Tuesday, April 07, 2009

PBS Nova: "Doctors' Diaries" (Parts I and 2)

On Tuesday April 7, 2009 PBS Nova broadcast Part 1 of “Doctors’ Diaries,” produced and directed by Michael Barnes, link here.

The series follows seven doctors starting at the beginning of Harvard Medical School in 1987, when the initial videos had to be made. Most are in their twenties (one seems to be older), so they would be in their forties now.

The series shows the intimacy that happens in hands-on medical training, as students practice doing examinations. One is in another space where actions take on a different meaning than they would in the normal world.

The early sections of the show also gave us a view of the insides of human cadavers, which are surprisingly drab in color and intricate.

In their third and fourth years the doctors start working at teaching hospitals in Boston. They examine patients, but are also given practical tests examining doctors, as in a scene where a doctor presents with chest tightening, a sign of angina pectoris or sometimes an outright myocardial infarction, or sometimes congestive heart failure. The film shows the surgical scrubdown briefly, as it was in the 1980s. Later the film shows the doctors assisting with coronary bypass surgery, and a patient dies during one such operation (most patients survive – Larry King and David Letterman have made membership in the “zipper club” cool).

As students, most of the seven resemble “the best kids” in a junior or senior high school class. They all did well in school. I remember, when substitute teaching, one could always tell who was going to be able to “handle it.”

Update: April 14, 2009

Part II aired tonight, and showed the doctors having aged twenty years. Their faces and bodies showed it. The most troubling story was that of Dr. Turner, who became an emergency room physician in Indiana; but found his contract was not renewed, possibly because of his appearance (the film showed him smoking). So he had to travel to temporary gigs to work. The film also showed how the heavy demands of medicine affected marriages.

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