Book ReviewsNon fiction

#NovNov22: ‘Twas The Night Shift Before Christmas by Adam Kay

Cover of Twas The Night Before Christmas - a disappointing set of anecdotes from the front line of medicine.

Adam Kay’s first memoir —  This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor — was a witty, hilarious and painfully honest account of his time in the medical profession.

Unfortunately his second offering — Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas — isn’t in the same league. It covers the six occasions when he was on duty over the Christmas period, having repeatedly drawn the short straw when rotas were arranged. While most of the population were stuffing themselves with turkey and pudding, he was delivering babies or removing various strange objects from parts of. the human body they were never supposed to have entered. .

It’s essentially a series of anecdotes from his specialism in obstetrics and gynaecology. Delivered in his trademark deadpan style of humour, some make you smile, others wince and roll your eyes over the absurdity of some cases he has to confront.

His tales from the front line are also a good reminder that medics and nursing staff too often have to jump through bureaucratic hoops in order to provide treatment. I groaned at his revelation that staff in one hospital were given a quota of three sets of scrubs per day irrespective of the nature of their job. Three sets per shift isn’t nearly enough for labour ward surgeons where ” it’s hard to emerge from any delivery unsplashed. You’re basically front row for Shamu at SeaWorld, except Shamu has eaten a dodgy kebab and is suffering from chronic fin rot.

Their solution doesn’t speak well to infection control. Until they devised a way to manipulate the access code-restricted dispensing machine, according to Kay, the staff would root around in the bin for used sets that could be repurposed!

Overall however this book is a disappointment. It’s very short (144 pages). The anecdotes are mostly of the “mildly amusing” rather than “laugh out loud” variety and there isn’t the same biting commentary on the stresses and frustrations of working in the NHS that I appreciated in This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor.

Twas The Night Shift Before Christmas feels like a book rushed out to capitalise on the popularity of the first book. The content never made it into This Is Going To Hurt because, Kay says, they were deemed ‘too disgusting’ or ‘too Christmassy’.” Hmmm. I can see understand the “too Christmassy” point but the anecdotes are no more “disgusting” than those in the first book. I suspect they were left out because the publishers at the time didn’t think they were good enough or added any value. They were right first time.

Adam Kay has now published a third memoir — Undoctored — in which he reveals what happened after he decided to leave the medical profession and become a comedian. Based on reviews I’ve seen, this will be far more interesting.

Best lines

Full marks to the anaesthetist wearing a badge that says; ‘He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake’.”

“A lot of the reward for this job comes in the form of a warm glow. It doesn’t make you look any less tired, you can’t pay the rent with it, and it’s worth a lot less than the social life you’ve traded it for, but this comforting aura of goodness and purpose definitely throws light into some dark corners and helps you withstand a lot of the shit.”


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

11 thoughts on “#NovNov22: ‘Twas The Night Shift Before Christmas by Adam Kay

  • Pingback: November 2022 Reading Wrap Up : BookerTalk

  • Thank you for this review; I don’t like doctor/medicinal stories because I am not scientific in the mind; it’s all above me. That being said, I am reminded to read soon for this season: I saw Mommy Killing Santa Claus; I am hoping to have this as a review for books read but I have yet to start this because whatever that I have been reading has not panned out as enjoyable or good reading. I can’t seem to muster up to reading. Oh well, thank you.

    • I dont think you need to be scientific to read memoirs of doctors or other health professionals. I haven’t found any problems so far and I have very little biology or anatomy knowledge

    • Well I don’t see any point in just reviewing books I enjoy…

  • This sounds cobbled together to be piled up at till points, said with my cynical ex-bookseller hat on.

    • Your cynicism antennae are likely to be right in this case – I can’t think of any other reason why the book was published

  • I’m not good at hospital themed books – or TV. I gave up on his TV series very early on, so I guess I’m not the target audience!

    • I did watch the series – it got a lot better as it progressed because you saw the mental strain he was under and a catastrophic situation which ultimately led to him giving up medicine

      • Fai enough. I’m just not good at hospital damas so not my cup of tea.

        • Appreciate that Margaret. We can’t all enjoy the same thing can we

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