24 August 2013

Review: Hospital Babylon by Imogen Edwards-Jones

Hospital Babylon by Imogen Edwards-Jones

Published: 28 April 2011 by Bantam

Pages: 320 (hardcover)

Genre/s: Non-Fiction, Medical

Source: Own library


Hospital Babylon is an in-depth, amusing and highly insightful expose of the extraordinary world of modern medicine. It will take the reader on a journey through the various departments and wards where babies are made, thighs are reduced, noses straightened and spare kidneys are flown in from the Indian subcontinent.

We will meet doctors who sleep with nurses. Doctors who sleep with patients. Doctors who fiddle their insurance forms. Doctors who suck fat, pump up breasts, plump lips and lengthen penises. The doctor who specialises in flatulence. The doctor who shoots up before he operates. Doctor Feelgood who will give you anything and everything you need. As well as the doctor who makes a fortune doing buttock enlargements in the Caribbean. En route, we will discover what touches them, what amuses them and quite how obsessively insane you have to be to make it to the top.

Why does a private room cost over £1000 a night? Who are the people changing your bedpan? Holding your hand as you go to sleep? What do they do to you while you’re out cold? Why are drugs so expensive? How easy is it for the pharmaceutical companies to grease the good doctor’s palm? Who exactly is profiting from your illness, embarrassing affliction or brand new nose? And, of course, what happens when it all goes wrong?

My Thoughts

Hospital Babylon is the fourth book of Imogen Edwards-Jones' eight "Babylon" books that I have read in the past few years.  Offering an insight into the world of situations and occupations that are glamorous and yet often ridiculed, these are pretty light reads, with input from anonymous insiders.

Probably the most famous of these books is Hotel Babylon, upon which a television series in the UK was based a few years ago.  Hotel Babylon is also the first of the books I read (after seeing the TV series), followed by Beach Babylon (the story of a glamorous resort) and Air Babylon (the adventures of an airline steward which really freaked me out when it discussed what happens when people die on planes).  

Hospital Babylon is the last of the "Babylon" books I will probably read, although I'm tempted by Restaurant Babylon that was only released a couple of weeks ago, and that's because it's the last one that I find particularly interesting.  I'm always drawn to non-fiction books set in hospitals, as after working in one for more than three years (my favourite job ever), what I saw was enough to make your toes curl, let alone what the medical staff endure.

Based on twenty-four hours in a UK emergency room, seen through the eyes of one of the doctors in training, Hospital Babylon is both a look behind the scenes and at the front line of emergency medicine.  Funny, sad, shocking and frustrating, the stories of the patients, doctors, nurses and other medical staff kept me turning the pages, and in between was an intimate look at the NHS itself, and the impact that standards of care, staffing requirements and middle management have had on changing how an emergency room in the UK operates - with some pretty frightening results.  

However, unlike other non-fiction medical memoirs I've read in recent years, the main character resists the opportunity to really take a pop at the National Health Service - instead he highlights the impact of the changes, rather than railing against them, and how patients and their outcomes are ultimately affected - either for better or worse.

At times this book is very funny - some of the situations that people find themselves in would be hilarious to anyone except the person in the midst of it, and at other times it's very sad - how quickly someone who appears to have only a minor medical problem can deteriorate, how the staff are pushed to the edges of physical and mental limits and how they actually are real people too - something that is easy to forget when you are waiting for medical attention.

Hospital Babylon is probably the least funny of the "Babylon" books that I've read, but probably the one that I enjoyed the most.  To be honest, the writing isn't mind blowing, but the insight with which the story of one emergency room, on one night, was told was enough to keep me entertained.


  1. I can imagine that this would be the least funny...As humorous as a situation may be the whole "life or death" aspect in a hospital is sombering.

    1. I think she did a good job of not making it too humorous. It felt more 'real' than the other books, probably because of the setting.

  2. As a nurse I'm always wary to read any kind of book that is based on health care... What really goes on at work is not interesting enough in most cases, and people only seem to want to read about the affairs between doctors and doctors and nurses, and don't seem to understand is not as common as Grey's Anatomy and ER portray...

    1. I love medical dramas, but they are so unrealistic. A real life one wouldn't be nearly as exciting, so I can see why they have to jazz it up. And those affairs don't happen nearly as often as people think lol



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