The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 26: The evolution of emergency services — #EMS #EMT #Paramedic #Television #COVID19

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been spending a lot of time — probably too much time — at home. As such, one of the pitfalls is that I’m probably watching way too much TV. Yes, I know, I really need to get out of the house more.

With that, one of my more recent addictions is old Emergency! reruns on COZI TV. I have childhood memories of this being one of my favorite shows; I remember riding around on my bike as a kid, making a siren noise and pretending I was a paramedic. Outside of watching sports, I seem to have a thing for medical dramas — I’ve been watching shows like Transplant and the Chicago series, and I’ve also been a fan of M*A*S*H for many years.

Watching these old Emergency! reruns and comparing them against current Chicago Fire episodes makes me think about how much EMT, EMS, and paramedic services have evolved throughout the years. I think that evolution is fascinating — enough to the point that I’m writing a ‘blog article about it.

First, let me start with a little background information. Emergency! is largely credited with raising awareness of emergency medical services. The show also traces its roots to a report titled Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society (a.k.a. “the white paper”). The show takes place in the 1970s, and it’s a far cry from the EMS and EMT services with which we’re familiar today.

The pilot episode talks about the Wedsworth-Townsend Act (which is also the name of the episode). The episode largely focuses on the origins of the paramedic program in LA. In the episode, Dr. Brackett (played by Robert Fuller) makes a plea for passage of the bill to allow paramedics to provide emergency services. In the same episode, Firefigher John Gage (Randolph Mantooth) expresses his frustration after losing a patient largely due to not being able to get him the help he needed in time.

Emergency services changed all that. Before those days, an ambulance was nothing more than a station wagon with a stretcher; the idea was to get an injured person to medical help as fast as possible. Unfortunately, many people died before they could get the help they needed.

(I should note that the idea of getting medical help before transport was actually depicted in M*A*S*H — injured personnel often went to a battalion aid station before being sent to a M*A*S*H unit.)

In the show, the idea was to provide medical assistance — more than basic first aid, but less than a doctor’s services — to make the patient stable enough to transport him or her to the hospital. Johnny and Roy, the paramedics, were trained to apply those services, but in order to do so, they needed to contact the hospital (using the famous biophone) to obtain both instructions and authorization to administer medical services. Additionally, the paramedics served a dual role; while they were licensed to provide medical assistance, they were (I’m guessing first and foremost) firefighters whose primary role was search and rescue. They drove a truck mostly designed for search and rescue operations; it was not capable of patient transport. They had to call for an ambulance separately in order to get the patient to the hospital.

These days, these roles are different (Chicago Fire does a good job of depicting this — I should also note that, as far as I understand, Chicago Fire and Emergency! are actually technically accurate; they aren’t just medical gobbledygook). In many locales (it may differ in different jurisdictions — I’m mostly generalizing this description), fire department paramedics are themselves medical professionals; they no longer require instructions or authorization from doctors (again, to my knowledge, this depends on the jurisdiction). They themselves drive the ambulances, and the ambulances themselves are often emergency rooms on wheels, a far cry from the vehicles where their only function was to transport patients as fast as possible. And the roles of paramedic and search/rescue personnel are mostly different, not combined as in Emergency! (in Chicago Fire, these different roles are depicted by Ambulance 61 and Squad 3, respectively).

A couple of personal thoughts about the comparison between Emergency! and Chicago Fire: first, although I haven’t been able to find any citations to support this, I don’t think there’s any coincidence in that Chicago Firehouse 51 shares a unit number with LA County Fire Station 51 (which would support the influence that Emergency! had). Second, I would love to see an episode of Chicago Fire in which the characters of John Gage and Roy DeSoto make at least a cameo appearance. (Dick Wolf, if you’re reading this, can you make that happen???)

I hope you had as much fun reading this impromptu history of emergency services as much as I did writing about it (and I apologize for any inaccuracies I might have written — please feel free to correct them in the comments if I did). Funny what pops into your head while you’re watching TV…

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 22: How TV could make this world a better place #COVID19

TRANSPLANT — Season: 1 — Pictured: (l-r) Torri Higginson as Claire Malone, John Hannah as Jed Bishop, Hamza Haq as Bashir Hamed, Jim Watson as Theo Hunter, Laurence Leboeuf as Magalie Leblanc, Ayiah Issa as June Curtis — (Photo by: Fabrice Gaetan/Sphere Media/NBC)

When I was in high school, my friends and I were into M*A*S*H — so much so that we nicknamed ourselves after M*A*S*H characters (my best friend and I used to argue over which one of us was Hawkeye or B.J.), and we tried to outdo each other any time the local radio station asked M*A*S*H trivia questions. Even to this day, any time I come across a M*A*S*H rerun on TV, I just have to turn the channel to it.

One of the things I appreciated about M*A*S*H was that it wasn’t afraid to take on social issues. Several episodes took on hot-button topics, such as racism, alcoholism, politics, religion, and so on. It made for some interesting episodes, and I think they made the show all the better.

Lately, I’ve gotten hooked on a new medical drama, Transplant. It seems like the US prime time network market is saturated with medical dramas, but a couple of things make Transplant different. First, the main character and protagonist, Dr. Bashir “Bash” Hamed (played by Hamza Haq) is a Syrian refugee, which makes for some interesting plot lines, including his struggles as he adapts to life in a new country. Speaking of which, this leads me to another thing that makes this show unique. The country in question is not the United States. The setting for Transplant is a hospital emergency room in Toronto, Canada. While NBC has the US broadcast rights to the show, it is not produced by NBC; it’s actually produced by Canadian station CTV. That the show takes place in Canada is apparent in a few subtle ways; in the pilot episode, a police officer wore a Canadian flag pin on his uniform, the CN Tower is visible in a few establishment shots, and in one scene, a doctor taking a patient’s temperature mentioned that it was 37 degrees, rather than the 98.6 that we Yanks are accustomed to hearing.

It also occurred to me that this may be the first show on a major prime-time network where the main character is Muslim. In these times of social issues, Islamophobia, racial equality, and Black Lives Matter, that is a big deal.

Dr. Bash (as I call him) is a very likable character. As a doctor, he is obligated to ensure his patients’ welfare, and he displays compassion and humanity toward his patients. As a big brother to his little sister, Amira, he is the father figure that they are missing in their lives (their parents died in the Syrian Civil War). As a friend to his colleagues at the fictional York Memorial Hospital, he displays caring and empathy for his coworkers.

He is the doctor I would want treating me if I had to go to the hospital.

There is a stereotype about Muslims in the US that paints them as extremists and fanatics. Dr. Bash breaks that stereotype, which is why I think this show is important. I have friends who are Muslim, and I empathize with them when they are portrayed as radical terrorists. Dr. Bash shows that he is not a radical; rather, he is human, with human emotions, feelings, and faults.

Many dramas (movies, not just TV) seem to have the power to raise awareness about issues. Dances With Wolves, for example, broke the stereotype of Native Americans as being “savages.” Likewise, Emergency! (another favorite TV show of mine when I was a kid) is credited as contributing toward the establishment of EMT services across the country.

TV shows, done right, have the power to change the world. If characters, issues, and situations are portrayed properly on prime-time, this world could be a much better place.