Who's the man?
October 13, 2011 -- Episodes in the seventh and eighth seasons of ABC's Grey's Anatomy include the forceful "Nurse Eli," the sort-of boyfriend of star surgeon Miranda Bailey and perhaps the best nurse character the show has ever had. Yet even this extended plot arc ultimately decayed into a reinforcement of the idea that nurses are physician subordinates unworthy of being treated as equals, professionally or personally. Eli appeared in eight episodes aired over a 10-month period, ending tonight. On a few occasions he played a more robust patient care role than any other Grey's nurse has, displaying some health care skill and some spirited patient advocacy, standing up to physicians several times. But Eli was more of an intuitive traditional healer than a modern science professional. Physicians still provided virtually all important care in his episodes, and Eli eventually seemed to concede that the senior physicians were in charge. Some of his advocacy was absurdly shrill (nursing advocacy seen from a physician perspective, perhaps). And if "Nurse Eli" ever got a surname, we didn't catch it. Before long, Eli became little more than a hunky romantic / sexual interest for Bailey. Ultimately she ended the "it's complicated"-type relationship with Eli and, although the show allowed him some dignity in that process, it also implied that there was no real future for the two of them because Eli was just a nurse. Over the years, we have been somewhat torn about what to seek from Grey's. In theory, we would like the show to introduce nurse characters to reduce its wildly unbalanced vision of health care, in which physicians do everything that matters. Yet when the show does include a nurse, and even when it shows some empathy for the nurse, the plotline still ends up being overwhelmed by the producers' biases--and arguably does more damage than if the show had simply continued to pretend that nurses don't do anything but say "yes, doctor." So it was with Eli.
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Eli first appears in the December 2, 2010 episode "Adrift and at Peace," written by Tony Phelan and Joan Rater, and his role in this one has a mainly clinical focus. One key plotline in the episode is about the attending Bailey's efforts to find a way to reduce the incidence of fistulas (a leaking of gallbladder fluid into a part of the abdomen where it does not belong) in post-op gallbladder patients. In typical Grey's style, Bailey has set up a contest among several surgical residents; the resident whose protocol leads to the fewest complications will get to do a gall bladder-by-mouth surgery, which is super-awesome! This causes the residents to focus, briefly, on the minute-to-minute condition of their patients.
We see Lexie Grey, one of these residents, greet nurse Eli and ask if Eli has sent one patient's sample of pancreatic fluid to the lab yet. Eli says not yet. Lexie says she asked for it more than an hour ago. Eli says he is letting the patient rest, since he didn't sleep much last night. The competing resident Jackson Avery calls out to Lexie from down the hall; he is walking his patient around, and boasts that on day 3 post-op, there is no fistula--apparently his protocol involves walking and eating right away. The patient complains that she's tired. We're not tired of seeing physician characters walk patients, something that we have not heard of happening in real life. And we could get into a discussion of how Grey's has blundered into the very real benefits of getting hospital patients up and around, as nurses have always done, but we have to move on.
Another competing resident, April Kepner, stops by and expresses skepticism that walking makes any difference. Her protocol involves the use of some drug. Lexie is trying a standard post-op protocol, but with a "checklist I've developed for accountability." Lexie turns to Eli.
Lexie: Mr. Raab probably can't sleep at night because you're letting him sleep during the day. Get the fluid sample now.
Eli gets up and departs without a word, presumably to get the sample, but clearly not happy. Later, the three residents are sitting at a table when Eli arrives.
Eli: Dr. Kepner, your patient Mrs. Hathaway just came into the ER, she's in septic shock. CT showed a fistula. Dr. Bailey wants you in OR 2 right away.
This interactions suggests, as Grey's sometimes does, that one key nursing role is to be the messengers who get physicians for other physicians. Kepner is very upset because she will not be winning the contest. Lexie asks Eli to get another sample of Mr. Raab's fluid. Eli responds that that will be tough because he took the drain out.
Lexie: You what?
Eli: Well, with the drain in, he can't turn over, which means he has to sleep on his back, which means he isn't sleeping, so--
Lexie: OK, just call radiology, we have to put it back in. I need to be able to see the fluid to tell if there's an infection.
Eli: Well, I can tell by looking at it that it's not infected.
Eli: You're not touching that patient.
Lexie: Excuse me?
Eli: You have your list, but I have 12 years of experience that tells me that putting that drain back in right now could actually put him at more risk for infection. Twelve years I've been here . . . twelve . . . years. Now, you residents, you come and go, but this is my home and you are my guest. And right now you are no longer welcome.
He leaves. She seems shocked.
The last part of this scene is reminiscent of an episode of ABC's documentary series Boston Med, which aired in summer 2010, not long before this Grey's episode was filmed. In that documentary, a group of men in nursing sat around complaining about residents who didn't respect them even though the residents were just guests in the nurses' "house."
