Administration and Leadership, Ambulances & Vehicle Ops, Patient Care

Lighter Side: TV Emergencies

Issue 2 and Volume 35.

My family has never welcomed me into the room with them if any of the following series were being illuminated across the televised screen:Quincy M.E.; St. Elsewhere; Doogie Howser, MD; Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman; Providence; City of Angels; Gideon’s Crossing; Strong Medicine; Chicago Hope; Grey’s Anatomy; CSI; Crossing Jordan; ER; Private Practice; Royal Pains; Mercy; or Barney and Friends. Other than the purple dinosaur, for reasons I refuse to go into, do you see a pattern here?

My kinfolk say I always ruin the ending by yelling out the diagnosis before the doctor even has a chance to dramatically ponder the patient’s EPI pumping issues. While my family unit desperately tries to decode the medical jargon, I’ve already listed a plethora of pathetic technical procedural inaccuracies from the “tonsil tip” right down to the “pedal push.”

As the story line weaves its way into a tangled web of dysfunctional character complexities intermixed with occasional compelling medical enactments, I utter such poignant phrases as “Oh jeez,” “Give me a break,” “Yeah, right. Like that’s ever gonna happen,” “Oh, please,” “I had a call like that and boy howdy do they smell … whoa baby,” “In your dreams, doc,” and “Did he just call that dude an ambulance driver?” Some verbal declaratives are nothing more than a “Harrumph.”

At this point a family member may raise the remote in a vain demonstration that they’re increasing the volume to drown out my free-of-charge opinions with televised beeps and tones of monitoring equipment. Such futile tactics only encourage me to point out that prehospital care providers automatically push the mute button on such annoying automated devices while caring for our patients.

Now, I am allowed to watch the current golden ticket of medical drama TV series House with my kith and kin. I believe this is because, regardless of what I think I might know about emergency medicine, I have no clue what the heck is going on until the last few minutes of the show, thereby demoting me to the same level of medical insight as my family.

Speaking of evening the playing field, one can’t but help but love a guy like Dr. House, who talks down to doctors and surgeons the same way that many of those same MDs talk down to us EMS folks. I also believe House’s unbridled obnoxious-but-genius sarcasm allows us to indirectly vent some of our own frustrations in dealing with an imperfect world.

I suppose a few of you are wondering why I haven’t made mention of the latest failed attempt at an EMS drama. Should you need reminding, the show title rhymes with “llama.” After seeing the endless promos in movie theaters, I made the impulsive decision that I had already seen enough. And in all fairness, I can’t review a series I never watched. TV is already overloaded with fast drama, explosive special effects and beautifully molded actors, not to mention shallow, self-loathing, overworked, underappreciated, scandalous, lonely, underpaid, hero-driven characters. I don’t think people have the energy to invest any more passion into these types of medical dramas, which is why the Neilson ratings declared we needed a break following the last episode of ER.

I’ve heard and read debates on entertainment versus EMS medical accuracy, but let’s not be naive enough to think that the entertainment value won’t win out every time.

The reason Rescue Me succeeded in creating some pretty offbeat and dysfunctional firefighters without the general public raising so much as an eyebrow of disapproval is because John Q. Public has had a positive PR indoctrination of firefighters for more than 200 years. As for EMS, well, fugitaboudit. Because of our newness as a profession, the public has no clue as to what or who we are. Let’s face it my fellow “ambulance drivers,” we can’t afford negativity so early in the game of gaining public support. So yes, let’s keep after those writers and producers to portray EMS as accurately as possible. Even Dr. Kildare and Marcus Welby had to start out as credible, confident, caring and compassionate before House could embrace his abrasiveness.

Maybe in the next attempt to produce an EMS drama, writers shouldn’t focus on just EMS. Imagine a medical drama that starts with EMS, fire and police playing their roles for the first 20 minutes, then progresses to the ER, for the next 20 minutes and into the OR or specialty care center for the last 20. Hey, and if the patient doesn’t survive past the ER then we spend 20 minutes with the medical examiner or billing department. What a novel concept — the portrayal of EMS as being part of both the public service sector and emergency medical community while allowing all those we interact with to share in the glory. Sounds like a doable Barney episode to me. No wait, bad analogy (which I still refuse to talk about).

Until next time, “I love you, you love me!”

Steve Berry has been a paramedic for the past 25 years in the southern Colorado region. He’s the author of the cartoon book series I’m Not An Ambulance Driver. Visit his website at to purchase his books or CDs.