Perhaps the worst moments of our lives are better endured than recorded. Certainly emergency trips to the hospital would qualify in this category.
ABC’s “NY Med,“ premiering Tuesday, July 10, manages to document these moments, and remarkably, the eight-part series does so without being sensational.
That’s a neat trick when you consider the tabloid potential. Filmmaker Terence Wrong (“Boston Med,” “Hopkins”) turns his documentary talents to Columbia and Weill Cornell Medical Centers in New York for this series.
“I think hospitals are places where you see the most intimate things that happen in life,” Wrong tells Zap2it. “The stakes are tremendously high; nothing is as critical. It is life and death. It is a tremendously rich environment, with the full gamut of humanity; people from all walks of life are there, and they are at turning points in their life.”
In the first episode, we meet ER nurse Marina Dedivanovic, a no-nonsense, tough Bronx woman who is so pretty that a patient on a gurney hits on her. He later returns with a bouquet of flowers to ask her out.
Resident Arundi Mahendran shows her compassion when a man’s exploratory surgery (cameras follow the surgery and pathologists checking the cells) reveal his cancer has spread. Doctors cannot help. He has about six months to live, and Mahendran encourages him to take his wife to Ireland, as he always promised.
The series could do without the soppy background music, but it does a wonderful job of following doctors and patients, a result of Wrong distilling 3,000 hours in hospitals into eight hours.
It may be easy to forget that Dr. Mehmet Oz remains a practicing heart surgeon. Here, he helps a patient reconnect with his ex-wife because Oz is certain that patients need family or friends with them.
A young mother, Rhonda Fernandez, proves this as her family rallies during her brain surgery. This neurosurgery is so tricky that doctors insist she stay awake so they can monitor if movement is impaired.
Later, she says, “I take the time to listen to [my children]. I am in a better place.”
Inevitably a hospital-set series must show blood, but “NY Med” is not gratuitous in that area.
Having focused on medical documentaries, Wrong says, “Once you have done that, I kind of hate to put it that way, but everything else pales in comparison.”
“The other thing I find endlessly fascinating is that planned interventions and surgeries go awry, and they go awry in ways you could not imagine,” he says. “When things go right, they go right according to script, and when they go wrong, they go wrong in the most bizarre ways.”
He refers to an incident in the fifth episode, when veteran John Rankl is about to receive a heart transplant. But doctors accidentally puncture the donor heart, rendering it useless.
In that same episode, we meet Tara Margarella, a stunning doctor. “I can be a really good surgeon and still get my nails done,” she says.
Still, it’s impossible to not play medical ethicist: Are patients exploited when they’re most vulnerable? Wrong explains that everyone on camera gives consent, repeatedly.
“Why do I keep gaining access and going back?” he asks. “Obviously the etiquette and sense of appropriateness is working. I am not saying anyone else can do it. I don’t think they can — excuse me some arrogance here.”
“I have a long history here, and the hospitals have come to trust me, and I don’t burn them,” Wrong says. “I am not just making TV. I am passionate about this and passionate about medicine.”