I’ve spoken about the book by ex-doctor Adam Kay This Is Going to Hurt, now it’s time to speak about the TV series. Based on Kay’s memoir, this series is heartbreakingly honest. Revealing the ugly truth of the medical profession to non-medics, and reiterating what many of us already know.
If you don’t want spoilers stop reading now.
Expertly, the show adds other characters to create the depth of experience in a public hospital. Shruti, a junior doctor who feels inadequate and bad at her job. Kay, the main, who makes a medical error in the first episode. Resulting in a 25 week placental abruption, a woman in danger and child in the NICU who may not survive.
The series then pushes on, as our lives in medicine do, not stopping despite the sheer exhaustion, stress and utter sadness. Kay keeps working, understaffed, overtime. While also navigating the guilt, shame and anguish of his mistake. It’s so realistic that it’s not very shocking if you’re a doctor. Yet it’s so poignant, showing how it is to shoulder that hidden burden of medical error while trying to remain present at your demanding job.
This mistake hangs over Kay’s head throughout the series. Finally coming to a conclusion in the final episode. Much like many doctors have experienced, one error that can haunt you for years that may not be resolved until long into the future.
The Story of Shruti
The breakout star is Mod. Who plays Shruti Acharya. A young doctor trying to get onto the Obstetrics and Gynaecology training program. We follow her desperately studying for exams, while clocking insane hours, beyond tired. In a stage of complete burnout, which is evident in the episode where she develops compassion fatigue and mistakenly likens a death in utero to a ‘bunch of cells’.
Shruti experiences workplace bullying and has zero support. On top of this, she also has the added stress of the patient complaint to deal with. When she speaks up and asks a senior for advice and help, the consultant merely shuts her down.
What do you expect? It’s difficult. It never gets easier and one day you will have a busload of dead babies with your name on it.
That was the guidance given to her. There was no hope, no meaning. Basically, Shruti was told that if she can’t handle it she’s in the wrong profession. This isn’t fiction.
The Struggling Doctor
The series portrays the emotional havoc doctors face completely as it is. All too often, doctors are told to suck it up and keep working. If you’re struggling, which almost everyone does, you’re told that medicine is probably wrong for you. Needing time off means you’re not a team player, or you’re seen as weak.
Time off isn’t actually an option usually. There’s no staffing to support this. It can lead to feelings of desperation, hopelessness, misery.
My heart ached when Shruti’s parents called her weekly to say how proud they are of her. It reminded me of my own immigrant family, who have pinned all their hopes and dreams onto me and my career. Graduating from medical school is one of their biggest achievements in life. My seeming success is what they’re so proud of.
Of course Shruti doesn’t have the ability to disappoint them, or tell them how bad she actually feels at work. I completely identify with it, and have pretended myself. ‘Work’s work’, ‘work’s fine’. When inside you’re anything but fine.
Doctor Suicide – the ugly truth
As Shruti becomes increasingly dishevelled, pale, not eating, purple bags under her eyes I can see myself in her. At the end of an almost 100 hour week, I’ve looked very similar. Empty fridge, no social life, exhausted. When will it end? The scene where she denies being a doctor also spoke to me, I’ve felt that way myself.
Unfortunately, Shruti couldn’t see any hope of her life getting better. The hospital system failed her. She took her own life after finding out she passed her exams. Shruti would rather die than stay alive in her environment, she saw no other way out.
Doctor suicide is a sad and ugly reality that is often swept under the rug. We deserve better. That’s why This Is Going to Hurt is so well done, and I’d recommend anyone to watch it. To better understand how it really is.
Far less glamour, a lot of stress, distress and feelings of hopelessness. How it negatively affects your relationships. And how there’s often no support, even if you ask for it. I know because I’ve been there too.
My own experiences with struggling as a doctor
When I asked for help and said I really wasn’t coping, I was told that I had to come to work anyway. No one could cover me.
They emailed me a suicide hotline, and that was it.
A senior doctor told me a very similar thing that Shruti was told, that it doesn’t get easier.
I called the hotline, the doctor who answered advised me to seek therapy but to not let them diagnose me with depression or anxiety. Apparently I won’t get income protection that way. What a world we live in that you’re not able to seek help, without fear of being labelled a liability.
Luckily for me, I have a loving partner and I’m very open with my feelings. I didn’t keep it inside. My support network outside of work helped me. This blog helped me too. But that can’t be said for everyone, and in this series Shruti represents all of those people that were failed by the system.
You’re not alone
You’re not alone. If you’re feeling weak, or hopeless, or that you’re a bad doctor know that it’s not just you. The environment is so hard. If there are people saying they’ve never struggled, they’re just hiding it. As cliche as it sounds, it’s okay to not be okay.
Seek supports outside of work. Friends, family, partners, professional help, creative outlets. Whatever you need. Remember, you and your health is what’s most important.
Don’t sacrifice yourself trying to save the world.
Feel free to email me or drop a comment. I’m always open to talking.