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
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?