On a late afternoon in early October, dozens of physicians,
nurses, hospital staffers, and medical students filtered into
Hurd Hall at Johns Hopkins Hospital. On stage behind a long table
sat a handful of ABC producers. School of Medicine dean Edward
Miller rose to greet the crowd and quipped, "Welcome to
Hopkins 24/7, Part Seven: The Post-Mortem." |
Miller was only half joking. The group had indeed gathered to talk about the successes--and failures--of the six-part TV documentary that gave millions of American viewers an unprecedented and intimate look at life inside the hospital. Hopkins administrators had taken a calculated gamble last winter in allowing television crews three months' worth of 24-hour access. Their hope: that at a time when academic medical centers are being squeezed by managed care and the threat of congressional budget cuts, a series like Hopkins 24/7 might show the public just what it is that makes teaching hospitals so indispensable.
There are early signs the gamble has paid off. Paul Colombani, for instance, the Hopkins pediatric surgeon who so passionately described the frustrations of managed care in episode #1, has become the "poster boy" for the Patient's Bill of Rights, garnering an invitation to testify before Congress. Miller, who appeared on ABC's Nightline after the first episode of Hopkins 24/7 aired, said that overall he's been "extremely delighted" with the way the series has played.
That's not to say there weren't disappointments. Top among them: Where were all the nurses? "I feel betrayed," pediatric nursing director Lisa Phifer told the producers at the post-mortem. Her observation was echoed by others, who felt the series focused on Hopkins's heroic physicians at the expense of vital supporting cast members like nurses, social workers, and clergy. "Nobody works in isolation," said nurse J. "Ski" Lower. "The essence of Hopkins is everybody. That is just so sorely missed." (One consolation: a Discovery Health Channel series focusing entirely on Hopkins nurses is set to air in January.)
Others, including the producers themselves, criticized the series
for giving no attention to the research aspect of academic
medicine. "We're human," said one producer, shaking his head.
Then, echoing the mantra of the Hopkins Mortality and Morbidity
meeting (which caused quite a stir in episode #1), he added:
"Next time we'll do it better."
Patient Health Updates
In October, we checked in with several of the young patients whose stories unfolded on the ABC documentary Hopkins 24/7, which aired in late August and September during prime time. There was mixed news.
Tiffanie Salvadia, the teenager who was treated for uterine cancer by Dr. Paul Colombani (episode #1), relapsed in August. She underwent high-dose chemotherapy, and at press time was due to receive a stem cell transplant, according to her mom, Deneen Gethouas. Tiffanie recently turned 15 and was looking forward to getting a puppy for her birthday.
Several months after he received a double lung transplant (episode #3),18-year-old Zach Chamberlin was breathing on his own and relishing life. In June, he went swimming for the first time. Unfortunately, Zach was readmitted to Hopkins in October with coughing and fluid around his lungs. His doctors were hopeful that the setback was temporary, brought on by the combination of medications he takes to fight infection and prevent transplant rejection.
On a brighter note, Alexandria Moody, the little girl who had more than half her brain removed by surgeon Ben Carson in episode #2, "is doing great," says her mother, Pat Evans. Alex was suffering hundreds of seizures each day before she underwent a hemispherectomy. Since having the operation at Hopkins last January, Alex has essentially been seizure-free. Now 4, she attends preschool where she is learning her colors and ABCs, and can count to 20. Alex's webpage: www.oe-pages.com/FAMILY/children/alexandriakmoody/.
Mikey Dunn, the baby who received a heart transplant on episode
#4, was released from Hopkins Hospital on Valentine's Day
following a five-month stay. Today he is a healthy and active
18-month-old (his nurses, who still see him regularly, have
nicknamed him "Bulldozer"). Mikey periodically undergoes testing
to make sure his immune system is not rejecting his new heart. In
March, a biopsy showed signs of organ rejection; Mikey was
readmitted to Hopkins and the episode was brought under
Overheard in the Chat Room
A sophisticated electronic web presence allowed TV viewers to chat firsthand with Hopkins's physician "heroes" at the end of each segment. abcnews.go.com/onair/DailyNews/hopkins_chat_schedule.html. A sampling of the exchange:
"Does dealing with death on a regular basis make it easier or harder for you to deal with your own mortality?" asked one participant of RICK MONTZ, the pony-tailed surgical oncologist who in episode #4 had to tell a young mother her cancer was terminal.
Montz's reply: "Interestingly it makes it easier because I think about it all the time. It makes it easier for me to deal with my own mortality but harder to deal with my wife's mortality. When these patients die--and I'm glad they didn't show it, but when I had to tell Michelle Ellis what she had, they were kind enough to cut the scene of me crying. It was hard to tell her, but she is not the mom of my kids. I have seen so many people who lose family members that the lucky person is the one who dies. The others suffer so much." (More than 8,150 computer users logged on to chat with Montz.)
Have you left medicine completely? queried many participants of RISA MORIARITY, the third-year surgical resident who abandoned her residency after seven years of training (episode #6).
No, replied Moriarity, who now logs 50 to 60 hours a week as executive content editor for an internet start-up, HealthCite.com. "One of the projects that I am primarily involved in is designing a website, which is something we call a medamediary... we provide one-stop shopping for a person looking for diabetes information, or breast cancer information. My job right now is very challenging. It still allows me to be a doctor, even though I'm not seeing patients face to face."
"I am 11 years old and I want to be a doctor and go to Duke University. Any suggestions for preparing for this?" asked one young girl of KATHIE POOLER, the emergency room physician who dealt with the fall-out from an HIV needle prick (episode #3).
Pooler: "First of all, what are you doing up so late? Go to bed! You have to get lots of sleep so you can get good grades to be a doctor. With that in mind, why did you choose Duke over Hopkins? In all seriousness, keep up the hard work in school. Get involved in health care doing volunteer work. [Medicine] is a long, long path. It is not a glamorous field. But I encourage you to go with your dreams.
RETURN TO NOVEMBER 2000 TABLE OF CONTENTS.