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Life on Liberty Street (2004)

Starring Annabeth Gish, Ethan Embry, Ed Begley, Jr.,
          Wendy Phillips, Brett Cullen, Deborah Jones
Directed by David S. Cass, Sr.
Screenplay by Deborah Jones
Hallmark Channel
Rated TV-PG

Nursing rating 2 1/2 stars

Rating guide:
excellent = 4 stars; good = 3 stars;
fair = 2 stars, poor = 1 star

Artistic rating 1 1/2 stars


In "Life on Liberty Street," a burned-out emergency department nurse takes a job at a transitional care facility for patients with traumatic brain injuries (TBI's), where she and a young male patient struggle to heal and move forward with their lives. The earnest cable drama highlights issues confronting TBI patients, though it is fairly generic, and the generally strong cast could have used more plausible plotting, credible dialogue, and three-dimensional characters. The portrayal of nursing is not without problems either, but "Life on Liberty Street" does feature a committed, skilled nurse character helping a patient cope with his injury and reconnect with the wider world.

Denise Defiore (Annabeth Gish) is a divorced mother and jaded nurse at an urban emergency department (ED). She quits her job after being suspended without pay as a result of failing to "follow procedure" when saving a gunshot victim's life after an intern freezes up. The problem, according to the attending who is supposedly disciplining Denise later, is that she has "stepped on [the intern's] toes," since "he's the doctor." As the intern himself puts it, Denise is "just a nurse."

As a result of this incident, and despite the nursing shortage, Denise is supposedly able to find work only at an idyllic transitional care facility called Liberty Street. There, she soon connects with the spirited Rick (Ethan Embry), a twenty-something former high school academic and athletic star who suffered a TBI in a car accident, and who now has difficulty with his short term memory, information processing and emotional control. Denise begins teaching Rick how to function better, finding him a job at her uncle's pizza parlor, thereby forestalling the plan of Rick's wealthy, domineering lawyer father (Ed Begley, Jr.) to remove him from Liberty Street. Rick develops a crush on Denise, but Denise starts dating Jake (Brett Cullen), the physician who periodically visits the facility.

Gish does what she can with the role of Denise, and the movie does a fairly good job of showing some of the valuable things a nurse in that setting can do to help patients. In addition to the initiative and expertise that she displays in the early ED scenes, Denise finds Rick a job where he can learn in an atmosphere of patience and respect, teaches him how to use the bus to get to it, and helps him make his favorite sandwiches. She also inspires him to assert himself verbally, especially with his father. Rick has no trouble standing up for himself physically; indeed, Denise has to intervene (and does so, effectively) when Rick attacks a fellow resident who has called him a "retard." She even invites Rick and his father over for Christmas dinner, which may be a bit much, though it's more plausible given her desire to provide her son with a "family" atmosphere to compete with her ex-husband and his eager new girlfriend. Denise collaborates at work with Jake, though the movie is clearly more interested in their personal relationship. This might trouble some nurses, but it's hardly like Denise is chasing every physician she sees.

In the early ED scenes, the movie sees Denise as a life-saving professional fighting against anti-nurse bias--so far, so good. But some may believe that Denise would not have been "saving a life" if she had played only the nursing role, and the film's incorrect assumption that she would report to physicians gives the impression that nursing is not autonomous. Likewise, even the more sympathetic ED attending tells Denise that the intern is "the doctor," as if that meant he was automatically in charge of all aspects of patient care. And as
the Charles Cullen case has recently shown, a short disciplinary suspension for "stepping on toes" in saving a life is unlikely to keep a nurse from working in the midst of the current shortage.

As an experienced nurse, Denise is probably a little too deferential to Jake's assessments of what Liberty Street patients need, even accounting for her inexperience with TBI. She wouldn't really need to be told that Rick might need an anger management plan, or that the fellow patient he has attacked may have a sore jaw for a while.

And at a critical point late in the film, Denise witnesses potentially serious injuries from a vehicle accident, but she can only kneel beside the patients calling for help. Later, at the hospital, she says that one of these patients is now being cared for by the "special doctors"--as if nurses were not involved, or at any rate, were not "special."

For all its problems, though, the movie does show nurses like Denise to be "special" in some ways, and for that it deserves credit.


Reviewed by Harry Jacobs Summers
Nursing Editor: Sandy Summers, MSN, MPH, RN
Reviewed May 4, 2004

The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board Members or Advisory Panel of The Truth About Nursing.

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