Real Medical Drama Made Less Real by Singer-Songwriters
With the exceptions of “St. Elsewhere” and “Scrubs,” both of which reasonably captured the high-flying absurdities of medical training, I’ve rarely watched medical dramas. The aversion had been based partly on time constraints but mostly on eye-rolling inaccuracies, like when the impossibly trained Mandy Patinkin went directly from performing a heart transplant to separating conjoined twins on “Chicago Hope.”
I’ve also had an aversion to most documentary-type medical programs—probably for the same reason that a short-order cook wouldn’t watch a reality-based show called “Diner” in his downtime. Nevertheless, when a TV series calls itself the venerably hip “Hopkins,” it’s hard to ignore. According to the show’s website, this documentary-type medical program advertises “an intimate look at the men and women who call The Johns Hopkins* Hospital their home.” (At this point, I assume—rightly, it turns out—that the referenced men and women are the hospital’s physicians and not its long-term inpatients.) The first of 6 episodes aired on ABC last Thursday but is also available for online viewing.
Depicting a world where health care costs and insurance matters don’t exist,† the premier installment of “Hopkins” showcases the work of 3 physicians: the hospital’s first female urology resident (ahem, both Duke and U Penn had their first female urology residents more than 20 years ago), a remarkable migrant farm worker turned neurosurgeon, and a cardiothoracic surgeon whose marriage is falling apart. And while the show clearly attempts to emphasize the real poignancy of their real work—which is actually made less real by the cloying use of singer-songwriter tracks‡—it inadvertently shows how boneheaded the best of us can be when attempting to connect with patients. For instance, the neurosurgeon delivers the not-so-reassuring, “There’s a fine line between life and death,” to a clearly anxious man who is about to undergo resection of an undefined brain tumor. And the CT surgeon attempts to apologize to a woman in the ER who just endured the pain of a chest tube with, “Are we still friends?” Her reaction, or lack of it, pretty much says the accurate, “We were never friends.”
Then there’s the filming of the CT surgeon’s home life, or what’s left of it, to add personal drama that’s evidently characteristic of “ER” or Grey’s Anatomy.” The problem—and we’ve become desensitized to this fact with the proliferation of reality-based shows—is that the pain of his young children, like that of the Hopkins patients, is indeed real. Which begs the question: It’s one thing to embrace the filming of your medical practice, but why on God’s green would you subject your children’s divorce-induced anguish to the TV camera?
* Of course, we can’t forget the capitalized “The” in front of “Johns Hopkins,” anymore than we can forget it in front of “New England Journal of Medicine.”
† To its credit, “Hopkins” did show how a patient with a documented brain tumor had to wait several weeks for an appointment with a neurosurgeon.
‡ I’m reminded here of John Belushi smashing the guitar of the folk singer on the stairs of the Delta House.