Yech. We realize that the Boston Med segment shows that Eli's speech is not unrealistic, but we have to note that nurses don't deserve credit simply for staying in one specific location a long time. Nurses deserve credit because they are college-educated science professionals who use their skills to save lives and advocate to help patients overcome obstacles to good health, including, at times, others in the health system. No nurse is correct about anything because he has been somewhere 12 years. Nurses--and physicians--must be able to explain why their way is the right one, using evidence, assessments, and scientific research.
On the whole, the Grey's scene does present Eli as a forceful patient advocate who has some health knowledge and who does not just automatically do whatever the physician says. But Eli does not really explain what he knows in a way that viewers will understand or remember, suggesting that nurses operate more on longevity-based intuition rather than advanced training or skills, something NBC's ER also did at times. Eli doesn't explain the infection risk--viewers may think that he doesn't really understand it. Best practices on post-op gallbladder surgery care may still be evolving, but if Eli is so sure that removing the drain earlier is better, he should be as willing to fight Bailey as the residents. Yet he seems willing to sacrifice the patient's wellbeing for Bailey, as if he would defer to a more senior physician--a glaring flaw in his advocacy, since, of course, even senior physicians can make deadly errors. Oddly, the scene actually overstates nurses' authority; surgeons typically prescribe the removal of these drains and nurses would not generally just remove them without first consulting the physician, though nurses do provide advice on when that should occur.
In any case, Lexie does not give up, but asks for help from her former lover Mark Sloane, a plastic surgery attending, telling Mark that a nurse hates her. Mark says that because Lexie is a resident, "I'm sure all the nurses hate you." We guess that Mark is suggesting that the nurses resent being ordered around by the brilliant young pretty stars of the hospital, or that the nurses are just jealous.
Lexie: Yes, well, they love you. . . . Can you please just talk to him, smooth things over, so that when I go to take my patient back to radiology and get his drain put back in, he doesn't make a scene?
Managing those irrational nurses can be such a drag! Mark agrees to talk to the nurse in question, but in return Mark extracts Lexie's promise to meet him at Joe's Bar later for a drink. When Mark finds out the nurse is Eli, he wants two drinks. Eli must be formidable! Mark approaches Eli, outside of Lexie's hearing but in her sight.
Mark: Eli. Now listen, I don't know what's going on here, but I know better than to mess with you on your turf. Do me a solid, nod, and act like we're having a big debate here, because Dr. Grey over there? She agreed to go out with me if I talk to you.
Eli: She's bossy.
Mark: I know. I dig it.
Eli: What's in it for me?
Mark: Seahawks. Sunday, box seats.
Mark: Of course.
Eli (loudly so Lexie can hear): Unless Dr. Bailey herself orders that drain put back in, I--
Mark (softly): Now mention how highly I think of her.
Eli (loudly): I don't care if you think Dr. Grey is the best resident you've ever seen come through this program.
Mark (loudly): I understand and I respect that. Thank you.
Mark returns to Lexie and tells her he did what he could. Of course she is not pleased, telling him that he didn't really accomplish anything. And Avery stops by to make fun of her, suggesting that there might be a medical emergency if she doesn't get the drain back in. But we have to admit, Sloane's deference, however flippantly presented, does suggest that Eli has expertise on his "turf." Later, Lexie gets Bailey to stop by and clear up this whole Eli business.
Eli: Dr. Bailey. Have I told you lately how much I like your eyes?
Bailey: Not in the mood. Why did you remove the drain?
Eli: Because it was ready to be removed.
Bailey: Now I have to put the drain back in.
Lexie: And write you up! (Bailey looks skeptical.) Because, you said you were gonna write him up.
Bailey: Let me handle this, Grey.
Eli: OK, Mr. Raab is not sleeping, Doctor, that's a problem because--
Bailey: I feel for him, but this protocol isn't just about him--
Eli: I don't do protocols, I treat patients.
Bailey: Eli, save your high and mighty routine for someone else, now I'm sick of all these post-op complications.
Eli: I hate post-op complications more than you do, Dr. Bailey, I do. They're time-consuming, and messy, and make it difficult for me to check up on my fantasy football team as often as I'd like. So I make sure that my patients don't get them. I mean, you know you're happy when I'm workin'. And it's not just because of my pretty face, it's 'cause I'm good at what I do. Think about it--when's the last time you had a post-op complication with one of my patients?
The scene ends. Here again, this seems like a great scene for nursing, and Eli certainly is advocating strongly for the patient, using tactics ranging from logic to flirtation, which doesn't seem quite so bad as it would coming from a female nurse. And since his boasting isn't really questioned, viewers will probably assume it's justified; he has some health care skill. But there are several problems in the details. We assume Eli's description of why he hates complications is an attempt at a joke, and hopefully viewers will get that, but some may figure he really thinks it is mostly about making his life easier, rather than the threat to patients. Also, like the prior scene, this one sets Eli up as anti-science, or at least as someone who doesn't understand that health research may require procedures that he may not think are ideal for a given patient in order to get data that could someday save many more. Maybe Eli doesn't do protocols because that's too complex for the primitive nurse brain! Eli also doesn't get a chance to explain why the patient's lack of sleep is a problem--is it really? Couldn't that itself increase the risk of complications and a compromised immune system thereby inhibiting healing?
