Where are the chaplains in TV medical shows?
Gary and I are big "ER" and "Scrubs" fans (although we're always a little behind, because while we have a big TV, we actually only use it as a giant DVD player for Netflix rentals). A few nights ago, we watched an ER episode where Carter goes into the hospital chapel to try to convince the grieving mother of a braindead son to donate his organs, since a sixteen-year old girl with his exact rare blood type, who needs a liver transplant, has just shown up in the ER. Oh, and it's Christmas Eve. (Talk about rickety contrivances of doing good!) And Carter and Lucy spend a lot of the episode talking about whether they believe in God or not. And I think the hospital in the show is supposed to be a level one trauma center, which would be mandated to have a chaplain on call 24/7.
And there's not a chaplain in sight. That episode was the first we'd even seen of the hospital chapel, which is filled with fresh flowers and must therefore be populated and maintained by somebody other than this one mother. Later we see a priest giving the son last rites, but my impression was that he'd come in from outside, and might in fact have been the same priest who'd been brought in by another distraught mother to try to convince her thirteen-year-old daughter not to have an abortion. Maybe he also stocks the chapel with flowers in his spare time. This is season five of the show, and the chapel has just popped up out of nowhere.
The absence of chaplains is even more glaring on "Scrubs," which is set in Sacred Heart Hospital, for crying out loud. They'd have a pastoral care department. They'd have staff chaplains. They might even have volunteers. No way would Turk and Carla, after Turk stands her up at the altar because he has to perform emergency surgery, then wind up being married by the surgery patient, who just happens to turn out to be a priest, as Turk and Carla conveniently discover after they've gone to the hospital in their wedding finery to check on how the guy's doing.
M*A*S*H* had a chaplain, and in my foggy memory of the show, he even got his own story arcs and plot crises sometimes. "Firefly" had the very memorable Shepherd Book. (Simon's also one of the more believable doctors on TV; but then, Joss Whedon is the God of All Storytellers, so we shouldn't be surprised.) Where are the chaplains in the current shows?
Okay, there are plenty of other unbelievable things about TV medical shows. Gary and I gave up on "Grey's Anatomy" after the second or third episode, when a Concerned Surgeon sits by the bedside of a comatose patient for something like ten hours so he'll be there when she wakes up. Oh, sure. Surgeons do that all the time, because they have such relaxed schedules. And then there are the "outside the hospital" episodes on "ER": you know, like when Carol leaves the hospital during her shift to try to track down the estranged wife of a dying patient so she can come say goodbye to him, or the ridiculous episode where John and Lucy run all over Chicago, scaling fences and racing through traffic, to try to track down the missing father of a dying child with another rare blood type -- rare blood types are a staple of these shows -- because Only His Blood Can Save Her. (The realism of that episode was redeemed somewhat when the kid wound up in really grim shape anyway.)
"Outside the hospital" episodes remind me why I stopped reading the Cherry Ames books when I was a kid. I'd devoured all the Nancy Drew books, and I was looking forward to reading about a nurse instead of a detective, but Cherry kept turning into a detective about twenty pages into each book. It really drove me nuts. If you want to be a detective, go to the police academy! I thought I was going to be reading about a nurse! This is major dishonesty in advertising!
The best candidates for tracking down missing family members would be social workers. They rarely show up on medical shows either, although they're vitally important in hospitals.
Oh, and then there's the issue of codes. I've seen hospital workers elsewhere in the blogosphere grumbling about the TV fallacy of the code patient who arrives on an ambulance gurney with somebody perched on top of it, doing CPR. My own pet peeve is the Fallacy of the Uncrowded Code: our favorite doctor or medical student is alone in a room with a patient, with maybe just a nurse there too, and the patient codes, and the lone doctor and nurse attempt to resuscitate.
Nope. Codes get called out on the overhead, whereupon at least one doctor, a horde of nurses, a couple of respiratory therapists, and -- apparently -- just about anybody in the hospital with nothing else to do crams into the room (and yeah, there will probably be pastoral-care types hanging around too, especially if the patient's family or friends are there, although all of those folks are usually outside, because the room itself is too crowded). And that's just the people: never mind all the extra equipment.
And, mind you, I really know very little about all this. So if I'm picking up on these mistakes, how many more must there be?
Somebody needs to do a hospital show about the people who never get airtime on other hospital shows. Chaplains. Social workers. Security guards. Dieticians. Admitting clerks. Physical therapists. There are plenty of stories there, and you wouldn't even need to make them unbelievable to make them interesting.