Throughout the series’ eight-year run, which ends Monday (May 21), Bergstrom has been known just as “Nurse” in the credits. She is, in fact, a registered nurse, and in addition to her on-camera role she’s also “House’s” medical technical adviser. Her behind-the-scenes role in making sure the show’s medical scenes are up to snuff and her on-camera work go hand in hand, she says.
“It works out better for the company and for me to actually be in scenes,” Bergstrom tells Zap2it. “I’ve always been on camera — it’s something I saw as part of my package, that I can add credibility by being in it as well as doing all the consulting. … I had worked with the producers before on another show [‘Gideon’s Crossing,’ in the 2000-01 season], so they knew it was something I offered. It was an added bonus for them, and Hugh [Laurie] was really happy when he didn’t have to worry about a background person or someone he didn’t know working next to him and making it more difficult for him to concentrate on his lines.”
A typical day for Bergstrom on the “House” set might include some on-camera work as well as a meeting to go over scripts and make sure the medicine in them is sound — which involves more than just making sure the characters are doing the right procedure in the right way. Timing is also a factor.
“There might be 10 things to do in a procedure to make it accurate in the time frame that we’re trying to make it work in the scene, but there’s no way the actor can possibly do all 10 things,” she says. “So I’m the one who will decide what gets eliminated to preserve the most accurate pieces so we still remain credible and it still remains dramatically interesting.”
Early in the show’s run, if you saw a close-up shot of hands performing surgery on “House,” they were likely Bergstrom’s. As the show progressed, though, she says “all the actors got very well-versed and very talented at learning how to do the medical procedures skillfully and still hiding the pieces of Hollywood that make it work.”
Bergstrom says she went to nursing school with the intent of working as a medical adviser for movies and TV series, and she’s amassed credits ranging from the movies “Volcano” (her first film) and “Desperate Measures” to shows like “Six Feet Under” and “NYPD Blue.” Until a few years ago, she also worked as an ER nurse in her time away from sets so she could stay on top of current practices in hospitals.
She says that she’s also shared stories with “House’s” writers that occasionally end up on screen. One of her favorite on-camera moments, she says, came from discussing a patient who died early one morning before his family arrived at the hospital. Going against protocol, she shaved the man’s face and made sure he looked at peace “so when [the family] came in they would look at him as if he was sleeping.”
The end of the Season 3 episode “Informed Consent” (pictured at the top of the post) plays out much the same way: After a renowned researcher played by Joel Grey dies, Bergstrom closes his eyes and relaxes his hands before covering him with a sheet. “I’m doing a very intimate washing of his face, caring for him after he’s dead in a very human way,” she says. “That’s what many people tell me is one of their favorite things they’ve seen me do.”
Bergstrom will be part of Monday’s series finale, and although she hasn’t seen the final cut, she thinks you’ll be able to watch her in action in a scene near the end of the episode. She’s unwilling to say more than that, though: “Let’s just say when you watch it, you’ll say, ‘This is why she couldn’t tell me.'”
The “House” series finale airs at 9 p.m. ET Monday on FOX, preceded by a one-hour retrospective of the show’s eight seasons.