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It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Mercy nursesMay 2010 -- The May 12 season finale of NBC's drama Mercy turned out to be the series finale, since the network canceled the show soon afterwards because of its low ratings. That's too bad, because in its 22 episodes, creator Liz Heldens's funny, well-acted show included many fine examples of nursing skill, patient advocacy, life-saving, and even some autonomy. The show's nursing portrayal did have flaws. Its generally constructive, peer-oriented approach to nurse-physician relations was at times undermined by suggestions that nurses report to physicians, and the show occasionally fell prey to other nursing stereotypes. The last two episodes of the series illustrate these mixed features. In the finale, lead character Veronica Flanagan saves the life of a boy trapped in a collapsed building, in part by amputating his arm with guidance she gets by cell phone from physician Chris Sands. In another plotline, nurse Chloe Payne correctly diagnoses a patient with airport malaria, despite resistance from physician Gillian Jelani. Both of those plotlines are showcases for nursing skill and advocacy. But both can also be read to suggest that nurses achieve to the extent they act like physicians; Gillian praises Chloe by noting that she was "thinking like a doctor." And that's nothing compared to one of the last scenes in the finale, which finds Chloe reacting to an apparent romantic rejection from cardiologist Joe Briggs by vowing to become a physician herself. Another plotline that conveys real skill and advocacy by nurses Angel Garcia and Sonia Jimenez in caring for a beating victim also suggests that physician Dan Harris directs nurse staffing. Why didn't enough people watch Mercy? Occasionally the show did feel flat, contrived, or silly, but that's also true of some successful shows. Mercy seemed to suffer from a difficult time slot, and the perception that it was the last in a glut of new shows about nurses (Nurse Jackie, HawthoRNe) and that nurses do not deserve so much attention. However, despite Mercy's flaws, the show's message that nurses play the central role in the skilled care of hospital patients and its strong portrayals of nursing expertise and advocacy place Mercy among the best television shows for nursing in Hollywood history.  more...

 

Putting ideas in her head

Veronica Callahan MercyNovember 18, 2009 -- Tonight's episode of NBC's Mercy featured nurse characters acting with considerable expertise and some autonomy to improve patients' outcomes in two very different cases. In one plotline, lead character Veronica Callahan provides critical physiological care to a gunshot victim who appears certain to die, working as more or less a partner with the physicians and at a couple points coming up with good treatment ideas to help save the patient's life. In the other plotline, nurse Sonia Jimenez advocates forcefully for a 15-year-old with a "rare excessive autosomal condition" who, though she has lived her life as a female, turns out to be genetically male. Sonia tries to protect this teenager from her parents, who pressure her to have surgery to eliminate her emerging male features, and from some physicians who seem to see her as no more than a fascinating case study, with no regard for the huge impact the diagnosis is having on her. There are a few questionable elements in these plotlines. The interventionist approach that Veronica and one physician take in the gunshot case could be interpreted as an argument for heroic measures for every patient. Of course, real nurses often see terminal patients face unnecessary suffering and work hard to encourage decision-makers to consider allowing a natural death in that situation. Nevertheless, the episode presents a prime time vision of nurses as strong, skilled health professionals, and we thank those responsible. The episode, "I'm Not That Kind Of Girl," was written by Veronica Becker and Sarah Kucserka. more...

 

An R and an N

Veronica Callahan Mercy 
October 21, 2009 -- Two recent episodes of NBC's Mercy illustrate both the show's flawed portrayal of nursing autonomy and its far more helpful vision of nursing skill and advocacy. The Jersey City drama does at least suggest that there is some nursing management structure. And it captures some of the difficulties that flow from the unequal power between nurses and physicians. But at other times the show suggests that nurses report to physicians, even if there is a nominal nurse manager who presumably handles day-to-day administrative issues. At the same time, the episodes aired tonight and a week ago include very helpful portrayals of skill and patient advocacy by all three major nurse characters, most notably Veronica Callahan's relentless efforts to get a homeless man with hepatitis C into a clinical trial. These plotlines are not flawless. Veronica's advocacy for the homeless man includes simulating symptoms to keep him in the hospital, going behind chief ED physician Dan Harris's back to get an "order" from a less senior physician to get the man into the trial, and throwing a cinder block through Harris's car windshield when he continues to insist that she cut the man loose. Another plotline actually has a hint of the naughty nurse, as nurse Chloe Payne uses a kiss (albeit a fairly chaste one) to help persuade a badly burned high schooler that his social life is not over and he should continue pursuing skin grafts. Still, the show offers millions of viewers dramatic examples of how tough, innovative nurses improve patient outcomes. In one plotline, nurse Sonia Jimenez controls a somnambulist's deadly and apparently untreatable problem by persuading Sonia's boyfriend to give the patient his bark-intensive dog as an "alarm clock." No other regular season show does this kind of thing at all. The October 14 episode was Peter Elkoff's "Pulling the Goalie," and tonight's was "You Lost Me with the Cinder Block" by Dan Dworkin & Jay Beattie. more...

