THE NIGHT INTERNS
BY AUSTIN DUFFY
The Den were enraptured with ‘The Night Interns’ by Austin Duffy, but because not everyone will want to delve into the night time shortcomings of an overstretched hospital, it is our ‘Wild Card’ read this month. Duffy's compelling story of three interns working night time shifts in a large Irish hospital is honest, brutal, unsettling, compelling and a must read.
The story is narrated by an unnamed surgical intern as he fearfully begins his night time training residency in hospital with two fellow trainee surgical interns, Lynda and Stuart. With barely any experience, we witness these three very different characters navigate the demands and relentless pressure of being on call. Lynda is super gifted, exuding confidence and willing to try any procedure. Stuart initially appears timid and totally out of his depth, reluctant to perform basic tasks. The narrator is captivated by Lynda and dismissive of Stuart, if not taking comfort in the fact Stuart appears to find the job more nerve-racking than he does.
Austin Duffy is a consultant oncologist so, similar to Adam Kay’s “This is going to Hurt”, he is able to draw on his medical knowledge to vividly tell his story. In this case, the dynamics of navigating the consultant’s furore, the nuanced conversations between nurses and doctors and the interns navigating how to handle the constant workload whilst perhaps snatching a few moments for sleep and sustenance. Duffy skilfully conjures up the claustrophobic nature of the hospital environment – the moment the interns emerge into daylight are so real and powerful - and expertly creates such a clear picture of the loneliness, fear, exhaustion and abuse suffered by interns that it is no surprise to learn that not all interns have made it through. You can feel the changes in temperature, capture the smells and without doubt you or your family will recognise a scenario or a scene and wince. And then there are the patients - helpless, resigned, confused and reliant that the treatment they are getting will make them well.
This may all sound rather depressing, but it is an addictive and page-turning read and Duffy’s writing is wonderfully direct and upfront. Admittedly some of the consultants appear too stereotypical and their lack of guidance hopefully in part unrealistic, but overall this short read gives a wonderful insight into nights at a hospital and at the same time recognises the shortcomings and inefficiencies of what these young doctors are being asked to do. And, as the interns settle into the work, a glimmer of hope that it will ‘all be worth it’ is brought beautifully together in the opening and closing scene when our unnamed narrator deals with death.