ER: the end of an era

ER, as anybody with a television and a tolerance for Steadicam and guest stars will know, is a prime-time legend. The first medical drama since M*A*S*H to be a hit, ER settled itself down in its Thursday night slot in 1994 with the comfortable hubris of a Roman dictator. And it brought munchies and a granny rug: this show was in it for the long haul. No fly-by-night Marcus Welby, no fizzle-and-a-pop Doogie HowserER came fully loaded with George Clooney and a guy from Top Gun, a sane one. They even shot the thing in widescreen from the outset, as if to say, through smirking lips, “Ha! Don’t try to pull one on us, sneaky future of television standards!”

The show’s creator, Michael Crichton, was a doctor himself (as well as, of course, a confirmed techno-geek: his novels tend to turn on such cliffhangers as the presence of lysine and atypical hair-growth patterns), and ER became renowned for its bold (and quite often technically accurate) depictions of ghastly medical procedures. It’s not that it was realistic per se; more that it captured a certain vibe, perhaps the spirit of — no, well, actually, it was more that, despite the somewhat overwrought melodrama in which it sometimes indulged, there was a core of — OK, it was pretty much just shiny.

The point Betty wishes to make is that ER is finishing tomorrow. This marvellous piece of television, which Betty has watched for years — by turns sneaking into the family room after coming home from girls’ club, catching up on DVDs borrowed from Smokey’s lovely friend (who, if she perchance reads this blog, may rest assured that Betty is going to return that last Season 7 disc at any moment), settling in with her pre-London sister on their bunk beds, and most recently dashing into the city after work to watch it with the boy person friend over a burger or a lovingly homemade red curry — will be over in a flash. The end is not only nigh, it is a mere eleven hours away.

To console readers who may be taking this a little hard, Betty will embed a blooper reel. It is the least she can do.

Bookshop mish: or, good things come to those who wait

Two or three years ago, Betty gave a guest lecture (either, as the case may be, on the main paradigms of medical humanities, or on the poetry of Glenn Colquhoun). By way of recompense, the department gave her a book voucher. Betty looked around the university bookshop at the time, because she had her eye on a copy of Netter’s, but it was too expensive (note to readers: the guest-lecturing racket is not all it’s cracked up to be, financially speaking). Life went on, and some things that should not have been forgotten were lost… gentle readers know the drill.

At any rate, Betty discovered the book voucher the other day when she was cleaning out her purse, and when she had a free afternoon, she moseyed around the bookshop. Et voilà!

Bright Star

Betty saw the trailer to this Keats biopic the other day and was somewhat nonplussed. It has that slightly adenoidal BBC feel to it, don’t you find? Not, of course, that that would put Betty off: far from it. But still… However, Jane Campion deserves half a chance, and an awesome blogger who temporarily escapes Betty’s memory rated it very highly, so it’s going on the to-watch list.

John Keats, incidentally, is an important medical humanities figure; he was an apothecary’s assistant, and hated it with a passion.

Academia: so it begins

This one time, Betty did a master’s degree. In her thesis, she wrote about three Australasian physician-writers, and interviewed some of them to talk about the ways their literary writing affected their medical practice, and, of course, vice-versa. It was lovely fun, and during the two years that she spent writing it, Betty gave a couple of guest lectures on related topics as part of her supervisor’s medical humanities course.

Last year, her supervisor asked Betty to consider coming to the big city and co-teaching the course, as well as giving it a bit of a reboot and adding a creative writing component. Betty considered this for about a quarter of a second before quitting her job and looking for an apartment. (In the interests of full disclosure, Betty must also reference the opportunity to train with the world-class Pilates master teacher, the wonderful studio to train in, and the boy person friend.)

Betty and her supervisor (who is awesome; he was at Oxford) split the teaching 50/50, and the course was a roaring success. That is to say, the students (all third-year medical students, with backgrounds in literature ranging from BA to “haven’t read a book since primary school”) read Chekhov, Kafka, Carlos Williams and Verghese until narrative and metaphor started coming out of their ears, and then they wrote a collection of poetry that made Betty blush with pride, and hope that if she ever drops almost-dead she finds a physician as empathetic, ethically sound, and articulate as they are.