 

In the thick of it

Veronica Callahan MercySeptember 30, 2009 -- Tonight's episode of NBC's Mercy included two plotlines that highlighted strong, innovative patient advocacy by lead character Veronica Callahan and novice nurse Chloe Payne. In one plotline, Veronica fights through abuse from an injured patient who is furious that his leg, shredded in an accident, has been amputated without his knowledge. Veronica brings the patient some closure by retrieving the leg from the hospital's bio-waste department and bringing it to him so he can say goodbye. Meanwhile, Chloe helps a patient who seems like no more than a manipulative drug addict, despite mockery from other nurses and skepticism from physician Dan Harris. This patient claims that a pounding in the ears has driven him to his OxyContin addiction. Chloe determines that the pounding is real, and caused by a blood vessel about to burst, simply by applying her stethoscope to his external ear, which evidently no one else thought to do. These plotlines have some silly elements, but they both show the episode's 7.4 million U.S. viewers that nurses' job is, as Veronica actually tells Chloe, to advocate for their patients. The episode is show creator Liz Heldens's "I Believe You Conrad." more...

 

"We do try to keep the doctors from killing you"

4 nurses from MercySeptember 23, 2009 -- The series premiere of NBC's drama Mercy presents a group of attractive young Jersey City hospital nurses as downtrodden working girls, failing to get the respect they deserve from physicians or patients. Lead character Veronica Callahan displays advanced psychosocial and life-saving skills, though the show attributes the latter to her tour of duty in Iraq, rather than nursing education and experience. Like the lead characters on Showtime's Nurse Jackie and TNT's HawthoRNe, Veronica is a fighter, telling physicians off and doing what she thinks best to protect patients. Unfortunately, the show seems to think she reports to the physicians, a major flaw. As in the premiere of Jackie, Veronica warns a young physician that a patient may have a critical problem; he ignores it, the patient dies, and the nurse tears into him. As on HawthoRNe, Veronica's disregard for protocol repeatedly gets her in trouble with superiors, in her case the apparent chief of medicine. Like Jackie, Veronica is self-medicating, in her case with alcohol and "delicious Paxil" for what seems like PTSD from the war. As on Jackie, Veronica's nurse sidekicks include a smart but clueless novice who favors mockable patterned scrubs, as well as a wisecracking gay man. Veronica is separated from her pugnacious contractor husband, who persuades her not to divorce him, though she still has a strong thing for a hot surgeon she hooked up with in Iraq--and who has pursued her to her new hospital. So like Jackie, Veronica looks set for a love triangle involving her working class husband and a colleague with more education. Her nurse friend Sonia connects with a nice, funny police officer, but she is desperate to escape what the show sees as the violence and unpaid bills of the working class; she wants a wealthy Manhattan lawyer. In any case, like the two summer shows, Mercy is raising important nursing issues other hospital shows rarely have. The premiere ("Can We Get That Drink Now?"), written by show creator Liz Heldens, drew 8.2 million viewers. more...

 

