Reality is in Good Care on 'NY Med'
It turns out that all those scripted hospital dramas do hit the target with patients facing critical choices, ERs with walk-in crazies and love-crossed nurses who can't find the right guys. But drama can never stage one thing: Real people doing the real job.
The documentary series NY Med, which debuts Tuesday, July 10 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC, shows that we don't need all the faux chaos of a scripted TV emergency or operating room. There's plenty of it going on at an actual hospital near you.
Terence Wrong's series of behind-the-scenes real-life medical shows began in 2000 with ABC's Hopkins 24/7, a format he has revisited several times since, including the 2010 nonfiction miniseries Boston Med. The current eight-episode series, NY Med, replicates the format of that show and 2008's Hopkins (2008). The result of a full year of filming at three New York City hospitals, NY Med weaves the stories of staff and patients together, and follows them through the entire spectrum, from run-of-the-mill rashes to crucial transplant cases.
Some cases are offbeat, such as a man who has consumed too much Viagra. Others, like the patient undergoing a daring cancer operation who receives bad news, are high-stakes and heartbreaking. And there are a few ER patients who, as you would expect, are annoying, obnoxious, and worst of all, harmful to themselves. That's when you realize that the front-line nurses and staff must have that something extra to show up every day and somehow retain a measure of sanity and grace throughout it all.
That look at professionals performing under fire is one of the better parts of NY Med. Viewers get to know what it means to help — and endure — right from the doctors and nurses themselves. But take note: There aren't many visual punches pulled, and viewers ought to be ready to see surgeons bent over opened chests and abdomens with unobstructed views.
It would not be possible to get an accurate portrait of the hospital grind without knowing something about how it affects the staff's personal life, and NY Med invites viewers into the personal stories of some of the featured professionals.
One of those profiled is Chief Surgery Resident Sebastian Schubl (left, center, in black cap, performing emergency surgery on a stabbing victim in Episode 2). Schubl relocated to New York after the New Orleans hospital at which he worked was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. His life as a surgeon also wiped out his marriage, and viewers get a glimpse into the personal cost of choosing medicine as a profession.
Same thing for a couple of young nurses, Bronx-born Marina Dedivanovic (below, right) and Diana Costine, each of whom must deal with the relentless flow of patients coming into the ER. As young as they are, they have mastered the wearied, professional detachment that comes with seeing an endless parade of blood, guts and pain.
NY Med also follows some of New York's pre-eminent surgeons. In the premiere episode, we see Dr. Memet Oz. Yes, that Dr. Oz, (top photo) who is — for those who know him only as a TV talk show host — a crack cardiac surgeon. The show follows him into the operating room to repair a heart valve, and it takes some getting used to seeing him with a pair of forceps in his hand instead of a microphone.
In its pursuit of verité, NY Med follows Schubl as he returns for a visit to New Orleans, and the nurses as they go off to tropical vacations with boyfriends. It's reasonable interpersonal territory to explore — part of the job involves having partners and spouses who can weather the emotional grind on their partners and the long stretches away from home.
But perhaps it gets a bit too inside baseball when a couple of those vacations result in busted relationships, and the whole thing starts to feel like canned, pseudo-reality fare, a kind of Real Nurses of New York. It's then, unfortunately, that NY Med veers from the gravitas of gritty, medical documentary series like Trauma: Life in the ER that ran on TLC (1997-2002.)
NY Med also suffers some questionable sound editing choices, when oddly-placed music swells as transplant patients as come out the front door to vehicles waiting to take them home. After the journey we've just taken with them, we don't need music — often cheesy pop tunes — to tell us when to feel.
And because the show's format weaves four or so cases into an hour, we sometimes have no sense of how long some of these critical patients have been hospitalized, and what the post-op issues were. (As with liver tranplant patient Jon Kuhfeldt and family, left). They're sick, and then they're magically recovered, and some of the basic facts of the cases are lost.
Nevertheless, NY Med is good, gripping documentary work, featuring a fast array of medical achievements by smart, extremely dedicated people.
As Dr. Schubl says in Episode 2, "If you don't absolutely love this job; if this isn't the only thing you can see yourself doing, please … choose something else. There isn't a day that had gone by that I have ever regretted making this choice."