April 26, 2015

Code Black

Ryan McGarry, 2014
One of the doctors interviewed in this graphic documentary makes a very important statement. He said that “most people see us on the worst day of their lives”. Most trips to the hospital are not joyous occasions. And on top of that, most people realize that even in those times of emergency, there is going to be a long wait in the Emergency Room. Unfortunately at the L.A. County Hospital, it’s no different. Desperate, suffering and often impoverished, these people sometimes wait up to 18 hours to see a doctor.

The doctors who work in the unit are undoubtedly doing god’s work. They describe the traumatic events in their youth that led them to want to help the sick. They were drawn to the level of intimacy in the County Hospital’s C-Booth. The C-Booth itself looks like a complete clusterfuck. In one memorable scene in the film we witness a gunshot victim in the hands of many medical hands in C-Booth. The crowd of people surrounding him and cutting him open is almost something out of The Walking Dead, the only difference being that these people are trying to keep the poor man alive. We witness many more of these tense moments, where life and death is in the hands of the medical staff that are working in tandem to try and save the person.

A large part of the film is the medical staff venting about their frustrations with the evolution of their hospital. They are nostalgic for the days that they were shoulder to shoulder in C-Booth in the old building. But because of earthquake building standards, they were forced to vacate the old building and move into a modern one. The modern hospital, while aesthetically pleasing, is bigger and creates more distance between the doctor’s and the patients. There is also some figurative distance in the sense that the doctors are now flooded with paperwork. Because of the bureaucratic hurdles they have to cross to actually treat a patient, they lose a lot of the adrenaline and drive that they once had. There is also some macro-political venting about social classes and government funding of county hospitals like the one depicted. Many of the patients do not have health coverage for a variety of reasons. But the doctor’s do not judge anyone who comes through their door, and they express their wish for everyone to feel the same way. The indictment on the state of healthcare in our country does get a bit wearing, sometimes it feels like some of the time spent on the grumbling would have been better spent on the micro-level inside the hospital. The strength of the film is certainly in the machine elements of the staff and working as a team, the day in and day out grind. The weak point is definitely focusing too much on the political grievances. The truth is, the bureaucratic bottlenecking is present in so many aspects of our lives now. One of the more unfortunate parts of our sue-happy and over-litigated society.

It’s a sobering look inside a hospital, a part of the world that many of us wish we do not have to visit. But it’s inspiring and encouraging that we have people like the doctor’s in the film that want nothing more than to help those in need. It's important to remember that these places are part of life. There are ebbs and flows to everything in life. One day we are healthy, the next day it may be the complete opposite where an endless amount of things could happen that are completely out of our control. The idea of an objective place that exists, a place that doesn't judge us based on our economic status, is comforting. Some people may accuse that idea of being over-idealistic and naive, but they are the same creatures breathing in the same air and pumping the same blood. If you walk away from this film feeling even a little more compassionate, they have succeeded with their mission. 

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