This year Betty and her supervisor arranged to split the teaching 80/20. Betty is very excited. Though she has no desire to become a full-time professor, being a Lecturer: Medical Humanities is just what the doctor ordered. It’s a tantalising and chewy reminder of how much Betty loves academia.

A macadamia.

All this, of course, means that Betty has a bunch of work to do redesigning the course. She plans to improve the section on mental illness by adding some more literature (the current readings are “The Yellow Wallpaper”, a semi-autobiographical story about undifferentiated schizophrenia, and some Plath poems; keen students can also read Alice W Flaherty’s The Midnight Disease), and create a specific section on grief (using CS Lewis’s A Grief Observed, Plutarch’s letter to his wife on the death of their child, and scenes from Truly, Madly, Deeply). Other sections cover topics like traditional medicine, ethics, metaphors of warfare and information systems, and the doctor-patient relationship.

Gentle readers with favourite literary texts that relate even remotely to practising medicine, giving birth, dying, being well, or being sick, should let rip in the comments section — no Lecturer: Medical Humanities is an island. Medium-sized stories or excerpts, or poems, are best, but I can show a few movie clips as well.

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Adventures in Burtonland

The first trailer that Betty saw for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland movie was, sad to say, a little underwhelming. Though he has gone to town with the visual lunacy for which he is justly famous, there were distinct hints of lazy Disney remix syndrome going on. With this longer and more revealing trailer, however, Betty begins to feel that there may still be something there. Please, Mr Burton, please let there be something there…

Around the mall and up in the air

Betty finished teaching early yesterday, and in celebration, she decided to take the boy person friend to Botany Downs. Botany Downs is a mall built like a proper village, in which one wanders around actual lanes and sees the sky; it’s nice, but it takes about half an hour to get there. On the way, the boy person friend decided to get something to eat at Sylvia Park, and so they nipped in for a few minutes. Sylvia Park is the nearest thing this forgotten country has to a decent mall. It has a Borders, a cinema, a Theobroma chocolate cafe, many shoe shops, a Kathmandu, a vertical bungee, and a place where one can cast one’s hands in wax. They took a keek at the foodcourt, but it was uninspiring; the boy person friend then lit up a little inside and led the way to Wagamama.

Betty had  the yasai katsu curry with crumbed kumara and eggplant, and miso and pickle on the side. It was, as always, awesome.

Then they lost interest in going to Botany Downs and started looking around. The boy person friend bought a pair of shoes to replace his extremely dead ones, which he left rather forlornly in a bin.

Then Betty and the boy person friend went to see Up in the Air. They saw it on the Extreme Screen, or some such, which apparently holds the Guinness world record for the biggest 35mm projection screen in the entire world. The movie had been hotly anticipated in the Bettiverse for a couple of weeks, for reasons that are now obscure; it had Jason Reitman, Jason Bateman, and, of course, Clooney. It was long, and dragged a bit in the second act; in the interests of veracity, Betty must report that it was also tatty with plot-holes and occasionally (and forgive the cheap allusion) kinda phoned in some of the conflict.

Nevertheless, Betty was sold. Nice, she said to herself as soon as it finished. Nice work. It was bleak, and not just in the ways that were immediately obvious from the trailer, but really bleak; and it was crafted in such a way that it turned out much like its leading man, smooth, but still rough around the edges. Its three central characters were uniformly ambitious and, in fact, loathsome; and yet they managed to trundle on with their lives in parallel, never truly intertwining, and therefore illuminating each other from all angles. Vera Farmiga, as the older woman with a crush on Clooney (as opposed to the younger woman with a chip on her shoulder) was remarkable. The final scene, in which Clooney gave a pithy voiceover, was both sad and satisfying, and therefore awesome.

And then Betty and the boy person friend went to the supermarket, which is one of his most favourite things in the world to do, and then they left. The end. It was nice.