And finally, here we have this strong veteran nurse, who is supposedly in his "house" and on his "turf," calling the physician "Dr. Bailey" while she calls him "Eli." Of course this naming disparity remains common in real life, but we would hope for better from a strong nurse. The naming disparity suggests at a minimum that nurses are lower-class workers and, together with the "write him up" line, arguably implies that nurses report to physicians. In fact, nurses are autonomous professionals who report to nurse managers. Physicians can complain to a nurse's manager, but nurse managers are the ones with the power to "write up" nurses in the sense that they can impose discipline on them. Of course, nurse managers do not exist on Grey's.
But wait--there's more. Later, we see Bailey and the residents in an office, apparently discussing Eli's claim that his patients don't get complications.
Avery: Well, he's right. These patient records for the last three months show a post-op complication rate way lower than the norm.
April: Wait--12% compared to 42%?
Lexie: OK, can you two stop being impressed by him? It's a fluke. He's mean.
April thinks he's "kinda hot" but wonders if you can "say that about a nurse." Lexie: "No." Bailey notices something in the charts. She starts saying "day 3" over and over; apparently she has seen that Eli always takes the drains out on day 3. Moments later, Bailey bursts into a meeting the chief of surgery is having, because she just can't wait to tell him! It's Grey's-tastic!
Bailey (almost babbling): Hey! Uh . . . If we remove the drain on day 3 instead of day 5 we can reduce the formation of fistulas by 30%. See, Eli took out a drain when he wasn't supposed to, and I was gonna write him up, because, he can't do that, but he did. (She's giddy.) I'm going to leave these files for you to look at. (Noticing she has interrupted a meeting.) Oh, I'm sorry. (Introducing herself.) I'm Miranda Bailey. The doctor who cured fistulas. That's right, I said it! Jonas Salk cured polio, Miranda Bailey is going to cure fistula.
She practically skips out of the room, repeating "day 3."
Of course, we like the idea that Eli's practice is the source of what appears to be a breakthrough in the prevention of fistulas. However, there is no apparent irony that Bailey is taking all the credit for what Eli actually did. In an odd way, the scene is subtle: Bailey is actually crediting Eli while not crediting him, so the nursing expertise is hiding in plain sight. Eli seems like an assistant who just happened to stumble on something without understanding what it meant. It takes a real scientist--a physician--to actually do something with it. It looks like it would never occur to Eli to share his knowledge with others or do a research study of his own so that many patients could be saved. In fact, does he even know that he takes the drains out on the third day, or does he just do it intuitively? In the first Grey's episode ever, in 2005, an older nurse questioned whether resident Alex Karev had the right diagnosis of a patient (see the clip). He didn't, and the nurse had sensed something amiss, but only the real professional Meredith Grey could actually figure out what was wrong. There as here, nurses may have intuition based on years of hanging around, but don't confuse them with professionals. Eli wants the patient to get more rest, but he never says, "I take the drains out on day 3, which reduces the potential for infection and allows patients to rest and conserve their immune systems, thereby enabling them to resist fistulas better."
Later we see Bailey approach Eli at the nurse's station.
Bailey (still elated): I want all post-op drains removed on day 3 from now on unless I tell you otherwise. Do you know what this means, what you did? (She touches his cheeks.) What? What?
Eli: I was wondering if you wanted to go out with me some time, Dr. Bailey. I mean, even the shocked, "Oh my God, a nurse just asked me out, how the hell do I get out of it?" expression you've got on right now is pretty cute.
Bailey: Fine. Because you gave me day 3.
Eli: And because I'm very handsome.
Now they're both happy. This foreshadows Eli's remaining appearances on the show, which will be mainly about him as Bailey's sex partner. Eli doesn't seem to know or care what "day 3" means. Incidentally, the Jonas Salk reference is perfect--Salk did not actually cure polio, but developed a vaccine, just as neither Bailey nor Eli is "curing" fistula; they are working on a way to decrease its prevalence. The characters on Grey's use some technical jargon, but it's really just a basic simulation to advance the physician superhero agenda. Don't look at it too closely.
The only other episode in which Eli plays any significant clinical role is the one aired on March 24, 2011 ("This Is How We Do It," written by Shonda Rhimes and Peter Nowalk). In one scene, Bailey and Avery walk into an inpatient room, where we see a weak patient, her husband, and Eli, who is doing something with the patient's arm. Avery says she is Clara Green, a type 1 diabetic who is 8 weeks post-op from a tumor resection. Clara's irritated husband Sean wants to hear from a "grownup doctor" instead of a resident like Avery; he wants to know why his wife is not better. Bailey says it's tough getting the insulin levels on track. Sean is not buying it.
