General Hospital: a lesson in the difference between fact and fiction

Luckily enough, I’ve never had to spend much time in hospital. There was the time I fainted and fell back off my stool in a physics class at school, although walking in with a suspected fractured skull and walking out with a fractured thumb was frankly embarrassing. And when I was a toddler, I naively put my hand on the side of a hot oven and had to be raced off to casualty. It wasn’t a lesson I learned particular well either – a couple of years ago I cooked Christmas dinner for fifteen friends, badly burnt my hand as I served up the food, and spent the rest of the evening watching other people eat while I sat in excruciating agony with a bag of frozen Thai green curry in my rapidly blistering hand.

Given that those were my only two visits to an A&E department, I’ve generally had to look elsewhere for my understanding of medical emergencies. And by ‘elsewhere’, I’m clearly referring to hospital dramas on TV.

In the UK, hospital drama means ‘Casualty’, the gritty weekly show based in the fictional city of Holby. Famous largely for the presence of the world’s worst actor (Derek Thompson, who plays Charlie Fairhead, somehow manages to make David Caruso look like a Shakepearean veteran), Casualty is apparently the longest running emergency medical drama in the world. I appreciate that this might not be the most expansive category in the world, but bless ‘em for coming up with the stat anyway.

In the US, Casualty’s equivalent is ER, the George Clooney-launching monolith that has just lumbered into its fifteenth and final seriesseason. For a while back in the 90s, ER seemed to be the biggest show in the world, although if you ask me it was just Casualty with more money and less wooden acting.

Anyway, the point is that as far as American emergency rooms go, my experience was limited to the times when I happened to watch ER. With flying trolleys carrying half-mutilated traffic victims, and surgeons bearing high voltage defibrillators asking passers by to stand back, the US emergency room always seemed to be the pinnacle of unbelievable tension. Especially compared to the early years of Casualty, when the most exciting injury of the evening was generally a pretty nasty paper cut.

However, having spent much of Friday night sitting with a friend in a Brooklyn ER, I can’t begin to sum up my disappointment at the grim reality. That the biggest piece of excitement seemed to be the moment one woman breathed in on an asthma inhaler would probably best sum it up. No dashing trolleys, no electric paddles, and not an Alex Kingston or Anthony Edwards in sight. Hell, I’ve been in more exciting shoe shops.

In fact, it’s difficult to imagine a situation in which there could have been less of a sense of urgency. It’s almost as if hospital staff were trying to bore patients into curing their own illnesses. Although given that most patients appeared to be founder members of Brooklyn’s ‘Why Take Up One Chair When You Can Put On Enough Weight To Take Up Two’ society, it would have taken more than casual nonchalance to shift some of these folk.

At least I wasn’t in a British A&E on a Friday night, I guess, watching a succession of dishevelled and dirty individuals, almost certainly over the legal driving limit, and ready for a fight at any moment. And that’s just the staff.

Still, with Charlie Fairhead and Doug Ross as examples, what can you expect?

10 thoughts on “General Hospital: a lesson in the difference between fact and fiction

  1. Expat Mum

    I’m embarrassed to say I’m on first name terms with the staff at our local Children’s ER, but even when we are the only ones in the waiting area, it still takes an hour and a half minimum, four doctors of varying qualifications, and thirty three forms.

    I am watching this final season of ER avidly as I still haven’t worked out where the heck in Chicago it’s meant to be. One minute they seem to be looking out over the water from the Shedd Aquarium and the next they are under the El tracks at Wabash and Madison. Any clues anyone?

  2. Karen

    I loved Casualty and was into ER for a while. I find you can switch it on after a long absence and it’s like you never left 🙂

    The last time I was in an er was here in Iceland, Stephen fell on the ice drunk and broke his collar bone!! There were 3 people in the room and we moved pretty quickly. Before that it would have been in Dublin, where you would wait around 8 hours on a good day in a room and corridor.

  3. Lucy

    Most people put frozen peas on their burns! frozen thai green curry seems rather decadent, still i suppose it was Christmas…now then whilst in casualty this time…were you taking up two chairs or was it three?…

  4. Trixie Trouble

    I was extremely excited last year when I was called for jury duty – my only reference point was Crown Court c 1976.
    How disappointed I was to learn (“the hard way”) that I had to spend 99% of my time locked in a drab room with a dubious representation of society which made me question our legal system.

    When I finally made it into the courtroom, which was NOTHING like Crown Court, I didn’t have my name called to be one of the jury. It was probably best for all concerned as the prospect of standing in a room full of strangers and swearing on a bible with a spiel about my general holiness, goodness and clarication of who I am was terrifying and would probably have lead to an embarrassing public fainting.

  5. Trixie Trouble

    Didn’t even get to see a man with a 5 o’clock shadow and his hands handcuffed behind his back.

    What a letdown.

  6. Tara

    Oh no. Are you seriously telling me it’s not like in Grey’s Anatomy? Shattering all my hopes and dreams here Brit.
    I live for the day I walk into the ER and Swooney Clooney dashes out with a wheelchair to whisk me off.

  7. Mom/Mum

    I’ve been in children’s ER here and in my local one, neither had McDreamy, McSteamy or McClooney. I was was so disappointed I momentarily forgot about the drama as to why I was there.
    Don’t see the casualty patients getting a huge bill at the end of their visits though…

  8. that Girl39

    Ah…. the let down of what is TV and what is reality! I visited my local outpatients department this week and not a McDreamy in site! I used to be a huge ER fan until Grey’s found it’s way onto my viewing radar.
    McDreamy is now as I understand it, a big household name but I saw him first as a much younger dreamboat in Can’t Buy Me Love when he was The Lawn Boy!

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