Kerri Sackville explains the powerful allure of the medical documentary series.
By
Kerri Sackville

18 May 2016 - 3:31 PM  UPDATED 12 Jan 2018 - 12:47 PM

I must admit, I’m a little obsessed with medical programs. It’s not surprising, really, as I’ve always been fascinated by hospitals. I have had experience with hospitals from an insider’s point of view; my sister had a long term chronic illness and spent lengthy periods in hospital from the time she was a teen. I made innumerable visits to various hospital wards, first with my mum, then alone, then later with my own kids in tow.

I never wanted to be a doctor – it all sounded like too much hard work – but I did entertain fantasies of being a scrub nurse. In the end, I actually trained as a social worker, and worked at a busy Sydney hospital for three years. Back then, then, what captivated me was the machinations behind the scenes – the interactions between the doctors and the other staff, the politics, the romances, the conflicts.  

I never wanted to be a doctor – it all sounded like too much hard work – but I did entertain fantasies of being a scrub nurse.

And so watching hospital documentaries feels strangely familiar to me. But then again, hospital shows have always held wide appeal. Most of us have experienced with the healthcare system, and all of us have experienced illness or accident or bereavement, whether personally, or in our intimate social networks. We can relate to the stories of individuals who end up in hospital, whether through ill health or misadventure.

And many of us are fascinated with doctors. The daily life of doctors, like trial lawyers and police officers, are filled with dramatic potential and story. They work with life and death situations, in time critical, highly pressured contexts. They save lives, yet they are only human themselves.

We Australians have loved medical dramas ever since The Young Doctors injected themselves into our psyches back in the seventies. There have been innumerable medical dramas over the years, from ER to House to our own Offspring. But, as much as I do enjoy a fictional hospital, I find hospital documentaries far more satisfying.

In particular, I love 24 Hours in Emergency, SBS’s medical doco set in St George’s Hospital in London. It makes me cry big, proper tears, hold my hands to my face in horror, laugh in relief, and, occasionally, gaze lustfully at the hot surgeons. There is drama. There is tragedy. There is hope. There is heartbreak. There are happy endings. And it is all real. It is all actually happening.

[24 Hours in Emergency] makes me cry big, proper tears, hold my hands to my face in horror, laugh in relief, and, occasionally, gaze lustfully at the hot surgeons.

I’m not at all squeamish, so I like a bit of gore, but 24 Hours isn’t gory at all. It isn’t even really about the injuries or illnesses. The doco is actually about the people who present in hospital, and the staff who treat them. The medical issues are just the pivot around which the characters’ tales are told.

And the people – the staff and the patients – are all rich in character. We've learned that an 83 year old woman who had suffered a fall was originally married to her devoted husband’s brother. We've learned that the 51 year old man who fell off a ladder had recently become redundant, and was throwing himself into Do It Yourself jobs around the house to compensate for his lack of purpose. We've learned that an obese, middle aged man with awful teeth and a problem with burping had a truly beautiful love relationship with a Chinese woman he met online. And we've met a fearless immigrant doctor, and a female doctor accused of being bossy.

24 Hours covers all sorts of issues – aging, loneliness, unemployment, and immigration in one episode alone.

Mostly, however, the show is about the randomness and uncertainty of life. One minute you may be fine, the next minute you could be on a gurney in Emergency. But the overall message is positive – to enjoy your life while you are living it. Love your partner. Love your kids. Appreciate your family. Be grateful for your good fortune and your health.

And be thankful for the incredible doctors and nurses. Even if any of us end up in a hospital documentary, chances are we’ll be coming home to tell the tale.

 

24 Hours in Emergency starts Monday, 8 January at 9:30pm (AEST) on SBS. Episodes are available on SBS On Demand.


MORE ON THE GUIDE:

10 sick and twisted medical myths we no longer believe thank god
This reminder to watch the premiere of series three of of Trust Me, I’m a Doctor is brought to you by ten untrustworthy medical practices endorsed by the quacks of way back when.