Eli: Sean. She's doing better than any of us expected. You remember when we talked about how she might not make it through the surgery? Dr. Bailey said she was prepared to roll the dice but surgery was a gamble. Clara rocked it. And if she can do that, she can do anything.
Clara and Sean quietly take each other's hands. Eli has rocked it! As he speaks, the expressions on the surgeon's faces show that they are slightly shocked, then bemused, and ultimately somewhat impressed that a mere nurse would have the temerity to speak to a family and actually do well. Evidently they have never seen a nurse speak to a patient's family before. Perhaps that's because this may be the first time a nurse character has as ever said anything substantial to a patient's family on Grey's.
Bailey and Avery try to get Clara into chief of surgery Richard Webber's clinical trial, which involves implanting a device with insulin that is designed to act like a new pancreas. Webber is reluctant, noting that the FDA has not yet approved the trial. Avery suggests they try for an emergency waiver. Bailey notes that if they kill the patient, it could ruin chances for approval of the whole trial, but Avery persuades the chief, who says he will ask the FDA if Clara agrees.
Later, we see Bailey explaining to Clara and her husband about the trial. Avery assures the couple that they are getting FDA approval. The couple seem totally enthused about participating in the trial. But then Eli does something else unexpected.
Eli (sharply): What are the risks? I mean, they have to be pretty serious, right? Otherwise the FDA would have already approved it.
Bailey seems shocked, but recovers enough to admit that there are risks, and she was just about to explain them. She does so very briefly, but concludes that given Clara's condition and the fact that they have done everything else for her, this is the best option. Clara wants more time to consider the options; the couple seems confused now. Bailey says sure, but not surprisingly, she is furious with Eli. Outside Clara's room, Eli pretends not to know what's bothering Bailey.
Bailey: I was getting to those risks. You interrupted, made it seem like I was hiding something.
Eli: Well, in my experience doctors do hide things, I just asked a question they didn't know to ask, that's all.
Bailey: No, that's not your job.
Eli: I think it is.
Bailey: To undermine surgeons and alarm patients?
Eli: To care for patients. That's my job. Making sure they understand what highly experimental procedures they're signing up for seems a part of that.
Eli: Oh, OK, I get it. You're the doctor, I'm the nurse, I should know my place, right?
Bailey: OK, enough. There is a doctor-nurse protocol in this hospital for a reason. You know it, I know it, let's just agree to follow it.
Eli: Not if it hurts the patient.
He takes off. She is frustrated.
Later, Bailey tells chief Webber that Clara is in a hypoglycemic coma. Avery seems to be doing the bedside care; there are no nurses. They have to intubate. Webber says that if they're going to do the cell transplant, they must do it now. The patient's husband Sean consents. Bailey is surprised that the chief would go forward without FDA approval, but he notes that Clara will die otherwise. The surgery is a success, and afterwards, a thrilled Bailey reports that Clara has been extubated, her oxygen saturation is at 100%, and there is no organ damage. And the FDA gives the waiver.
That night, outside the hospital on her way home, Bailey sees Eli.
Eli: Well, I heard the good news. Our patient's doing well. Sorry--your patient.
Bailey: Eli, I'm tired.
Eli: Good, then just admit I was right, so we can kiss and make up.
Bailey: Not that tired.
Eli: Miranda Bailey, we are not inside the hospital. Inside the hospital, you're the man. That's the protocol. But outside, I'm the man. I . . . am the man. Me. You can call me Cro-Magnon, or old-fashioned, but that is not gonna stop me from taking you home to my bed tonight and showin' you what kind of man I am. Now, how's that? Does that protocol suit you?
It clearly does. They kiss. He says, "Be at my place in 15."
For Grey's, this plotline is great in some ways. Eli advocates for the patient and does not back down. He seems to believe that it is his job to question what physicians do and even to go around them if it's necessary to protect and educate patients. His initial pep-talk of the dispirited Sean is clearly effective. And in general, he is going toe-to-toe with physician Bailey in the clinical setting, not cowering, slinking away, or expressing surly indifference to patient wellbeing--the hallmarks of the limited portrayals of clinical nursing that Grey's has had over the years. And however nauseous we might get at the "what kind of man I am" speech, the show seems to think it's cool.
But the benefits of the plotline are overwhelmed by damaging distortions and absurdities. The show suggests that there is some "doctor-nurse protocol" under which nurses have to do whatever physicians say. (We imagine that all nurses just burst out laughing together.) In real life, nurses report to senior nurses, and although physicians clearly (and wrongly) have more power, there is no formal servant "protocol" that nurses defer to anyone. Although Eli resists this "protocol" for a while, he ultimately seems to give in, suggesting that Bailey really is in charge--"the man"--inside the hospital, even though Eli has greater authority outside (which is, incidentally, an ugly idea for a man to express). This reminds us of a 2003 Scrubs episode in which surgeon Turk assured his uppity nurse girlfriend Carla that although she was the boss outside the hospital, physicians are in charge inside of it; chastened, Carla became more docile and stopped questioning physician directives, at least during that episode. In Grey's, a central theme has always been the need of female physicians like Bailey to assert their authority, both as peers of the male physicians and as superiors of the show's generally pathetic nurse characters.
