Over the years, I’ve watched my share of medical television. I remember snippets of Marcus Welby as a small child. And of course, every time my grandmother or mom had the television tuned to a soap opera, someone was a doctor. (Is anyone sexier than a guy in a lab-coat with a serious look on his face?)

I started watching medical dramas seriously when MASH was on. I was in junior high and high school. I loved the stories. I was always a history fan, and for a while MASH was almost historical.  Then, of course, when it stretched the Korean War into ten years, and Alan Alda felt an urge to make the show political, it became hysterical rather than historical.

I used to watch ER.  But my wife Jan made me stop. She said I’d watch before going to work at night, and would become agitated and upset and the way patients and illnesses were presented and managed.  ‘No!  Don’t do that!  It doesn’t make any sense!’  She said it was making my blood pressure rise.  Ultimately, I learned from practice that most emergency rooms, for all the horror and misery they encounter, aren’t as dramatic as the one on ER.  Most of us don’t scream at each other about patients coming by EMS.  We don’t scream during resuscitations.  We don’t brood over loss the way they do.  We walk into rooms, speak fairly calmly, do what needs to be done, then pass it off to someone else for admission and eat our pizza.  Furthermore, most hospitals have their share of sexual exploits and romantic adventure; but not as much as a show needs to remain on prime-time.  I mean seriously, the radiology reading room?  Is that what’s happening in the dark?  I doubt it.
But that leads me to my favorite.  Scrubs.  There’s a show that, for my money, gets to the heart of residency training, medical practice and hospital culture.  Sure, it’s a comedy that goes ‘over the top’ sometimes.  But it does it for a reason.  The writers and consultants clearly have a good idea of what happens in the minds of doctors, nurses, administrators and even patients.  And at the end of every show, we see what television so seldom brings us; the honest humanity of the characters.

See, they doubt themselves but go on.  The make mistakes where people die, and go on.  They love one another, and hate one another, and fall in love and fall out.  And they go on.  They struggle with people and rules they think are their enemies, and find hidden friends.  They learn the deceit of friends who are secret enemies.  They learn the pain that lies in their patients’ hearts, along with the secret sorrow and craziness their patients harbor.  And through it all, they keep coming back, and keep going on with practice, with life, with hope.

Like doctors and nurses everywhere they struggle with doubt, with relationships, with arrogance and fear, with the balance of compassion and business, and with the occasional desire to quit it all.  But some combination of their love of the science, love of the patients, love of one another and simple, leather-tough dedication keeps bringing them back.

I’ve watched Scrubs with my wife, as we laughed and remembered the residency days of our life, and as we assigned friends to each of the characters on the show.  I have watched it with colleagues who said ‘that’s it, that’s exactly it.’  And while watching and remembering, each of us, along with the characters, found a reason to laugh no matter how bad the situation presented was.  Just like every day in every hospital across the land.

If you don’t watch medical shows, try Scrubs.  If you already watch it, you’ll know what I mean.  And if you insist on watching only serious medical drama, check your blood pressure and take a vacation.

Life is too short, and too precious, to be that serious.


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