Episode 1×06 of The Good Doctor deals with a massive emergency response, in a style reminiscent of one of my old favorites, ER. By some coincidence, “Not Fake” aired on the same day USA Today ran a long feature story on what happened at Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas on October 1, after a gunman shot up a concert on the Las Vegas Strip, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds more.
Had the episode’s central story been about a shooting rather than a bus accident, it may well have been moved to later in the season, or perhaps shelved entirely. It was somewhat eerie to hear the actors saying lines so similar to the news report I’d read hours before, with words like “mass casualty incident” and references to color-coded triage tags to relay the seriousness of a patient’s condition.
I recognized the tension of the hospital staff as they awaited the arrival of the injured, and the chaos of those first few minutes as victims were brought in. But it didn’t take long for the story to move from a sometimes gruesome assortment of injuries to a couple of main plot lines.
“Not Fake” included a couple of ripped-from-the-headlines firsts for the team at St. Bonaventure: an injured man’s femur replaced with a titanium bone, a burned woman given grafts of tilapia skin. But the human stories surrounding these gee-whiz elements are hit-and-miss.
Whose life is it, anyway?
The bone replacement story is interwoven with a legal battle between the patient’s parents and his bride-to-be (the bus was taking them and their guests to the wedding). The implant carries a ten percent chance of death, while amputation does not. The parents want to amputate, the bride does not, and a judge is brought in to decide the matter.
The story gets bogged down in some soap-operatic details about secrets the groom had been keeping from his parents and from his fiancee. It would have been enough to merely have the bride reveal that he’d been hiding an addiction problem that had been overcome through an active lifestyle (thus explaining her insistence on trying to save his leg rather than amputate). Having the parents counter her revelation with their own news that he’d had a fling with an old flame just a few weeks ago felt too much like emotional one-upmanship, even if the intent was to show that no one truly knows another person completely.
All I could think about was that the clock was ticking on the poor man’s leg.
Something fishy’s going on
The other ground-breaking treatment is given only after a patient challenges Jared’s presumptions of how her burns can be treated. It’s a very humanizing case for Jared, who can treat the woman’s physical pain with the maximum dose of morphine, but has no real clue about how to deal with her psychological anguish over her disfiguring injuries. He tries, but giving her a choice of movies to watch while he debrides her burned skin isn’t really what she needs.
What she needs is someone to listen, even when she’s deriding Jared for assuming he knows everything there is to know about burn treatments. That listening leads him to learning about the fish skin treatment.
We have up to now seen Jared as a competitive doctor, eager for the science of his profession. In this episode, we get to see the human side, which is as important for healing as the science is.
“Just like every first time: You get a little excited, a little nauseous, and hopefully nobody gets hurt.” – Dr. Aaron Glassman to Claire
The breakthrough medical ideas in “Not Fake” all come from the surgical residents. Besides Jared’s fish skin grafts, Shaun creates a makeshift catheter device to stop a patient from bleeding out. And Claire is the one who comes up with the idea for the full femur replacement, much to the surprise of attending Dr. Melendez (who is apparently still convinced it was Shaun’s idea by the end of the show).
Claire scores another first out in the field, literally, by drilling a hole into a woman’s head to relieve a brain injury. And in the operating room she gets to perform a delicate piece of brain surgery on that same woman.
But amidst those successes, Claire makes a simple mistake that leaves the woman brain dead. It’s a mistake any one of the doctors could have made, Dr. Glassman says as he tells her she has to find a way to move on.
What about Shaun?
The promotion for this episode had me thinking there would be much more about Shaun’s handling of stressful situations. There was some; he seems to freeze during the initial triage of patients, he barks out commands during treatments, and communication continues to be a challenge. I was expecting a little more pushback towards his behavior from the femur patient’s family and from the medical personnel who don’t know him.
Still, there are some very telling moments about Shaun and about his father figure, Dr. Glassman. Early in the episode, Shaun insists he does not want love. Glassman later questions him about it, and Shaun reasons that he loved his rabbit and his brother, but now they’re both dead. “You can’t love someone if they’re dead,” he says.
Glassman points out that he has lost people he loves. “It hurts but I still love them,” he tells Shaun, who still insists, “I don’t want love.”
Glassman seems to accept this. “OK. Do you want breakfast?”
A simple question, but you can hear the words underneath. “I love you, Shaun.”
Shaun may think he doesn’t want love, but it’s there for him, and you have to love Glassman for it.
The Good Doctor will be on hiatus next week. Look for its return on Monday night, November 13, at 10/9 Central on ABC.