Emergency Room: Life and death at VGH

Think that a lifetime of watching ER, House, and Scrubs gives you a sense of what it's really like in an emergency room? Well, think again

April 5, 2016

By Eliot Escalona

Here’s the bad news: if you haven’t ended up in an emergency room yet, it’s almost certainly only a matter of time before you do. And if you have, the odds are pretty good that it was the one at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), which happens to be the busiest ER in the province. But while you might not be anxious to re-live the reason(s) why you ended up there, there’s something to be said for getting a look at what it’s like on the other side of the gurney. That’s what the Knowledge Network is delivering with the second season of Emergency Room: Life + Death at VGH, a show that depicts the adrenaline-filled lives that our local ER doctors, nurses and paramedics live every day.

“The series is unparalleled in authenticity and in capturing the intensity of what happens inside one of the province’s busiest Emergency Departments (ED),” says Dr. Chad Kim Sing, the Department head of Emergency Medicine at VGH. And while what happens there doesn’t always have the heart-pounding dramatic tension that the show’s scripted counterparts can cook up, watching doctors and nurses deal with everything from heart attacks and severed limbs to more mundane conditions might actually be more arresting. Mike Devine, a registered nurse at the ER says, “the show was a way for me to give my family a glimpse into my world, and that goes to all our viewers, they can see the thrilling realities of our jobs.” Alongside the stories about how the staff spend their days at the hospital, the series also delves into the lives of  patients and their experiences in the ER and the healthcare system.

For Vancouver viewers the show is much more than just entertainment. It’s also an in-depth window into a crucial part of our healthcare system. “We are a public healthcare system and therefore Vancouver viewers are automatically connected to us. It is very important for them to actually watch what happens behind the scenes in an unscripted and realistic way,” says Dr. Bri Budlovsky. As such, she says, the show can help viewers understand the complexities behind getting a bed at the ER and the roles of the doctors, nurses, paramedics and social workers who might one day save their lives. That doesn’t necessarily mean critical care, either. As Dr. Kim Sing says, “viewers will learn about some of B.C.’s most pressing health concerns including our aging population, end of life care, and our growing mental health and addictions population.”

Unlike so many reality television shows, Emergency Room: Life and Death at VGH is one that the people featured in it (and their fellow residents) don’t need to feel ashamed about. On the contrary, it’s a show that should inspire both pride and awe—and, perhaps, a bit more respect for our oft-maligned healthcare system. We can’t promise you won’t cringe at the sight of exposed bone or a third-degree burn—viewer discretion is definitely advised, especially if you’re the squeamish type—but you’ll almost certainly walk away with a better understanding of BC’s busiest emergency room. Better yet, the next time an unfortunate event takes you there, you might even see someone you recognize—and get their autograph on your admission wristband.

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