As TNT’s Monday Mornings has its season finale tonight, it’s abundantly clear that the show deserves a second season. It’s the best new series on the air, sharply written and exceptionally acted. It’s breathed new life into one of TV’s most familiar genres. Most surprising of all, though, it’s done something I never thought possible: caused me to look at the medical profession in a new light.
I have more experience with doctors than I would ever wish on anyone. My life began in a neonatal intensive care unit and then an operating room. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, I grew up surrounded by what seemed like an entourage of medical professionals: physicians, orthopedic specialists, physical therapists, and the occasional ER attending. As a young woman, I was a huge fan of David E. Kelley’s Chicago Hope, because I had come to be fascinated by this field that was such a significant part of my life.
That all changed three years ago.
Suffering from chronic knee pain believed to be caused by my disability, I consented to orthopedic surgery that was supposed to not only fix the problem, but improve my quality of life. Over one four-hour period, my surgeon broke both of my legs from hips to ankles, rotating bones and inserting several metal components. He assured me that I would be walking normally in four to six months. Three years later, I am actually worse off than I was before.
I can walk again, but not without the help of a walker or cane. I can’t run or play sports anymore. I’ve dropped twenty-five pounds of muscle. I have damaged nerves in my ankles. I still rely on ibuprofen every day for pain management. There are more than a dozen surgical scars. To say nothing of the stress that comes waking up every day not knowing what shape I’ll be in. And for three years, I’ve sat in exam rooms with my surgeon, who has no answers for anything. His only recommendations have been more surgeries. After the second one didn’t accomplish anything, I politely told him he’d had his chances to cut me open.
I honestly had grown to hate doctors.
When Monday Mornings came across my desk, I wasn’t sure that I wanted anything to do with it. I’d had enough medical drama in my own life. But as the new series was from the creator of Chicago Hope and happened to star one of my favorite actors in Jamie Bamber, I sucked it up and signed on. Not to say that it was easy: during a visit to the set in November, I had a panic attack in the Chelsea General operating theater. I ended up standing outside, next to Dr. Sanjay Gupta himself, hoping that he didn’t think less of me for being the one reporter who wasn’t in the room.
But over the last nine weeks, Monday Mornings has motivated me to look past the fear and the pain that I have associated with the medical profession. The show doesn’t depict its characters as heroes, but as people, all of whom have fallen at one point or another, and gotten back up again. These are people who take the punches. They are people who give a damn. They’re not people you’re expected to look up to, but ones that you can look in the eye. That makes all the difference.
In watching the fictional surgeons of Chelsea General and seeing what they are put through, in asking myself the questions that Dr. Harding Hooten asks of them in every Morbidity and Mortality meeting, I’ve come to a greater understanding of what it means to be a doctor. Not necessarily all the facts – this is still a television show, after all – but the emotions, the pressures, the moral dilemmas, the difficult decisions. I’ve found an empathy and even rediscovered a little bit of that long-lost admiration. I still have issues with my surgeon, but now I realize that things are probably as difficult for him as they are for me.
That’s why I hope that TNT will do the right thing and renew Monday Mornings for another season. There are dozens of shows on the air that are great entertainment, but there are only a select few which achieve something greater than that. What happens in the halls of Chelsea General matters in a way medical dramas haven’t mattered in years. Every week this series poses a question, provokes a reaction, creates an experience. It makes us better for having watched it. If this show can change my mind after everything I’ve been through, I can only smile at what it can do next.
The Monday Mornings season finale airs tonight at 10 PM ET/PT on TNT.