The real McCoy

May 20, 2008

If you enjoy fly-on-the-wall medical documentaries, then hold on to your seat as another series of Surgeons is about to begin. Following on from the success of the series produced by Mint Productions last year, this three-part observational documentary series returns to capture the real lives of both the practitioners and the patients in our hospitals. Prepare to be amazed.

The first programme looks at organ transplant surgery and the work of Oscar Traynor in St. Vincent’s Hospital and Freddie Wood in the Mater Hospital, in Dublin. The series also looks at some of the issues facing the health service today: waiting lists, public versus private practice, centres of excellence and hospital politics.

This is no docudrama. It’s the real thing and it provides an excellent insight into what goes on in our hospitals. The series uncovers some powerful human stories at the cutting edge of Irish medicine. If you’re squeamish, this may not be for you. Otherwise, I highly recommend it.

Thursday 22 May on RTÉ 1 @ 10.15pm. Don’t miss it!

Skin Deep

September 12, 2007

I’m pretty choosy about the television programmes I’ll watch these days but when I see something produced by Mint Productions, I never fail to be disappointed. Last night saw the screening of another programme in the RTE series ‘True Lives‘. It was called ‘Skin Deep‘ and covered the topic of living with a severe facial deformity. The message conferred by the programme was clear-cut – it’s no fun being facially different. Lives are changed forever by a facial deformity. It can have a devastating effect on people who have to cope with being ‘different’ in a world that’s obsessed with image and appearance.

Mr. Michael Early, Consultant Plastic Surgeon, explained how the anatomy of our faces and our facial expressions affect communication. He talked about the ‘triangle of communication’ – the area of the face between the eyes, the nose and the upper mouth. The programme featured five people with a variety of severe facial deformities which had been caused by genetics, or by an accident or as a result of cancer. These remarkably courageous individuals all possessed huge insight into how they are perceived by ‘normal’ people. Some people give them a ‘funny’ look, others look ‘curious’, while some take a ‘serious’ look and then ‘look away’ ashamed to have been caught staring. People who have a facial deformity lose their anonymity and become ‘different’. Their faces look unfamiliar and don’t conform to what ‘normal’ people look like. Society can be very cruel at times.

This programme has certainly helped me to keep my situation in context. I was pleased to learn last night that I’ve already taken the first step towards acceptance of my new look following recent surgery – I’ve got used to seeing my new face reflected in a mirror and no longer search for the ‘old me’. I know that true beauty comes from within. People need to look past the face which is after all, only skin deep – it’s what’s in the heart that really matters.

Junior Docs risk Burn-Out

August 1, 2007

The final (repeat) episode of ‘Junior Doctors’ lived up to expectation last night. Catherine, Paddy, Paul, and Sinead ‘survived’ their year as interns which they completed at the end of June last year. All were in agreement that they’d been on a huge learning curve but at a huge cost. Talk about mental and physical torture – it’s really inhuman what’s expected of our Junior Docs! And I’m not the only one to think this. Burn-out is a real issue. The problem is that the good ones get burned out as well as the ‘not-so-good’ and potentially fine doctors are lost to another profession. You couldn’t help but notice that the patients too are pawns in this crazy training scheme. As Sinead confirmed, it’s unfair on the patient to have one of these exhausted Docs attempt to insert a cannula when they’re ‘drunk’ with tiredness. I’ve been there, and while I have great sympathy with the junior doctors, I can tell you it’s not much fun being on the receiving end of this sort of treatment.

The series ended last year with an update on each of the four interns. It’s seems that each of these bright young things had their dreams come true. Catherine wants to be a surgeon (a Consultant, no less) and had commenced her training (a very long haul) as an Surgical SHO in St. James’s Hospital Dublin. Paddy who also had his heart set on surgery but had some doubts creep in, did the sensible thing and took a complete break from medicine while he completed 10 weeks in flight school to get a pilot’s licence before commencing work in Emergency Medicine in Sydney. Paul left Dublin for Waterford to begin his training in Orthopaedic Surgery, while Sinead got her wish to return to country life to train as a General Practitioner.

This series was an excellent ‘warts and all’ insight into the life of an intern. Intending medical students need to know the real story before they embark on this arduous career path. Let’s hope that Mint Productions keep up the good work and bring us another update on the progress of these four Doctors-in-the-making. I’d place bets that we’ll see Paddy as a HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) doctor before too long!

Junior Doctors

July 11, 2007

Another excellent four-part series by Mint Productions is being repeated on RTE 1 television (Mondays 11.45pm). Part 1 was screened last night and this ‘real-life’ medical drama should not to be missed by anyone thinking of studying medicine. Mint Productions also produced Surgeons, another brilliant series featuring the lives and daily work of Irish surgeons.

‘Junior Doctors’ is a fly-on-the-wall documentary series which follows the plight of four interns – Paddy Barrett, Catherine de Blacam, Sinead Beirne and Paul Carroll – over the course of their first year as junior doctors at St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin. As ‘interns’ they are on the lowest rung of the medical ladder. It is an incredibly hectic and demanding job where these junior doctors are expected to work 80+ hour weeks at the coalface, in life and death situations.

This is definitely not a job for the faint-hearted. The programme gives a very good insight into the life of interns as they come to terms with the incredible hardships, compromises and rewards of their chosen profession. It was interesting to witness last night how a simple, mundane task such as remembering the code to unlock a door, could become a real issue for over-worked and exhausted junior doctors.

Surgeons – RTE 1 Monday

April 24, 2007

What a brilliant new television series! The same team (Mint Productions) that made “Junior Doctors”, last year’s successful fly-on-the-wall documentary series is now turning it’s attention to the surgeons. The first programme last night featured two neurosurgeons, Ciaran Bolger based at a Dublin hospital and Charlie Marks, in Cork. Both surgeons came across as hard working, highly skilled but still wonderfully human human beings. It was interesting to witness how much their work impacted on their overall lives. Both commented on how hard it was not to bring work worries home with them. You may be pleased to learn that neurosurgeons refrain from alcohol (just like pilots) in order to perform with precision the following day.

I found this programme facinating on several scores. It showed up these two surgeons for what they really are – highly skilled people – but thankfully ones that are still capable of sharing humour and compassion with their patients. If anything, for me the programme was most interesting from a patient perspective. It gave a hugely graffic insight into the impact that hospitalisation and surgery can have on the patients themselves. These were no minor procedures being performed and we were able to witness first hand the dilemmas that faced each of the patient’s involved.

If I had one criticism of last nights programme it would be this. Why did Ciaran Bolger have to wait until the night before a major operation to ask his patient to decide whether or not they wanted him to remove all of the tumour (with serious risk of loss of speech) or to take a slightly less aggressive approach (with the risk of leaving some tumour behind). I don’t know what you think, but to me this seems like a pretty major decision and one that could have huge consequences for the patient. Surely, this was a decision that should have been made at a pre-operative consultation at a time that was less emotionally charged, for everyone?

Next week’s programme focuses on the cardiac surgeons. I await with anticipation of another stunning insight into real life in hospital.