I’m going to need some time to figure out how I feel about a medical show starring a ghost, even if said ghost is All-Time Alyssa Rosenberg Favorite Jennifer Ehle. But I have to say, I was really impressed by the extent to which the pilot episode of A Gifted Man took on the impact of inadequate health care from multiple dimensions.
First, there’s the challenge of clinic staffing. “I need your help,” Anna’s ghost begs her ex-husband. “A lot of people depended on me. And I was stupid. I didn’t train anybody. I’m sure my staff are completely derailed. If they can get into my computer, they’ll figure it out. I need you to go there and open my files.” I do think it’s something of a problem that the clinic staff are portrayed as totally inexperienced and unknowledgeable; there need to be some potential heroes here for our doctor, Michael, to work with, but it’s a point well-made that it’s very hard to build a sustainable infrastructure that relies on charismatic leaders. Not everyone gets to come back and prod their new director into doing the right thing.
Then, there’s the way the show treats Michael’s first clinic patient. He can’t resist intervening when he hears a clinic staffer planning to send a seizure patient to the emergency room. “The ER’s going to make her wait like 10 hours and then they won’t take her because she doesn’t have insurance,” he says, feeling as if he’s done his good deed for the day. “The kid had a seizure. He needs an MRI. Send her to an imaging center.” And here’s where the show had what I think was its smartest point when the mother of the kid asks how to get to Michael’s hospital on the bus. It’s not enough to figure out what you need, and who will take your insurance to do it. You have to be able to get there without missing so much work that you get laid off, in a way that lets you take care of all of your other obligations. There are so many ways it’s hard to get the right medical care, so many things that can cause pain, including too-tight shoes.
And I really appreciate Michael’s assistant, the always wonderful Margo Martindale speaking this blunt truth. “Are these your children, Michael?” she asks him, as he cares for the family he rescued from the clinic. “I’m just trying to figure out why we’re suddenly running this place like a free clinic.” Health care is a tiered proposition in this country. It’s profoundly useful for a television show to state that clearly, to show us both sides of that proposition, and to insist that rescuing one patient or one family at a time isn’t enough. Even if it doesn’t beat the drum on health care reform, A Gifted Man is still doing something useful by laying out that framework.