Emergency! and M*A*S*H and St. Elsewhere

| March 4, 2018 | 0 Comments

The last MASH episode aired last month 25 years ago. I remember that like it wasn’t 25 years ago. And news recently that the actor who played MAJ Winchester passed away got me to thinking…

Among my peers and colleagues over the years I have asked them why they chose medicine as a career and how they made their particular specialty choice.  For many, it was a personal experience with the healthcare system at a young age. Perhaps a broken bone, appendicitis or relative with a chronic medical condition. Perhaps it was a case of pneumonia requiring hospitalization or an aunt or grandmother with breast or lung cancer. Perhaps seeing the ability to treat and cure encouraged many to consider medicine as a career.

While I had those experiences, I actually couldn’t stand the smell of hospitals or doctor’s offices. I didn’t like the idea of sharing a thermometer with a little plastic sleeve or watching doctors round on their patients with their teams listening for bowel sounds, rales, rhonchi or asking about pain or discomfort.

For other physicians, it was actually physicians on TV dramas, as in my case.

NBC-Emergency-KeyartEmergency! aired while I was in grade school (actually re-runs of the show I believe on WFLD Channel 32 (now Fox 32)). I was hooked. I wanted to be a paramedic. Rescue people from burning buildings and perform CPR, start IVs, run EKGs and transport them to the hospital. If they sold a specific Firefighter John Gage halloween costume rather than a generic firefighter costume I probably would have insisted that my mother purchase that one. The emergency room physicians at Rampart General Hospital, while I liked it when they use to say “Squad 51 this is Rampart go ahead…start an IV Ringer’s lactate TKO and transport immediately” I didn’t think nearly had as much going for them as the guys in the field.

Squad_51If our rotary phone had the capability, I would have downloaded the theme music for Emergency! and had it play “KMG 365” before the end of every theme song ringtone. As the show was intended to do, it recognized the early paramedic programs and grew training for departments across the country after California Governor Ronald Reagan signed the Wedworth-Townsend Pilot Paramedic Act.

Before the Emergency! re-runs ended their course and long before they ended up on NetFlix and YouTube as episodes, MASH aired on WBBM Channel 2. While I didn’t give much thought to being an Army doctor at 10 years of age this show certainly continued to pique my interest in a career in healthcare. CPT Hawkeye Pierce and CPT B.J. Hunnicutt entertained me for years trying to save the wounded while they dealt with being drafted into the Army and dealing with regiment and protocol they were not accustom to. There are probably still some MASH episodes on a Betamax video tape in my parent’s attic.

1982 CastIf Emergency! and MAS*H didn’t convince me to go to medical school by high school then St. Elsewhere convinced me that I should do nothing else. The show aired on WMAQ Channel 5 on Thursday nights during junior high and high school. I would do nothing else between 9 and 10 PM on Thursday nights when St. Elsewhere was on. Even if that meant missing roller skating, ice hockey practice or a Bulls or Blackhawks game. While it has since been considered more significantly in television history, I was apparently part of a small but loyal following when it aired. While I didn’t understand all the details, I empathized with the house staff getting their teeth kicked in week in and week out by their attendings at an old teaching hospital in Boston. The last episode of St. Elsewhere aired May 25, 1988. I graduated high school 2 weeks later and was a “pre-med” major in college three months later.

I didn’t watch Marcus Welby, MD, Trapper John MD or Quincy, ME as much and certainly wouldn’t miss hockey practice to do so, but I wonder how many physicians of today did so 30 years ago. Doogie Howser, MD was just too far fetched. I mean who had a girlfriend named “Wanda”? By the time ER was on, I was studying for the MCATs at the fraternity house and was an attending myself when House was produced.

I read recently that The Good Doctor is the first television medical drama that looks at the “millennial” doctor. I don’t like the term “millennial” and not sure if the stereotypes are accurate but may be curious to see if this generation is influenced by TV in the same way and the shows of today encourage anyone to become pre-med tomorrow. And what a “millennial” attending would look like with the next generation.

For those of us that are Generation X, shows like Emergency!, MAS*H, and St. Elsewhere had an influence. I wonder if my doctor in 20 years will have been influenced by House or The Good Doctor. 

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Category: Humor, Pathology News, Personal

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