Sign me up for the Cartoon Network …

Hospital dramas have made a major impact on television entertainment in recent years – the more realistic, the better.

If your favorite TV emergency room has a traffic accident victim with a bicycle frame stuck through his abdomen, you can bet the show’s headed for solid ratings. If he’s being treated by a physician who’s suffering from double vision and a bad case of the shakes, the show’s in Emmy Award territory for sure.

Unfortunately, all the televised “realism” may be hazardous to some viewers’ emotional health.

A colleague recently dragged himself into the newspaper office, slumped into a chair and sighed.

“I used to really enjoy shows like ‘ER’ but they’re beginning to get to me,” said the grizzled and notoriously insensitive sportswriter. “My PG&E bill used to be depressing. Now it’s my TV and, like, neurofibromatosis. Or was it granulocytosis? Oh, maaaaan …”

Be advised that this was a hardcore Minnesota Vikings fan, an unstoppable guy who once charged into the newsroom every morning ready to devour the world. Now he’s a sorry shadow of his former self, thoroughly disheartened by an evening of prime time hospital drama.

Sadly enough, I’m afraid he’s not the only victim of emergency room ennui out there.

Watch a few episodes of contemporary, reality-based hospital television and you’ll realize that Marcus Welby, M.D., and Dr. Kildare are gone forever.

These days, a happy ending means that the dedicated but somewhat harried emergency room doc has somehow dodged a malpractice suit despite the fact that he inadvertently injected a patient with a deadly mixture of unleaded gasoline and Alfredo sauce.

Worse, the doctor gets all the sympathy while his former patient gets toe-tagged.

“That was a rough one, Bob. I bet you’ve got a lot of unresolved angst right now,” a fellow TV physician will commiserate while audiences across the nation sigh and wring their hands.

“Oh, that poor doctor …”

One thing’s for sure, fellow viewers: If any of these programs were as reality-based as their creators would have us believe, none of us would ever consider setting foot in an emergency room again, no matter how severe our ailments.

Consider the typical TV scenario – a young woman about to give birth is rolled into the emergency room where members of two rival football teams are having a fight over prescription painkillers. An emergency physician who’s just been diagnosed with a possible brain tumor pauses long enough in his ongoing screaming match with a red-faced nurse to diagnose the woman’s condition as acute athlete’s foot and accidentally prescribes a potentially lethal dose of morphine and decongestants. Meanwhile, the hospital pharmacy’s blown up and the mayor has just been rushed in suffering from a sucking chest wound. Fortunately, he’s not pregnant …

Even if you can follow the plot, chances are you’re still going to get a little depressed because the only man left standing at the end of any given episode is either the janitor or a drug-addled street musician who was fortunate enough to be ignored by the medical staff and therefore has a slight chance of survival …

So anybody know where I can find a Three Stooges film festival?

Originally published January 21, 2001

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