Part-time comedian and full-time NHS anaesthetist, Ed Patrick has taken to writing about the wacky world of medicine in his new book Catch Your Breath: The Secret Life of a Sleepless Anaesthetist. Ahead of Patrick’s visit to Five Leaves this December, our writer Lewis Keech catches up with the new author to chat his medical memoir, podcast and humour that can be found in the darkest moments…
You recently published the book Catch Your Breath: The Secret Life of a Sleepless Anaesthetist. How did this come about?
In terms of medical memoirs, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande was a book that I’ve read, and there’s obviously Adam Kay. The reason why the book came about, though, wasn’t because I really wanted to write a book. It was that, when I started in anaesthetics, it was different from what I’d been doing as a doctor. You’re giving people a reserve of oxygen and altering their physiology, you’re changing their blood pressure, you’re doing extreme things. You’re also using some crazy drugs, which are either otherwise illicit (like ketamine, fentanyl, morphine), or just bonkers (like curare, a muscle relaxant). So, every day I wrote down things I had done. Then during COVID I took those notes and focused everything onto writing for something to do!
It’s a fascinating subject. What attracted you most to working in anaesthetics?
One of the beautiful things about it is you get to spend a lot of time with people, which is a rare commodity in the NHS at the moment. If I’m giving an anaesthetic to someone, I have to meet them beforehand, to deal with them throughout that procedure and be with them afterwards as well, to make sure they’re alright. That’s a real privilege to be able to do that and spend time with people.
You’re going to be talking at the Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham on Thursday 8 December. What can people expect?
It’s going to be an ‘in-conversation’. The way that these events work is that someone will be interviewing me, and I basically spin off and chat about the book, then tell stories, and possibly a few readings as well. I like to bring the stories to life rather than just read them, so it’s really good fun. People ask you questions from all different angles that you wouldn't expect, too. I’m used to doing stand-up, which is great, but with these events it’s always great seeing people posing you questions. There’ll be a Q&A at the end as well - and an opportunity to buy the book!
One of the beautiful things about what I do is that I get to spend a lot of time with people, which is a rare commodity in the NHS at the moment
I listened to a couple of episodes of your podcast, Ed Patrick: Comedians’ Surgery. How did this come about?
It came about by accident, when I was doing stand-up. Quite a few people will talk about personal issues and sometimes that’s health issues - many of which were really interesting. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could make this into a chat show?’ So I did a couple of trials that went really well. People loved coming on the show because it’s quite nice as a comedian being interviewed, and it gave people a sort of freedom. What I realised was that the audiences loved it too; they were laughing at what the comedian was saying and were really interested.
Will the Five Leaves event be like an episode of Comedians’ Surgery at all?
The book is sort of me talking about my own experience, so in a way it will be, but it will also be distinct. Comedians’ Surgery was trying to make something really entertaining out of medical stories and conditions that was kind of enlightening as well. Whereas, with the book, I really wanted to tell people about anaesthetics, so it’s great talking about that, but obviously it pulled in everything else from the last couple of years. So there will be some elements of me talking about things, but it’s almost more of a collective thing too, because we all went through different things over the last few years.
Working in medicine, you do have those dark moments, but you always have to try and balance them out
What struck me when I was reading the book was that it was so dark in some places, and so light and funny in others. Was this a deliberate choice?
That’s actually quite a good description of medicine in itself, because you do have those dark moments, but you always have to try and balance them. Also, it’s quite realistic to say that you’re going to have dark and light moments in quite quick succession when you’re working in that kind of environment. It takes some cognitive conditioning when you first start out, because there’s so many moments like that. It’s a unique world to be in, especially in certain specialities. Obviously, I work in anaesthetics, and I have to work in intensive care as part of my job, so with that you can have a lot of down time, but also things can hit the fan pretty quickly and you have to react very quickly as well when you’re needed.
You’ve made a career of comedy and medicine. More generally, how do they work together?
They totally balance each other out. If I had a bad gig on stage, medicine could balance that out, but if it happened in hospital, going on stage could balance that out too, because it’s a completely different environment. I didn’t realise how well they balanced each other out mentally for me, but you have to have something outside of medicine to stay level.
Do you have any plans to do any more stand-up or writing? Will you bring your stand-up to Nottingham?
Yeah, so I just did a month at the Edinburgh Festival with Work in Progress, I was working on a show that I’m planning on taking up next year. Then I’ve got a whole bunch of shows, both club and solo - so I’m definitely back into it, going to shows then back into hospital the next day. With my solo show, I’d like to either do a preview in Nottingham before I take it up next year, or I’ll do a show there if I do a tour. I’d love to come back though because I’m from Nottingham, my family still live there, I’m a big Forest supporter, so Nottingham’s totally in my blood.
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