Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Things That Have Actually Happened To Me, and Which Would Fit On "Scrubs," Part One


(FEBRIFUGE enters. He's decked out in maroon scrubs, and carries a clipboard. The PATIENT is a middle-aged man, propped up in a mass of blankets, waiting calmly.)


Hi. How are you feeling now?


Ehh, you know. Not good. Not terrible. Kind of bored.


Well, you'll be a lot more comfortable upstairs in the main part of the hospital. (he lowers his voice, and sing-songs a little) Cable Tee-Veeee... (and he's back to being all-business) So, one of the things we do, when someone is being admitted to the hospital, is make a list -

(he indicates the form on the clipboard)

- of all the personal property, the clothing and whatnot, that a person has with them when they come in. That way, when it's time to check out, we know and you know that nothing got left behind. Okay?


Yeah, okay.


So I just start by looking around the room, and seeing what you have with you; here's a pair of jeans (he writes), here's a shirt (he writes), I see you're wearing eyeglasses, so those go on this blank here, I see you've got a ring on your right hand there. Cool ring, by the way.




Any on your left hand?

(The man smiles and holds up his left arm. It's been amputated just above the elbow. Probably a long long time ago.)

Okay, so I'm gonna say no to that one...

If I can get real surgeons to call me back, maybe it'll work on Dr. Turk

By now, you've probably heard that you can in fact call Turk. Which is to say, the mobile number that the fictional Dr. Turk obtained on last week's "Scrubs," 916-CALL-TURK (actually, said the character, "...it's CALL-TUR. But I'm hoping people will dial the K anyway").

So it's a real number. The people who make the show bought the phone, bought a mobile contract with the number, and the phone sits on the set, taking messages. Cast, crew, and production staff will pick up the phone and chat with fans, if the mood strikes. If I were less lazy and more Blog-smart, I would link you some examples of the hilarity which has already ensued. Somebody got "Ted, the lawyer." Somebody got the guy who plays Dr. Kelso, also in character. Apparently it's a fun diversion, and a chance for actors to screw with the minds of their audience. From first-hand experience, I understand how deeply amusing and satisfying this can be.

Between this and an NPR "All Things Considered" interview I listened to recently, where show creator Bill Lawrence and star Zach Braff spoke for like 25 minutes, I had to call Turk my own self this morning. See, Lawrence has a good friend who really is named Dr. John Dorian, and really did go through training as a student and a resident, all the while remaining (from his friend's point of view) essentially the same lovable goofball he always was. The interview was great; at one point, Lawrence summed the whole thing up by saying that the real JD was this guy he'll always remember with an empty cardboard beer case on his head, and it's a special kind of horrifying to imagine being wheeled in to a hospital and having such a person be the one telling you, "don't worry about a thing, sir. You're in good hands."

Lawrence claimed in the interview that the show has yet to do anything medical, any little workaday moment that touches on the hospital/ doc/ nurse experience, that is not directly derived or distilled from somebody's real-life experience. The real-world medical community has embraced "Scrubs" like no other show (I can vouch for this myself), and there's some kind of an informal deal going where show-creator-people's doctor friends, family, and random party guests can submit ideas and anecdotes to Lawrence and the writers, often times having a character named after them for the trouble.

Obviously, the combination of my performing/writing background, coupled with my love of the Internet and new modes of communication and community - not to mention my gigantic ego - make it seem to me like a great idea for the show to have some minor, one-episode character just like me. Hey, I see Internal Med and Surgery docs all the time, when they have to come to the ED for a consult. They may not see me, but still...

I envision a few different scenarios that could work, and one or two of them don't even require building a new set. (Although, they might have one. In season 1 or 2, they did a five-second cutaway to the ED at Sacred Heart. There was a hippie surfer with a tie-dye t-shirt and long white coat, giving a differential with more hedges than the Queen's garden. That was funny.) Anyhow, you could call somebody down, or a tech scutmonkey like me might come up to the floor or the ICU, with a bag of personal belongings for a patient. Or a patient. Hilarity might ensue.

So this morning, I parked my car near the hospital, and started walking toward Day Job (I work in the ED later, from 5pm to 11pm). Once I was off hospital grounds, I no longer felt quite as funny about calling a fake doctor at a fake hospital. I expected to leave a message. I was prepared to talk to a live person, should anyone be up and on set at 5am Cali time.

But the mailbox is full, or vm has been turned off. Dang.

However, it said I could leave a call-back number. Hmmm.

So, what the hell. It's not the trauma pager, but it'll do.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Patch Adams Can Bite Me

...however, I do tend to get chatty with patients. I crack jokes when it's not horribly inappropriate. I acknowledge the absurdity of situations. I play with kids. Last night, I asked a 14-month old child what 15 times 6 is. When he told me "baabwoooo," I agreed he was probably right, and thanked him. Then I wrote down "90." This all happened after I'd plugged my stethoscope into my ears, listened to the frame of his stroller, listened to the top of his head, listened to my arm, and then finally listened to his little heart. 30 seconds earlier I had been approaching the kiddo's personal space with a foreign object of nefarious design, and now we were burbling about math. The parents appreciated it too... or at least put up with it.

People need to understand what you're doing, and why you're doing it. If they're drugged to the gills, in severe pain, can't breathe well, really anxious, or 14 months old, this may not be possible. Still, it's better for them and for you if they know you're not a sadistic equipment-weilding boogeyman. At the very least, they should have some indication that you're someplace in the neighborhood of okay, and at the very very least, they should be distracted and confused, because the process of trying to decipher "what the--" can be enough to lessen pain and fear, for a moment.

