The Night Interns Austin Duffy Granta, €13.99
Anyone who has ever walked the empty corridors of a hospital at night can tell of the stillness, silence and darkness which is only broken by occasional low-level lighting at the nurses’ stations. However, for a junior doctor, the experience is very different.
Here Austin Duffy gives us a glimpse into the reality of the working life of interns and the way they are expected to make decisions which are beyond their medical knowledge, often with very little sleep.
A dangerous and stressful learning curve is revealed through the eyes of a young intern who is assigned night duty with two fellow junior doctors: “There was very little actual doctoring. But at the same time we were also supposed to be on hand to deal with whatever might happen out of the blue. We were the first people the nurses would call if someone went off, and we were always the first on the scene. God only knew what situation would be there to greet us.”
From pure exhaustion to the high expectations which are part of the interns’ night shift, we learn of the cavernous hospital and the change in atmosphere from ward to ward. The supply areas differing in layout and the nurses’ demands varying in levels of urgency, all add to the build-up of tension and stress these young doctors feel.
The infectious diseases unit is “the best place to go because of how sick the patients were. Half of them were at death’s door.”
As we move through the fictional night shifts, we experience the traditional (and outdated) hierarchies which exist in hospitals, starting with the God-complex-ridden consultants who swan in during rounds and enjoy humiliating their underlings, right through to the verbal and physical abuse of the interns. The fear is palpable and causes one to wonder why anyone would choose to become a doctor.
The “do no harm” oath does not seem to apply to the treatment of interns. Abuse, bullying, racism, snobbery and isolation are used to break these young adults down and (as mentioned in this novel) can even result in suicide.
Beautifully written and uncomfortably addictive, this is a tense, realistic look at the working of a busy Dublin hospital. As a frequent hospital visitor, unfortunately none of the harrowing situations detailed surprised me. Duffy (a practising medical oncologist) shows how hospitals are not like the ones we see on Grey’s Anatomy, with an endless supply of private rooms and plush staff lounges. Quite the opposite.
The Night Interns is raw and painful in its honesty. This is real life. Be patient with the next intern who butchers you as they draw your blood. Everyone has to learn.