The "doctor-nurse protocol" plotline has other problems. Bailey boasts of her specialization and Eli has no real response, so the audience will not get that he has a relevant specialty too--nursing, which focuses closely on how "highly experimental" procedures actually affect patients' overall lives. Eli also appears to specialize in surgical nursing--preparing patients for surgery and helping them recover from it--educating them and advocating for them. Many nurses become certified in their specialties just as physicians become certified in theirs. In addition, Eli's advocacy in this situation will likely seem misplaced to many viewers because of the positive outcome, and because there is no real reference to any patient who may not have done so well. Also, nurses would be unlikely to raise this issue so harshly and without giving Bailey a chance to finish; so much for nurses' interpersonal skills. Nor does Eli's statement about the FDA seem all that credible. Does he really know that the timing of the FDA approval process for this particular study reflects serious risks? Even a study without serious risks would take some time for the FDA to evaluate. In the end, the episode seems to set up the idea of nurses as autonomous patient advocates only to knock it down with some fabricated nonsense about a "protocol."
January 13, 2011 episode
Eli appears in several other 2011 episodes, but these plotlines are virtually all about his role as Bailey's boyfriend, with little reference to his clinical practice. In the January 13 episode ("Start Me Up" by Natalie Krinsky), some medical students shadow the residents. At one point, Bailey, Chief Webber, resident Cristina Yang and a med student arrive at the room of a patient named Henry; cardiothoracic surgeon Teddy Altman has actually married Henry so that he can get health insurance. Henry says he has not met Bailey before, but feels like he knows her because "Eli here" has told him about her. Eli wheels in some equipment, which he starts to set up; the gear includes a computer screen, presumably for some scans they will run. Eli reassures Bailey.
Eli: Don't worry--I didn't tell him everything.
Bailey (flustered by this hint at their romance): Oh . . . I did not know that you were on this case.
Eli scoffs at that, then leaves. Webber looks at Bailey and seems to disapprove.
Later, Webber is consulting with Teddy--as Henry's spouse--about his upcoming kidney removal. Webber tells Teddy that her relationship with Henry is "totally inappropriate." We're shown Eli and Bailey, and evidently we're supposed to think maybe their relationship is also. Teddy pushes back against the chief, noting that there are inappropriate relationships all over the hospital, and she ticks them off (including, for example, relations between residents and attendings).
Eli: Dr. Bailey's dating a nurse . . . .she's taking full advantage.
Bailey (freaking out): Ha! Ignore him . . . .We are not dating.
Later, we see Eli approach Bailey. He asks if she got his note. She seems embarrassed but happy. She thinks he's "dirty." He asks if she wants to be dirty with him, and to "show me those on-call rooms you doctors are always having sex in." She says she's going home, but he kisses her. She clearly enjoys it. He says if she changes her mind, he's off in an hour. She's clearly very interested. Later, Bailey confesses to Teddy.
Bailey: OK, I am not dating a nurse, we are not "dating." But . . . we are having . . . fun. I look at him, and he's . . . pretty. But there's no future. He's just . . . I would not have him to my house, or introduce him to my child, because who knows what he would do. He left a dirty note for me in a chart. Now what if the chief opened the chart and found--it's inappropriate, that what it is, he is inappropriate. But I'm-a go with it, 'cause . . . why not? That's my attitude these days. Why the hell not?
This babble could easily have come from a male physician in some past decade, and maybe that's part of the point, a feminist role reversal--though it's possible the show doesn't even realize that it's mirroring that traditional male-female contempt so closely. But one thing is constant: It's the nurse who is unworthy of serious consideration.That implication hangs over these exchanges, especially when Eli talks about Bailey "taking full advantage" and in Bailey's awkward justification for having "fun" with him. Eli is joking, but also implying that physicians do automatically have some sexual power over nurses. And she is clearly embarrassed not just by Eli's "dirty" conduct, but also by his status as a nurse. Apparently, nurses are not good enough for a serious relationship with physicians; just sexual "fun." Otherwise, there would be no reason for them to make such an issue of their professions while talking about a personal relationship.
February 17, 2011 episode
The February 17 episode ("Golden Hour" by Stacy McKee) is mainly about a night in which resident Meredith is supposedly in charge of the emergency department. There is a lot of physician nursing, including defibrillation and drug administration, as faceless nurse characters stand around helplessly awaiting physician commands. But there's also more flirtation between Bailey and Eli.
Bailey: I understand what you are suggesting. I know it is done by many . . . medical professionals in this hospital, but I am not a medical professional who would ever consider--
Eli: Maybe you should consider.