I also had occasion to meet a grownup or two on last night's shift (see below). I mentioned that the patient in that story served in WWII, and this information came out during small talk while he was on a gurney having a heart attack. This may seem odd, but trust me, this is the thing that "ER" the show lacks most egregiously, in my opinion. There is some sparkling conversation and dramatic opposition that happens in those rooms. The bongo drums are a cheap way to inject tension that could be there tenfold, if the situation were presented well. It's mind-bending and sublime, the mingling of the mundane and the literally life-or-death. I'd be riveted by a scene where a patient chats about some random quotidian thing while people, machines, and drugs that come out to several thousand dollars in hourly costs did their work.

But here's the thing about why I like to chat so much: talking to people is a great way for me (and the half-dozen people in the room with ten times the education I have) to assess their airway, their mental status, and their pain level. Also it's friendly, and a nice thing to do. Not least of all, if I were the patient I'd be reassured by the idea that the painful scary crap that's going on with me is also, on some level, just a normal day at the office. If something that is rocking my world in a bad way is no big deal to some group of people somewhere, then I want to be with those people at that moment. I never want to be an "interesting" case, much less a stressful one, for people whose job is to save lives.

If I'm ever lying there, having my clothes cut off and my circulatory system temporarily reconfigured with the help of needles and plastic tubing, I want to hear some chatter from the team. I don't want to hear clenched jaws and see beads of sweat on foreheads. I don't want terse commands and silence puncuated by beeps. I want to hear about restaurants and car payments and kids' baseball. I want to hear people giving each other crap. If a vein should blow and a nurse says whoops, that IV needs to be re-done, I want somebody like me dabbing blood off an arm like it's not a big deal, because it's really not. It's all good. It's under control.

in which I slip away for five minutes to thank a Veteran

The work at Day Job is well under control (my team kicks ass... plus it's generally slow at the moment), and so I had time to call the hospital switchboard and get up to the team station in a particular unit. There's a gentleman under their care, around 80 years old, and I met him last night. I was helping out in the trauma room, since it was one of those moments when we had two unstable patients at once, and my counterpart who was assigned to the room was occupied. We were "up" at the moment - I was extra, in other words, and was assigned to float to wherever I was needed most. And so I was there when this polite, dignified gentleman was brought in, in the midst of a heart attack.

The only-sort-of-"ER"-like whirl of stuff got done, he got somewhat better, and about 30 minutes after arriving, he was on his way upstairs, where he rests comfortably right now. I called back today to speak to his team because as we were all talking, it came up that this gentleman fought in Germany for the Allied side in 1945. I called the team station to make sure the people taking care of him take a minute to say thanks today.

The RN I spoke to was really glad I called. So was I.

Yeah, war is dumb. But soldiers are professionals, and their job is harder than most of ours. If you've ever been impressed by or grateful about the fact that the really violent and unstable things that happen in the world, within and between political entities, usually don't happen here; if you've noticed that they usually don't interfere with our going about daily life, the people who serve in the military have a lot to do with that. Veterans especially.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

the inevitable post-election post

I've been doing a fair bit of participatin' over at New Patriot -- and since Blogger has eaten this post at least once, failed to acknowledge it, and then spit it out twice in two minutes, prompting me to trash one of the copies... well, anyway I don't want to lose this idea.

I'm responding here to someone who argues that the Left has been bitching about joblessness and the decay of the support network all his/her 31 years, and it's a big turn-off. In responding, i may have accidentally said something cogent and helpful about what I think the left side of the middle ground is about.

Anonymous 5:17pm, I hear what you're saying -- that message sounds a lot like "wolf" to most people, as long as the cable TV works and there's a paycheck coming on Friday. But it's amazing how little there really is between any one of us and poverty. Think about where you'd be, if two paychecks in a row failed to arrive, and there wasn't unemployment to work with. Or if you needed a $2700 visit to the emergency room, with insurance paying for only $1800 of it.

Nobody wants to be reminded of the gloom and doom crap, and if we really did live in a world where people really did get to keep what they earn, where they used only what they paid for and only paid for what they use, then there might be a position to defend there. But the fact is, things might be fine right now, for you, but there's a lot more to it than that.

They used to make fun of the Left by saying, 'a Conservative is a Liberal who's ever been robbed.' Well, these days, a Liberal is a Conservative who's ever been sick. Or had an accident they couldn't sue somebody over. Or lost a job and been unable to find another one. Or had to work way below their training level. I sincerely hope you don't have to understand any of this first-hand, but it really does happen, and it happens a lot more than it used to. It just happens to, you know, OTHER people.

Conservatives like to talk about the politics of self-sufficiency. I got mine; you go earn yours. Which, again, WOULD be fine... if everyone who could earn a living actually had a shot at a job someplace near their skill level. If getting sick or getting hit by a car wasn't an instant ticket to financial ruin. If the arena where talent and hard work are all you need wasn't so damned hard to get into in the first place.

If random bad luck ever tosses you on the scrap heap, with the teenage moms and the homeless vets, the people who get sicker because prescriptions cost more than rent and the families declaring bankruptcy without being able to shake the credit card companies, I guess you can keep on espousing that message of "just one more day, one more lottery ticket, and I'll be back on top." You can keep on voting like people who have enough money they don't need anyone else's help... but it won't ever help you become one of them.