‘This Is Going to Hurt’: Health Care’s a Bitch and Then You Die
“You think that you are the cleverest person in the room, and that makes you dangerous,” a colleague tells Dr. Adam Kay, the British obstetrician at the center of the UK limited series This Is Going to Hurt. Ordinarily, this is the kind of sentiment hurled at the protagonist of a modern antihero drama, or at least the main character of a slightly complex network procedural. (If that exact sentence was never said to Dr. Gregory House, the general sentiment surely was, many times over.)
Adam is, indeed, guilty of a hazardous self-regard — and is played by Ben Whishaw, who is always so convincing as this type of smug jerk that it’s a wonder he’s also the voice of Paddington. But the primary antihero of the series turns out to be the UK’s National Health Service, which on the one hand provides free medical care to all who need it, and on the other does so via a relentless, precarious infrastructure that can turn providers like Adam into exhausted shells of humanity who are only barely capable of caring for themselves, never mind others.
Based on a memoir of the same name by the real Dr. Adam Kay (who has spent the last decade as a British TV writer, including penning all the episodes of this series), This Is Going to Hurt follows the fictionalized Adam through a few very rough months in 2006. He is overworked and underpaid, introduced sleeping in his car in the hospital parking lot because he was too tired to make it home to his boyfriend Harry (Rory Fleck Byrne). He finds a woman named Andrea in labor outside the wrong entrance to the building — and, worse, realizes that her delivery is in the midst of going awry. This leads to something akin to an action sequence (or, at least, a very good ER set piece) that includes Adam and Andrea having to leap off a paternoster elevator in motion, and Adam and Andrea sharing a gurney so he can keep her baby from coming out the wrong way before they make it to an operating room.
A few scenes later, Adam stands in the OB-GYN ward, trying to adjust to the usual chaos, and he spots Andrea holding the healthy baby he helped deliver. He has so many things to do, but he lets his gaze linger on them as if he needs the image to stay in his head long enough to motivate him through the rest of his shift. It’s just a moment — which is all that Whishaw needs to sell the notion that Adam does care about the job but struggles to remember the good parts of it due to the overwhelming challenges of the rest of it.
Over the course of the early episodes, we realize that no one Adam works with knows he’s gay, not because he is exactly in the closet, but because he shares nothing of his personal life with them, just as he refuses to tell Harry anything but the most cursory, innocuous details of a job that so often feels like a waking nightmare. He gets paired with a junior doctor named Shruti (Ambika Mod), whom he initially takes for an idiot, but who turns out to be just as overwhelmed by the never-ending workload and bureaucracy, only without a mentor to teach her how to mitigate any of it.
Kay lets this all play out as a <em>Catch-22</em>-style dark comedy, mixing in just enough absurd detail to make it bearable to watch the emotional toll the job takes on Adam and Shruti. In one episode, veteran midwife Tracy (Michele Austin) gets stuck at a seminar about new language to use at work, like referring to patients as “clients.” She notes all the equipment they can’t afford to replace, and speculates on what this event must be costing the hospital; the seminar leader doesn’t seem to understand her objection. In another, Adam takes a shift at a private hospital to supplement his meager income, and finds himself in a place that resembles a luxury hotel far more than where he and Shruti usually work.
The seven-episode season tracks a variety of personal and professional travails, including Shruti’s fear about passing her licensing exams, Adam’s response to a diagnosis gone terribly wrong, and his struggles to make peace with his haughty mother (Harriet Walter from Succession) while maintaining his relationship with Harry and other friendships despite no time or energy for any of it. It all reaches satisfying — if usually bittersweet and sometimes downright tragic — closure by the end, even as there is clearly much more to be done with this world, and this main character, should Kay and Whishaw be interested.
It’s been a while since TV has had a great hospital drama. This Is Going to Hurt definitely qualifies.
This Is Going to Hurt begins streaming June 2 on AMC+ and Sundance Now, with additional installments releasing weekly. I’ve seen all seven episodes.