From our Life Gets Confused with a Really Ridiculous Hospital Drama department: a local representative of the US-based Center for Nursing Advocacy is upset about the portrayal of nurses on TV2’s just-finished Grey’s Anatomy. “Nurses in this series are nothing more than a pathetic foil to the god-like doctor heroes,” says Anita Bamford, a senior lecturer at Auckland University of Technology. “They are typically presented as marginally skilled physician subordinates, usually faceless and mute – like wallpaper.”
Oh dear. This is a bit like complaining that Ross on Friends misrepresents palaeontologists or that Tony Soprano gives waste management consultants a bad name. Grey’s Anatomy, a series often compared to that homage to social realism, Sex and the City, is not really a useful primer for any aspect of the human condition, let alone the medical profession. Unless you have a burning need to know what to do when faced with a patient who has a live bomb imbedded in his body, and even then they managed to screw it up. Kaboom.
This show’s DNA owes more to such self-indulgent angst-fests as thirtysomething than to the truly great medical dramas, from Dr Kildare to Chicago Hope. Grey’s Anatomy is The OC in scrubs.
Which means that it can be quite entertaining, in an irritating kind of way. The series revolves around the antics – more hormonal than Hippocratic – of a bunch of assorted personality disorders masquerading as surgical interns at the fortunately fictional Seattle Grace Hospital.
On House you get medical discussion like this: “In the senator’s condition, a spleen biopsy could easily cause sepsis and kill him.”
On Grey’s Anatomy you get: “Did you let me scrub in for this operation because I slept with you?”
It’s worrying that even the senior doctors don’t seem to have much of a grip on correct anatomical terminology. Or, as Dr Bailey says to George as she is about to give birth, “O’Malley, stop looking at my va-jay-jay.”
The whiny Meredith Grey of the show’s title does have the distinction of being the most annoying very thin female television professional since Ally McBeal. This is the sort of show where they have cute nicknames for each other. Meredith calls the neuro-surgeon she bonks (despite the fact that he is [a] her super-visor, [b] married, and [c] lives in a trailer) McDreamy. She calls the vet she also fancies McVet. You wouldn’t let any of these doctors operate on your McGerbil. If the nursing staff don’t get much of the limelight on this show, they should probably count themselves very lucky indeed.
To be fair, nurses do have a higher profile on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy website. Click on “Debbie does Seattle Grace” and you get a blog ostensibly written by one of the hospital’s mute and faceless nurses. “I heard from a very reliable source that McDreamy was spotted chasing after Meredith earlier this evening … right into an empty exam room!” it burbles, before concluding, “So, this is Nurse Debbie. Signing off for now, sure to be back very soon with more of your very favourite, very juicy Seattle Grace gossip!” I’m not sure this is exactly what the Center for Nursing Advocacy had in mind.
If it’s any consolation to the nurses, over on TV1, television was giving another hard-working and beleaguered group a hard time. You have to wonder whether the real McParents interviewed about the impact of children on their lives were aware that the resulting programme was going to be called Having a Baby Ruined My Life.
Certainly, many of them were portrayed as marginally skilled subordinates – “You don’t put pooh on his head!” noted one mother as her husband attempted to change a nappy – but that could have been the editing.
The documentary was quite therapeutic for those of us who have experienced that moment when you arrive home triumphant with your much-dreamt-of, beautiful newborn and think, “What in God’s name have I done?” The sleep deprivation, the distant memory of a sex life, the schedules, the sheer, unrelenting anarchy.
Having a Baby’s parents gave testimony to the fact that it can be bloody hard and often thankless work. But there were also the parents you wouldn’t wish on the demon toddler from Hell. “I mean, if an alien landed at your door making a racket 24 hours a day, you’d just kill it,” one mother blithely remarked.
As for poor little four-and-a-half-year-old Ashley, while his parents were saying things like “We didn’t get what we wanted. We thought it would be in the best interests not to have any more and Paul had a vasectomy”, he made doomed attempts to get their attention. He was wearing a T-shirt with the word “nature” on it. It broke your heart.
And any parents who have four children under eight, one of whom is called Tabitha, probably deserve everything they get. Particularly when they don’t seem to realise that God invented those little seats in the supermarket trolley precisely so little Tabitha wouldn’t run amok in the bulk-bins section.
Lest all of this accelerate an already-declining birthrate, the documentary makers ended on a happy note, with the birth of pet-lovers Kay and Jeremy’s first baby. “I’ve already said to Jeremy that if the baby’s allergic to the animals, we’ll have to get rid of the baby,” declared the very reluctantly pregnant Kay. Of course they turned out to be happy, grateful parents of their miraculous – aren’t they all, really? – newborn. In fact, Kay was a soppy mess. Just as nature intended.