“You aim not to be surprised, but surgery is basically dealing with a deck of cards that you never know how they’re gonna work out when you turn them over.” Arundi Mahendran smiles as she speaks, an exhausted, slightly ironic, utterly convincing smile. A surgical resident at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, she’s one of several subjects in Ny Med, an eight-part series starting 10 July on ABC. Like Terence Wrong’s previous series, Boston Med, Hopkins, and Hopkins 24/7, it observes doctors and nurses at work. They talk with patients, perform surgeries, and describe their complex feelings about what you’re watching. When Mehmet Oz meets with Jack Abramson, facing heart surgery, he wonders why he’s come to the hospital alone. Dr. Oz insists that Jack call his ex-wife, confiding to the camera, “I didn’t voice this too firmly to him, but I’m very concerned whenever a patient walks into my office without family. It’s a very concerning sign because it means that they may be isolated socially.” Jack’s ex is plainly thrilled to be contacted by the celebrity doctor, and as hey make jokes about that, it’s also plain that the effects of recording such medical dramas (and traumas) are inevitably mixed.
This might lead you to ponder longer term effects, how reality TV or documentary mini-series shape expectations, of patients, viewers, and professionals. NY Med offers a range of effects, from cheesy pop song choices to incredibly intimate moments, with doctors and patients alike. One doctor, Giridhar Vedula, looks out from a plane window as he’s headed to a liver transplant, noting, “People have real houses, they have real yards, maybe a dog or two, you know. I live in a one and a half bedroom apartment,” he adds, “Living in New York is rough.” If this isn’t the most convincing example of the stress of being a doctor in an emergency room in the city, other scenes ensure you understand. Patients arrive with pain and rashes, they bleed and moan, and sometimes they abuse their caregivers. “I get shoved and hit and kicked, I get yelled at at least once a shift,” says Diana Costine, while you watch her at one patient’s door, while he bellows from off-screen, “I don’t want to see you anymore.”
The series also offers views from patients, including Rhonda Fernandez, facing brain surgery after a mass has been detected. In order for doctors to know what parts of he brain are affected, she’ll need to stay awake during the procedure: “It’s scary to know that a piece of my skull is going to be removed and I’m going to have people with sharp instruments in my brain and I’m gonna be awake,” she says, “It’s just crazy.” It certainly seems so, even as the camera follows her inside the OR and you see her responding to questions. “I feel burning in my brain,” she says, at which point she’s assured, “That’s from the local.”
During such moments, NY Med confirms two notions: your fear of hospitals is well founded. And the people in them do their best to get you through it.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong online. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.