Friday, April 3, 2009

The End of an Era

ER aired the final show in the series last night. The finale of it all. The end. As silly as it may sound, it is a bit like saying goodbye to a familiar friend. It's strange that I feel sad about it, especially considering the fact that I stopped watching the show last season. But I do.

The show began in December,1994. I had just started college. It became part of our Thursday night ritual in the dorms, then later in the apartments. I know that show influenced a few friends in their quest to become doctors one day. It was a fairly realistic depiction of life in a major metropolitan hospital, I learned how accurate it was when I worked in a few myself.

The pain the doctors and nurses felt when they lost a patient was real. The constant stream of patients, the perpetually full waiting room, was real. The ever present danger in who might walk through those doors and what they may bring into the hospital was real. Working at LAC-USC, I saw patients with mystery diseases. I saw the despair on the faces of patients trapped in reverse ventilation rooms, isolated from the rest of the world. I know that the metal detectors are there for a reason. I watched distraught parents struggle to accept that the birth defect their baby had, not obvious from the outside, was indeed terminal. I talked to a 14 year old boy in the burn unit, very much wanting to die, after he had set himself on fire. I held newborn babies, some born addicts, who were left stranded at the hospital, their mothers already hauled off to jail. Working at UCSD, I helped physicians wrestle with the ethics and emotions of disconnecting a baby girl from life support when she had been put there by the very person who is supposed to protect her - her mother. I listened in on a call to UNOS, overheard which order people would be saved in today. To a large degree, at least from what I saw, ER was *real*.

As I said before, I stopped watching the show out of protest at the beginning of the season last year. Rather than just having Ray get fired, move away or even killed, the writers decided to cut his legs off in a horrific accident. I suppose it was a way to keep him alive enough to possibly bring him back, well to bring back most of him, at some point in the future. But it was the point where the writing betrayed me. As a loyal fan since the beginning of the show, they lost me. The show had become too doom and gloom, too negative. Too much pain for the characters. Too little about the medicine, and too much about ruining the lives of the people on the show. Some of the episodes were way over the top. I mean, really, who gets their arm cut off by a helicopter one year, then comes back to be crushed to death by one a year later? At some point, ratings stunts are just that.

It was the best when it was about raw emotions. The show had pretty accurate depictions of the struggles of addiction, loss, betrayal and love. When Carter and his wife lost their baby, I cried for days. It was real for me. And they tugged on my heartstrings well. When Mark died of cancer, I wept for his children and wife. I connected with the fear and unknowing nature of cancer. When Doug and Carol finally left together, love won. Though they both left the show, they left together - and the show was better for it. Sometimes there are happy endings. And as a fan, I rooted for them to make it.

It was a good show, one that I grew into an adult watching. I laughed, I questioned, I thought, I cried, and I related. I can't help but feeling that I shouldn't have stopped watching. That somehow, because of my stubborn nature and my disappointment, I missed a seeing a good friend's proper goodbye.

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