Bailey giggles girlishly, warning him not to "test" her; he urges her to "consider the potential benefits--all the intensity, exciting toe-curling potential." She playfully hits him with some papers. Later, we see her about to enter an on-call room. Meredith interrupts and Bailey jumps, "I'm just taking a nap!" Clearly, she was going to have sex with Eli. Bailey babbles suspiciously about how she really needs the rest. Meredith moves on, and Eli arrives. He and Bailey enter the on-call room. At the end of the episode, we see them exit. Eli wants to know when Bailey's next break is. She says that will never happen again at work. He says sure, "until your next break."
March 31, 2011 episode
The March 31 episode "Song Beneath the Song" (by show creator Shonda Rhimes) is another one in which Eli's role is limited to that of Bailey love object. The episode is about the aftermath of a car crash involving attending physician Callie Torres and her girlfriend, physician Arizona Robbins. Torres is in a coma, and much of the episode is what she imagines, including extended sequences in which cast members sing. At one point, Callie is imagining the near-fatal car trip with Arizona driving, in which Arizona asked Callie to marry her. Callie muses about love, and she lists the other couples who seem to have someone, including Bailey, who's "got Eli." Callie starts signing a seductive song to Arizona in the car, and begins imagining other couples they know signing and dancing. We see Eli get up from a nurse's station and start dancing with Bailey, as Jesus Jackson's "Runnin' on Sunshine" plays. Eli sings:
Girl you got me thinkin' 'bout diamonds
Getting down on one knee maybe two
People may stop and stare, but
I don't even care, no
Just as long as I am with you . . .
And we cut back and forth to other couples, but Eli and Bailey return briefly, with Bailey singing more of the same song:
Hey, just get over yourself
This ain't too good for your health
Hey just get over yourself . . .
Soon we are back to Callie's real situation. The surgeons handle all significant health care in the episode, and Eli does not appear again. Still, the marriage-oriented lyrics and Callie's note that Bailey's "got Eli" suggest that the relationship may be more than casual.
May 19, 2011 episode
Eli's limited role in the seventh season finale (Debora Cahn's "Unaccompanied Minor," airing May 19) also suggests that the relationship may be a bit more serious, and even includes a brief depiction of Eli in the clinical setting. This episode centers on the aftermath of a plane crash. We see Eli and the resident Lexie trying to calm panicked family members and urging patience. One family member asks if they have a list of people who are coming to the hospital.
Eli: It can take emergency services quite a long time to move and identify people in a situation like this. Please, just try to be patient.
But we can't get excited about this brief suggestion that Eli would actually play a role in dealing with the families, because the episode is otherwise dominated by physician nursing. At one point, surgeon Derek Shepherd comforts a young crash survivor who is now in the trauma ED.
Shepherd: Sara? I'm Dr. Shepherd. You see all these people around you? They're doctors. [We can see about six and they are all physicians.] You ever seen this many doctors before? Now, don't worry, we're all here to take care of you, OK?
(Note to Grey's writers: A critical patient cared for by six physicians and zero nurses would soon be a dead patient, because physicians are not qualified to perform many life-saving nursing tasks.)
Later in the episode, Eli sees a distraught Bailey and asks if she is OK. She says fine, unconvincingly, noting that the plane that crashed was from Baltimore, where her parents live. She notes that she has taken that flight with her son. Eli asks gently if she'd like to come sit down with him for a minute. She declines, saying there is too much going on. He says OK, he'll just stand there with her for a minute. And at the end of the episode, she comes to tell Eli goodnight. He says he wants to go home with her. She says she can't, her son is with her tonight. Eli says he can meet her son. Bailey says it's not the right time. Eli says things that day were bad, and when that happens they lean on each other, that information won't hurt her child, "and if it does, then this is not the right relationship for me." He assures her that he can control himself, and she can say he's her friend, whatever she needs to. She grabs his hand and says OK. These brief scenes do suggest that Eli might be worthy of a serious relationship with Bailey.
October 6, 2011 episode
But Eli's last two episodes put to rest the notion that he was worthy of a serious relationship with a physician. In one scene from the first of these episodes, airing October 6 (Stacy McKee's "What Is It About Men"), we see Shepherd approach a nurses' station. There stand Eli and anesthesiologist Ben Warren, an old love interest of Bailey's; some time ago, Bailey told Ben to go away while she dealt with the fallout of her broken marriage. Shepherd says he was paged.
Eli: Dr. Warren's resident punctured the dura of your patient from this morning, during what should have been a routine epidural.
Ben (smirking but clearly annoyed): OK, first of all, there's no such thing as anything routine after a patient's had surgery, and you have no right to yell at..my resident.
Eli: There was spinal fluid all over her bed.
Shepherd: How is the patient?
Ben: Just checked on her. She's stable and pain-free.
Eli: Your resident was sloppy and rushed--
Ben: You just don't know how difficult epidurals can be.
Eli: Because I'm a nurse?
Ben: Watch your tone with me.
Eli: Or what? What are you gonna do?
