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Reality is in Good Care on 'NY Med'
July 8, 2012  | By Eric Gould  | 7 comments

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."

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Dion Pangallo
The chomping of gum, hair flipping and bad jokes while treating a patient is totally unprofessional and has no place in a hospital. And what a way to open a series, an erection problem from drugs and the treatment of is something personal and private between doctor and patient, is it not? How much are they paying these people? Free treatment? I don't get it. Maybe its a NYC thing I dunno, just glad I don't live anywhere near there and wont be watching again.
Jul 13, 2012   |  Reply
Renee K
As an ICU nurse, I somewhat agree with Dion. However, the patient's on the show must give their consent, so the guy with the erection obviously wanted to be a part of the show just as much as the producer's were excited that they had something that would draw in viewers.

As for the nurses, Marina PLEASE stop tossing your hair! Put it UP! You're beautiful, but please Stop being vain and worried about the cameras, think about what's best for your patients!! RN's (and ANYONE who has patient contact) should keep their hair above the collar line!!! Can you HONESTLY tell me that while leaning over a patient that your hair NEVER touches the patient or that nasty, germ covered stretcher? So the next time you lean over (or hug) another patient, WHAT are you transferring to them????? And what's with the coughing into your hand?? Hello!!! How many germs are spread from that cough to EVERY person and surface you touch afterwards?
Jul 27, 2012
Greg Kibitz
Yet another awesome ABC show I have to forgo as my Cable Company (Time Warner) battles with my local ABC broadcast affiliate (WMTW in Portland, ME) and their parent corporation over rebroadcast fees and so the station is just 100% blacked out. That's right folks, I have a very high priced cable subscription with lots o' bells and whistles and yet NO ABC access whatsoever, not even On-Demand. So no Jeopardy, No Wheel, No Diane Sawyer, No Modern Family, No Middle, No Jimmy Kimmel, just a whole lot of nada!!!!! Time to go satellite!
Jul 12, 2012   |  Reply
David Bianculli
Yeah, the freedom of satellite -- where one company fights with Viacom, and the other blacks out AMC. Greed is not limited to fiberoptic and broadcast channels, unfortunately.
Aug 1, 2012
I'm a complete sucker for these medical reality programs. I'll watch them multiple times, and believe they are food for my addictive personality.

I agree with your objections, Mr. Gould, about NY Med. And Eileen was right to wonder at the presence of Dr. Oz.

I was brought up short by something he said tonight. Veering far off his area of expertise, he said that he would not perform surgery on patients who were "alone", and by that he meant without any particular loved ones to follow up on them after their surgery. Singles, who are usually singular in their ways, often called loners, or just people who have settled into that style of being, have no advocates and thus no power. They are viewed with suspicion or outright hostility. Dr. Oz, right on national TV, implies their lives are not worth living. I'll bet all the little old ladies who thought he was the cat's pajamas now see he's just the bottoms, and they're raggedy-ass at that.
Jul 11, 2012   |  Reply
Casey - Point taken on Dr. Oz. But it was also refreshing to see a surgeon concerned (maybe simply for the camera) about psychological health and care as part of the overall recovery process. It's something that's missing all too often, and I am glad NY Med made a point of it. Keep watching, and keep us updated on what you think. –EG
Jul 11, 2012
I'll be laughing all day at your "cat's pajamas" reference. I could have done without that whole segment. I much more enjoy the "unknowns" struggling through the day/night. Our local ABC station did an update with the late news which involved the young mother undergoing brain surgery. Six months later she looks wonderful, is fully functioning, and seems to have a good prognosis. This is what I find the most intriguing/enjoyable. Dr. Oz (& Mrs. Dr. Oz) have more than enough face time on tv. I love watching the young residents as they begin to evolve in their specialty. And having worked in an ER, those segments are my favorite. It's exactly how the demeanor and inter-actions really do play out. I'm really looking forward to following this all summer. Enjoy!
Jul 11, 2012
I'm happy to see an intelligent offering in the summer viewing line-up. I worked in a NYC hospital for 16 years, so I'm hooked for that fact alone. You can never accurately explain to a "non-hospital" friend what actually goes on.

My regret, show unseen, is that Dr. Oz is even on it. Sure, he seems like a great guy and a skilled physician, but I'd rather they focus on an unknown doc making strides in his chosen speciality rather than a "celeb doc".

But I'm still looking forward to this. Please promise me that one of the Kardashians doesn't show up for surgery (plastic, of course).
Jul 10, 2012   |  Reply
Eileen -- Good news; no Kardashian's, no plastic surgery! And plenty of other, very accomplished surgeons upcoming on NY Med doing amazing transplant procedures. As DB writes in todays Best Bets, it plays to our best instincts. –EG
Jul 10, 2012
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