• A patient from 24 Hours in Emergency (SBS)Source: SBS
What does an ER doctor make of '24 Hours in Emergency'?
By
An ER doctor

12 Apr 2017 - 10:36 AM  UPDATED 12 Apr 2017 - 10:37 AM

When you work in medicine, you tend to take a huge interest in any television offering that portrays doctors - I spent at least as much time in my final year of med school watching the show ER as I did seeing patients.

Medical-based dramas are picked apart by all real-life physicians. In break rooms and around the coffee machine we ridicule the decision making, the medical jargon, the mispronunciations and even the colour of the scrubs.

That means that reality television offerings should enjoy an authenticity that other shows lack. I won’t deny that there is a fascination with peeking behind the curtain, at feeling privileged to have access to a world that is usually off-limits to the layperson.

That’s one draw towards becoming a physician, to be able to broach boundaries in a way that few other professions can. We ask questions that would be considered intrusive, we poke and prod... this show lets viewers join us as we deal with people in extremis.

For lots of folks like myself, the car engine is equally enigmatic. When I have to see a mechanic, the parallels between how my patients must feel are obvious.

We have our own language - the vocabulary we’ve created to be indecipherable to others - in much the way a lawyer is necessary to decode a legal document seemingly written in equal parts Latin and Sanskrit.

The barriers to the layperson also make the human body and its maladies a bit of a black box.

For lots of folks like myself, the car engine is equally enigmatic. When I have to see a mechanic, the parallels between how my patients must feel are obvious.

I’m concerned over a funny sound or an accelerator pedal that seems “light.” I can see the expert’s lower lip tightening, but is it because my concern is silly and obvious, or is this thing a death trap?

Whether he diagnoses a valve costing $3 or an overhaul costing $1000, I’m really in no position to judge. I pay close attention to each word he utters, hoping to glean enough information to have an opinion.

The key difference for the emergency physician is that when unable to quickly establish trust, waiting for second opinions can lead to delays in care and worse outcomes.

Voyeurism and fascination with human biology may be the entry points, but the human condition laid bare keeps you watching.

What 24 Hours in Emergency tends to get right is the sense of chaos that arrives out of the blue.

Suffering always plays well from an observer’s point of view. Every passer-by spends time looking over the accident. Every terrible event is equal parts “that poor, poor fellow” and “thank goodness it’s not me or mine”.

What 24 Hours in Emergency tends to get right is the sense of chaos that arrives out of the blue. Trauma and illness often descend swiftly and suddenly, leaving shattered lives in their wake.

No one prepares for an emergency. Less-ill patients are often apologising for their unkempt appearance, the unshaven legs, the dirty socks.

But if the patients and families are in shock over their new circumstances, the medical personnel are often anything but. The providers are equal parts concerned and jaded. There is a sense that the broken bodies and deadly events are impressive, but somehow unremarkable. In the world of 24 Hours, that’s just a Tuesday.

The adrenaline ride of injuries, paralysis and death is likely over-represented on the series. Equally poignant and remarkable interactions occur every day around chronic illnesses, slow declines, and elderly patients who have lost their dignity along with their bodies. Physicians are as likely to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms over the death of a sick child as from a multiple trauma victim.

Even on non-Tuesdays, things are happening that are equally Tuesday-like. 24 Hours in Emergency is an insight into a world you didn’t really know you wanted much insight into. Hopefully, it’s the closest you’ll ever get.

24 Hours in Emergency airs every Wednesday night on SBS at 8:30pm. Previous episodes are streaming now on SBS On Demand:

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