix of being penned by someone a couple of decades older and what several years of no sleep does to a character, I suppose. The book is set in a hospital and written from the point of view of a Dr who works there, so its not surprising a sizeable amount of jargon filters through. Handily, this is all neatly explained in a 10 page glossary at the back of the book, listing medical terminology and hospital slang. I didnt realise this was there until I had finished the last page of story, but it cleared up a few things for me, and for the most part I had been guessing / deducing correctly.
Some ideas and figures crop up again and again: that junior doctors are so tired they make numerous mistakes which may, on occasion, prove fatal; that as a patient youre likely to emerge from some wards sicker than when you went in; that sometimes as a medical professional you really should just learn to keep your mouth shut. What I think I like best about the whole Bodies set us is that its British. E.R. and Scrubs are fine for now and then, but when something so close to home comes along, with an NHS hospital that could be in any city in the country, with local policies and procedures, it really makes you think.
The book is un-put-down-able. The story is intense, quick moving (sheesh, they move on 6 months in the turn of a page at one point) and compelling. At times quirky and at times serious. I was definitely siding with the narrator in the end wanting him to get the girl, get the job, get out of the messes he dug himself into. And when it was over, all I could think was that Jed Mercurico should just get out there and write me a sequel. Its themed fiction at its best accessible to all, yet educating as you read, and whether or not you saw the show, Id definitely recommend it.