Traffic is backed up in the tunnel heading into respect

Cast of nurses from MercySeptember 23, 2009 -- The series premiere of NBC's drama Mercy presents a group of attractive young New Jersey hospital nurses as downtrodden working girls, failing to get the respect they deserve from physicians or patients. Lead character Veronica Callahan displays advanced psychosocial and life-saving skills, though the show attributes the latter to her tour of duty in Iraq, rather than nursing education and experience. Like the leads on Showtime's Nurse Jackie and TNT's HawthoRNe, Veronica is a fighter, telling physicians off and doing what she thinks best to protect patients. As on both other nurse shows, this lead nurse character "treats the patient," while the physicians merely "treat the disease" (here characters actually say that). Unfortunately, the show seems to think she reports to the physicians, a major flaw. As in the premiere of Jackie, Veronica warns a young physician that a patient may have a critical problem; he ignores it, the patient dies, and the nurse tears into him. As on HawthoRNe, Veronica's disregard for protocol repeatedly gets her in trouble with superiors, in her case the apparent chief of medicine. Like Jackie, Veronica is self-medicating, in her case with alcohol and "delicious Paxil" for what seems like PTSD from the war. As on Jackie, Veronica's nurse sidekicks include a smart but clueless novice who favors mockable patterned scrubs, as well as an apparently gay, wisecracking man. So two of the significant three male nurse characters on the new nurse shows seem to be gay, which is not representative of the profession as a whole. Veronica is separated from her pugnacious contractor husband, who persuades her not to divorce him, though she still has a strong thing for a hot physician she hooked up with in Iraq--and who has pursued her to the hospital. So as on Jackie, Veronica looks set for a love triangle involving her working class husband and a colleague with more education; unlike on Jackie, the colleague here seems a lot more promising than hubby. Her nurse friend Sonia connects with a nice, funny police officer, but she is desperate to escape what the show sees as the violence and unpaid bills of the working class; she wants a wealthy Manhattan lawyer. Mercy has some problems, but like the two summer nurse shows, it raises important nursing issues other hospital shows rarely have. And the premiere ("Can We Get That Drink Now?"), written by show creator Liz Heldens, drew 8.2 million viewers--millions more than the other two shows combined. Are these shows the product of an Obama-era interest in underdogs? Are recession-weary viewers responding to the shows' criticism of the flawed U.S. health system? Whatever it is, we urge nurses to watch Mercy (the premiere is at the NBC site and free on iTunes), and use the show to help people think about nursing. more...

 

From our 2009 fall series TV preview

Veronica from MercySeptember 13, 2009 -- Mercy's central character is Veronica Callahan, a tough young nurse who has just returned from a tour in Iraq, which the NBC web site says means that she "knows more about medicine than all of the residents combined." One preview shows her saving a person injured in a car crash using found materials that might impress Royal Pains concierge physician Hank Lawson. And it certainly does impress bystanders; when one asks where she learned to do that, she says "Iraq." We like the suggestion that nurses have startling expertise, but nursing skill is mainly the result of the college-level education and experience that all nurses get, not the happenstance that they have spent some time in a war zone, however useful that would be. And nursing doesn't really need hyperbole that may invite mockery (All the residents combined? Like maybe 30 residents in all specialties with a combined 50 years of clinical experience?). The other major characters are nurses Sonia Jimenez and Chloe Payne, who wears patterned scrubs, apparently the new Hollywood signal for "I'm a new and totally clueless nurse! Help me!" The show also includes a fourth nurse character, Angel Garcia, and physicians Dan Harris and Chris Sands, who was the married Veronica's boyfriend back in Iraq. (Yes, we can hear the boos from those who hated Nurse Jackie because of the adultery.)

Previews give cause for hope that Mercy will convey that nurses are skilled professionals who save lives and improve patient outcomes. Indeed, the previews suggest that the nurses may even save lives as part of their regular work, rather than only in rare field situations where there are no physicians. In one scene, Veronica rescues a patient from a morphine overdose caused by the clueless Chloe. It also seems that Veronica will not hesitate to give it back to physicians who aren't doing what she thinks they should (she tells one apparent resident that she wants him to be "better," and informs a disdainful patient that the nurses "do try to keep the doctors from killing you"). Another preview scene shows a patient informing Veronica that she is the only one who has treated the patient with respect. On the other hand, it's also clear that the show will be very much about the nurses' love lives. We hope their workplace skills appear in more than these few scenes.

 

Summer 2009 TV Preview

May 24, 2009 -- From our summer 2009 TV preview...

NBC has reportedly scheduled a new regular season drama called Mercy to begin airing in mid-season, which probably means around January 2010. The show appears to be focused on several hospital nurses, including one who ostensibly has mad skills (more than the interns!) because she did a tour in Iraq. Although that premise is problematic--nurses have skills because of their education and clinical experience, not only if they happened to spend time in a war zone--available clips do suggest the show will address some of the same nursing issues that Nurse Jackie and HawthoRNe will, including highlighting the fact that nurses actually think and the complexities of nurse-physician relations.

See a preview of Mercy.
 

 

 

 

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