Shepherd (intervening): Break it up. We're done. Walk away. We're done. Walk away. Walk away.
Eli leaves first. Ben leaves too, but Shepherd follows him. Shepherd says he understands why Ben is mad, but if he's going to "have a fight about Bailey," he should do it on his own time. Ben is surprised; he didn't know about Bailey and Eli. Clearly jealous, he can't believe Bailey would be with Eli, and suggests that maybe they just went to dinner. Shepherd breaks it down for him Grey's-style: "Don't go into the conference room on 8 or 9 without knocking." Shepherd rubs it in, joking that Bailey says Eli's hands have a kind of tenderness, some kind of "magic."
Shepherd: Don't yell at my nurses, even the men.
"My nurses"? Actually, physicians do not own nurses; nurses report to senior nurses. But this of course suggests that Shepherd, as a senior surgeon, is really in charge of everyone. The show seems to want to have a showdown here (shadowing the one over Bailey's affections) and have Eli more or less hold his own, but it's poorly handled, subtly contemptuous of the nurse, and very improbable. It's unlikely that a nurse would raise the issue this way, especially if he could not point to any significant harm to the patient. Here Eli's conduct is shrill, maladroit, and amounts to tattling, as if patient advocacy just means telling to more powerful physicians, rather than considering what would actually help the patient (though it isn't clear who paged Shepherd). Also, there is no real comeback to Ben's disbelief and contempt. This scene is introduced as a clinical dispute, but it's really more about the competition for Bailey.
Later, in the OR, the show returns to this, seeming obsessed with Ben's annoyance with Shepherd for telling him, as if that was more bothersome to him than the underlying affair. Later, Ben sees Eli with Bailey, who is making eyes at Eli as she touches his hand--which are magic! Shepherd arrives, and Ben admits that Bailey and Eli look happy. Shepherd agrees, and renews an invitation to Ben to come work out his frustration by helping build Shepherd's new deck.
The episode also offers a brief naughty nurse image, which seems unrelated to the Eli-Bailey plotline, but does underline the sense that a relationship with a nurse would have to be pretty much about sex. Here, the hospital staff confront yet another mass casualty event, injuries from a stampede at a comics convention; many of the victims are in character costumes. A paramedic informs the physicians that she has brought "an unconscious, sexy, zombie nurse." Chief Webber, who has been comically stymied in efforts to treat any of these patients, rushes forward and insists that "this is my, sexy, zombie nurse!" The "nurse" is a white-clad female figure on a stretcher with what could be real or fake blood. Webber tells a "real" nurse that one laceration looks deep, and he asks for a suture kit. The nurse can only accept this command: "Right away, doctor." She leaves, but Webber discovers that this and the patient's other apparent wounds are fake, part of the "nurse" character. Annoyed, he asks no one in particular whether there's any real blood at all. As is often the case with the naughty nurse, this character is just a tired comic prop trotted out when the writers could not think of anything fresh or interesting. Unfortunately, it has also the same old effect: to discourage decision-makers from taking nursing seriously.
October 13, 2011 episode
Eli's last episode (Denise Hahn's "Love, Loss and Legacy," October 13, 2011) wraps up the Bailey romance in a way that now seems inevitable. In one scene, the anesthesiologist Ben approaches Bailey, pleasantly noting that he'll be in "her OR" today.
Ben: I was avoiding you. And now I'm not. See, I'm told you are dating a nurse, and kudos to you, because who doesn't love a nurse? But I've been bringing lattes to some dude in scheduling named Pierre so he'd keep me out of your surgery. You know, I want to make it easier for you since you told me you were being held to together by "tape and glue." But now that you're being held together by a male nurse, I'm gonna go ahead and let Pierre get his own lattes. See you in surgery.
"Tape and glue" is a reference to what Bailey told Ben some time ago when she said they had to stop seeing each other. Bailey looks nonplussed. There is no rebuttal, here or anywhere, to the obvious contempt in Ben's references to the "male nurse" and "who doesn't love a nurse"? It appears that Bailey may be feeling guilt about taking up with Eli without reconsidering Ben, as well as embarrassment that Eli is in fact a nurse, which is a big problem, or there would not be so much discussion of it. And she is clearly still attracted to Ben. As Bailey watches Ben go, the surgeon Teddy arrives and asks whether it will be just Bailey and Eli joining them for dinner that evening, "or will Ben's butt be joining us too?" Bailey stares at her and Teddy flees.
In surgery, Bailey asks Ben for the patient's chart and he ignores her. She asks if there is a problem, because she doesn't owe him "an explanation for the fact that I happen to be . . . " Ben finishes, "sleeping with a nurse?" Bailey hisses that she and Ben broke up; he reminds her that she basically told him to wait for her, that she could not handle a relationship then.
Bailey: That is not fair, and look, I still can't handle a "relationship," look, the kind of thing that you and I were considering. What I'm doing right now is nothing like that.
Ben: Then what is it?
