Today I was on the phone for a couple of hours with a friend of mine who told me a horrific story of how the first month of the year was: «the worst beginning of the year of his life». Of course, as soon as he told me that I knew something had happened with his health or his family’s health. It turned out his wife almost died due to a medical error. The story was appalling: as far as I understood it, a surgery had gone wrong and she had been urinating inside her belly for about a month, can you imagine!?
Most people’s horror stories, I think, are health issues. Wouldn’t you agree? We have nightmares about dogs, or snakes, or being on a plane that’s falling, or sharks, or ghosts. And that’s why most of horror movies are about those fantasies. But in real life, there are few things more terrifying than health issues. And in my experience, most of us don’t have a good time in hospitals or with doctors. And if it’s bad in the National Health Systems in many civilized countries, paid by the tax-payer, assured by over-worked tired civil servants, delayed by endless bureaucracies, it seems even worst in the crazy-expensive insurance-dominated system of the United States. I once had a friend of mine in California who was bitten by a poisonous spider and almost died because going to the hospital was too expensive. For a European, that’s insane! I can’t even imagine how it is in other parts of the world.
With all this, I’m not particularly fond of medical TV-shows. There are a couple I was interested in in the past, including CHICAGO HOPE, a David E. Kelley show back in the 90’s, with the solid Mandy Patinkin. It was a good show because it had strange cases and moral dilemmas and you never really knew how to decide a case. But that’s the best that can be said about it. I didn’t really like E.R., or any other medical series. Most of all, these shows were all soap-opera-like. They all seemed – and they still seem – to white-wash what really goes on in the Health System, showing doctors as heroes with their exciting sensual but still petty lives.
And then came Shore’s HOUSE M.D.. And what a show! Hugh Laurie played a medical-Sherlock Holmes that every week would be solving a highly dangerous mystery where a criminal condition would be close to murdering a patient or more. Laurie was absolutely brilliant, migrating from comedy to drama with a touch of genius. The characters were interesting and it was brilliantly written – with the added bonus that a regular person wasn’t able to decipher half the words in the dialogues and still become addicted to the drama and the emotional payoff. But since the last season of HOUSE, a few years ago, no other good medical shows caught my attention. Please don’t speak to me about items like GREY’S ANATOMY, PRIVATE CLINIC or CODE BLACK. I will not speak of the likes of them.
I took a look at Soderbergh’s THE KNICK, where Clive Owen played a drug-addicted doctor in Knickerbocker Hospital in New York at the start of the 1900’s. I watched a single episode and even though it had obvious qualities, I felt uncomfortable with its raw portrait of that awful reality and didn’t get hooked.
But now here come two new shows, both of which I’ve been following for a few weeks, now.
David Shore’s new drama THE GOOD DOCTOR tells the story of Shaun Murphy, an autistic surgeon that is hired by a prestigious hospital. The show is based on a Korean medical drama and is becoming hugely successful. Still, the show, at least the American version I’m following, doesn’t have a very interesting plot, is not particularly well written (not in the likes of HOUSE, at least – which is certainly a high bar) and it does perpetuate the beautifully clean face of the Health System that I was criticizing just a minute ago. Still, I can’t stop watching it for a reason: the astonishingly brilliant performance of Freddy Highmore. Highmore will only be 26 this next Wednesday, but he is already one of the most talented actors alive today. If you saw him along side Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet in FINDING WONDERLAND, or in BATES MOTEL facing Vera Farmiga, you must see him in THE GOOD DOCTOR. He’s just tremendous!
But there’s another medical TV-show out there that you should take a look. It’s called THE RESIDENT and the experience it conveys is much closer to what we ourselves feel in Health Systems. In THE RESIDENT, doctors and nurses are still the heroes, but they are not battling strange deceases or killer bugs: they’re battling each other and the system. In this show you will find Chief Surgeons that kill more patients than save them (and still are able to routinely blackmail their way out of blame and retirement), and others that are willing to let their patients die to protect their studies, etc. This series shows a dark underworld of medical tragedies that resembles the reality with far more clarity than any other I’ve seen so far. And with a 6.3 rating at IMDB it’s certainly highly underrated. But I recommend it. It will never be one of my favorite shows, but it’s different, trust me, and makes us think.
As I become older, the idea of being dependant of the Health Systems that loom around us is pretty scary. Today I had another wakeup call on the subject. Stories inform us, real ones or fictional ones and we should all be thinking of the systemic problems that plague us all. I still think the Health System is a theme waiting to be properly explored in fiction. But not from me, I’d say… More than I can chew, I’m afraid.