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TV ‘miracles’

30 August 2013


IF YOU cannot stand the sight of blood, keep away from the television. Last week, no less than seven-and-a-half hours of prime-time output on the main channels featured medical matters in all their gory reality. Some was drama and some was documentary, but it was hard to tell them apart. The drama was frighteningly realistic, and the documentary relentlessly dramatic.

I wonder whether part of this fascination with hospitals is that they provide us with our modern miracles. There is a strange similarity between medieval stories of miraculous healings, and medical dramas and documentaries on television. Both follow much the same dramatic shape: desperate accident or illness, amazing recovery, heartfelt gratitude to the agent of healing.

The Midwives (BBC2, Tuesday of last week) is in the gentler style of medical reportage. Filmed in the maternity department of a big hospital (this week, St Mary's, Manchester), the dramatis personae are anxious young women and their partners, would-be grandmothers, and the calm, un- flappable midwives.

In the High Risk Delivery Ward, there was no shortage of drama - the first-time mother of 45 with complications; the woman whose kidneys were failing; and another who lost a baby last year. All of them duly delivered healthy babies, although a brief interview with two bereavement midwives reminded us that it is not always so.

One midwife described her job as being "part of a miracle". One mother movingly described her baby as "a blessing, a gift". And one grandmother-to-be insisted that her daughter drank from a bottle that contained "the water Mary drank before she gave birth to Jesus". The girl said it tasted foul.

Then, on Wednesday of last week, there was Nurses (Channel 5), a series that claims to show us what it is "really like" being a nurse today. This week, they were not working on hospital wards, but as specialist nurses - paediatrics, endoscopy, and home support. The queasy bits were provided by the endoscopists and their strange world of people's bowels.

Then, 24 Hours in A&E (Channel 4, Wednesday) was Casualty with real people. Central to the narrative was Jade, aged 12, who had been knocked down by a car and run over by a bus on her way to school. The trauma team at King's College Hospital, London, led by its consultant, Des, took over.

To the lay eye, Jade looked bey-ond hope. Encased in splints and bandages, and with extensive injuries, she spoke only three sentences during the first critical day: "I love you, Mum," which her mother wrongly took as a farewell message; "Am I going to die?" to which Des replied "No, darling, you're not"; and "I love you Granddad" when, thinking she was unconscious, he gently kissed her forehead.

The last time she spoke on the film it was weeks later, when she had made a full recovery. There it is: a modern miracle. Yet no one, unless I missed it, then or in the other programmes, even mentioned God or prayer - or, for that matter, chaplains. Yet there was plenty of love, and isn't that what God is?

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