In this essay, Big Ross prescribes a healthy dose of criticism for a recent episode of this medical melodrama.
The other night my girlfriend guilted me into watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy with her. I immediately regretted the decision, knowing it was an hour wasted, an hour I could have spent reading, or playing a video game, or cleaning the toilet or any number of more worthwhile activities.
I think what bothers me about this show (based on a very limited amount of exposure), aside from the overly melodramatic tone, is that Grey’s Anatomy is painfully inconsistent, both internally and externally. To address the latter first, Grey’s Anatomy exists in some nightmare soap opera parallel universe. A universe where doctors swap sexual partners like kids swap Silly Bandz. Grey’s Anatomy is a work environment rife with potential sexual harrassment claims that never get filed, perhaps because there are no lawyers in their universe.
More troubling is that the universe of Grey’s Anatomy encourages and rewards insubordination and radical, untested medical procedures conceived on the spur of the moment and carried out with little more than a wing and prayer, which inexplicably almost invariably succeed. This is no more apparent than with the recently introduced character of Dr. Stark (Peter MacNicol). A by-the-book surgeon who adheres to established medical protocols, makes perfectly reasonable decisions (with the welfare of his patient firmly in mind), and expects deference and respect from less experienced, less knowledgeable colleagues (i.e. a typical real world doctor). Dr. Stark is derided, ridiculed, and even vilified in the Grey’s Anatomy universe. In the episode I watched, one of the main characters, Dr. Alex Karev, actually threatened Stark with physical violence were he to proceed with his intended course of action in the operating room in the midst of surgery, because he was convinced he could save their patient’s leg (while Stark wanted to amputate). So Karev threatened his superior while their patient was lying on the operating table with life-threatening injuries, with no knowledge that the other doctors who were actually needed to perform the surgery Karev wanted were actually available to do so. What if they were tied up in another surgery? What if the patient died on the table while Karev was waiting? Do you realize how stupidly dangerous this is?
I’m convinced that if Grey’s Anatomy and similar shows like spin-off Private Practice and the upcoming Off the Map (from the producers of Grey’s Anatomy) and others continue to air, we run the risk of influencing the perceptions of real people when dealing with doctors and hospitals, much like the way it has been demonstrated that crime-solving dramas like CSI (and all of its derivatives) have already influenced people serving on juries. How long before people are second-guessing doctors and asking why they can’t use a ping pong ball to save a loved one’s life, like they did in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Sheesh.
Yet, Grey’s Anatomy even fails to follow its own rules and unintelligible sense of logic. In this recent episode, a gunman went on a shooting spree at a local university. The hospital was nearly overwhelmed with trauma victims; every OR was filled. Life-saving surgeries had to be performed wherever they could be – the ER, hallways, hell even in janitorial closets for all I know. It’s all hands on deck. Every doctor is needed, even Christina Yang, one of the main characters and a promising surgeon who abruptly quit her job some number of episodes ago due to her inability to deal with or seek help for post-traumatic stress disorder due to events that evidently took place last season, is allowed to assist a complicated surgery, no questions asked. Is anyone worried about her frame of mind (aside from her boyfriend)? About her competency level? Yet this isn’t what I’m referring to when I say that Grey’s Anatomy is internally inconsistent.
No, in the midst of all this chaos, when every single doctor is needed to save lives, Meredith Grey, another of the main characters, spends the entire episode ducking out of a highly complicated brain surgery she is “assisting” on (I use quotation marks because she does little more than stand there) to go out and update the patient’s wife on his progress. She seems to spend more time coddling one single distraught woman, in a hospital flooded with distraught people, wondering about the fate of their loved ones.
My problem is this: Meredith is one of the precious few people around with the knowledge and the training needed to help the victims of this tragedy. Midway through the episode the chief of surgery yells at Dr. Stark to “Be a doctor! Go save a life!”, yet Meredith gets a free pass? That’s just stupid. Anyone who is not a doctor can perform the task of talking to the patient’s wife. Or you know what? The patient’s wife can sit in the waiting room and wait, until there are no more people with gunshot wounds in danger of dying. Once Meredith sees to that, then she can go have her heart-to-heart Hallmark moment. And another thing, it’s obvious that Meredith isn’t really needed for the brain surgery, because every time she leaves the OR another woman, a nurse or surgical assistant waiting in the background steps in to irrigate or provide suction or do whatever Meredith was supposed to be doing. Hey Meredith, how about you go save a life! And do you think you can stop nagging and visibly stressing the neurosurgeon (I don’t care if he is your husband) while he literally has his hands in some guys’s skull?
Perhaps the most confounding moment came at the end of this episode. It’s the end of the day, and all of the doctors begin to congregate in the viewing room of an OR, watching in silence as the last surgery is completed. The chief comments that they had 26 victims admitted that day, and 0 casualties. Everyone is teary-eyed, because (as I understand from being filled in by my gf) the traumatic events that left Christina Yang a (temporarily) broken doctor involved a gunman coming into their hospital and randomly shooting people. See, they’re personally invested in this, it hit them right where they live. And contrasting with that previous tragedy, this time they were triumphant. They didn’t lose a single patient. Every one of them pulled through. And so the tears turn to laughter. They all start cackling with a mad joy at their accomplishment. It’s such a great moment, isn’t it?
Until you remember that there was a second gunman, and the shooting rampage continued, and there were so many victims that (as one character points out to no one in particular) every hospital in the area is filled to capacity with victims, and you have no idea what their fate is. They couldn’t all have been saved. There had to be some that didn’t make it in some of the other hospitals. And you can’t possibly believe that none of the victims died at the scene, that there weren’t at least a few initial fatalities.
Given this knowledge, the image of these doctors boisterously laughing is a contradiction I haven’t been able to wrap my head around. I can understand a feeling of triumph, of satisfaction on a job well done and their accomplishment; some peace of mind that they’ve managed to do a bit of good in an otherwise horrible situation, the cliched “silver lining” and all that. But, speaking as a very occasional viewer who has little to nothing invested in this show or these characters, it just came off as incredibly self-absorbed, that these individuals have forgotten the greater tragedy and are completely caught up in their own personal need for some kind of redemption or resolution.
In the end this episode left me much like the bewildered Dr. Stark, who flees the room emphatically stating, “I hate this place.”