Bailey says if he has a problem working with her, he should take it up with Pierre. Obviously the idea is that her relation with Eli is really just about casual sex, maybe some superficial emotional bond, but nothing serious.
Later, we see Bailey and Eli with the patient Henry, Teddy's husband. Henry asks if he has to wait for the labs Bailey is describing; Eli says they will call. Henry says that's good because he's marinating "the fish for tonight" and he has to remove it. Henry's assuming that Bailey has invited Eli to Teddy's dinner, which Bailey's face makes clear she has not. Bailey tells Eli about the dinner party. Henry asks if there is a problem and Bailey admits, "I forgot to tell him." Eli says it's a good thing Henry came by and brought up the marinade. Bailey asks if Eli is free, but when he says yes, she says he doesn't have to come.
Eli: Wow. Best invite ever.
Bailey says this situation is her bad; Henry says it might be his. Eli jokes, "Yeah, I think you both suck. See you at dinner." Here at least Eli has some dignity, with the irony, although he still seems to be tolerating the disrespect from Bailey.
In a later scene, we find Bailey and Chief Webber discussing a clinical trial, and Webber suggests that Bailey is the "moral compass" of the hospital. Bailey denies that she is the moral compass of anything, seeming wracked with guilt.
Bailey: I am using one man like a plaything, and I have another bribing a scheduler... Like a play thing. Often. And enthusiastically.
Chief (gently): Maybe you should stop.
The chief is very uncomfortable with this discussion, and so are we, since it encapsulates the show's disdainful endgame for Nurse Eli.
Still later, Teddy asks Bailey if Eli is really coming. Bailey asks why people "forget" to invite others to dinner parties.
Bailey: I need to break up with him. See, the last time I broke up with a man, he thought I was asking him to wait for me, and then he did, apparently, and he bought lattes for a man named Pierre. See, I try to preserve the dignity of others, and that's the problem. And I'm poetic, which I'd like to think provides clarity, but in fact, they simply cloud the message.
Teddy: Here's what I would do. Use short, declarative sentences. "I'm ending this. All the best to you." Got it? Oh, and do it before the party.
Bailey resists, saying that would be "rude," depriving a man of a meal which he's now excited about because Teddy's husband could not shut up about the sauce. Teddy protests having to serve dinner to a "dead man walking," but Bailey snaps that she can handle it.
Later, as Bailey meets Eli outside the hospital, presumably on their way to the dinner, she looks very uncomfortable. She stops and tells Eli she can't do it.
Bailey: I need to say something to you. And I need to make sure that I'm clear, because I apparently have been unclear in the past. Um--
Eli: You're ending this. Whatever this is--it's ending.
Eli: You're perfectly clear. You're the clearest person I've ever known. You do not have a clarity problem.
Bailey: I don't?
Eli: No. You've been telling me you don't want a relationship every day for weeks now. And I've been ignoring you because you're . . . different from any woman I've ever known. So that's my fault. I should've walked away a long time ago. I can blame you for many things, but a lack of clarity is not one of them.
Bailey (upset): I'm sorry.
Later, Bailey, still at the hospital, sees Ben leaving. She tells him that she and Eli, "the nurse," have ended things, but she wants to be "extremely clear" that it doesn't have anything to do with Ben. He smiles and walks away, unconvinced. She yells at him; evidently it does have something to do with him! Finally, we see Bailey at the dinner party, drowning her sorrows in white wine and telling Henry that Eli is absent because he's stuck at the hospital.
In the end, the show preserves some dignity for Eli, as he shows an awareness of the situation, a sense of humor, and impressive composure. But with all the mocking and embarrassed comments about his professional identity, the underlying message is that Bailey could never have anything really serious with someone who is just a nurse. And of course, it's also clear that that would be possible with Ben; he's a physician. There is some discontinuity with how the plotline originally developed (Eli pursued Bailey) and with some earlier episodes, which at least suggested that Bailey and Eli were developing an emotional bond that went beyond sex. And it must be said that Eli was far better than the other significant recurring nurse character the show introduced as a potential physician love interest--nurse Rose, who dated Derek Shepherd when his physician relationship was at a bad point in 2007-2008 episodes. Eli showed considerably more clinical expertise and toughness than the somewhat hapless Rose, who was capable of banter but clearly intimidated by physicians and never really showed that much nursing ability. But Eli's ultimate exit from Grey's in an atmosphere of contempt for nursing seems almost like a surrender to gravity, a law of nature that can be resisted for awhile but must finally be obeyed. Nursing remains no more than a disposable plaything for a show whose true love is physicians.
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See the Quicktime Clips
Adrift and at Peace (2 December 2010)
Start Me Up (13 January 2011)
Golden Hour (17 February 2011)
This Is How We Do It (24 March 2011)
Song Beneath the Song (31 March 2011)
Unaccompanied Minor (19 May 2011)
What Is It About Men (6 October 2011)
Love, Loss and Legacy (13 October 2011)