"Relax, hun," says a nurse, "you're in the hospital." The sentiment may sound like it contradicts itself; good news about the American way of medicine has not been plentiful in recent years.
But a five-part series on the 6 o'clock segment of Channel 7's evening news this week bring us to intimate grips with a gang of medical do-gooders who really do appear hell-bent on doing good. They are the professional life-savers of the Maryland Institute of Emergency Medical Service-more commonly the "shock-trauma"unit-and 85 percent of the serious accident victims transported to one of the state's seven emergency centers each year are saved from death.
This portrait of the shock-trauma squad, shot over a, two-week period by director and cinematorgrapher Paul Fine, is decidedly more realistic and incomparahly more dramatic than the scrubbed-up version familiar to viewers of the old network series "Emergency," which had boys in blue forever pounding on old men's chests while Julie London purred bromides.
It isn't quite so tidy. Nor does everyone pull through. On the third segment, shot on a night in which seven victims had been saved, an eighth - a teen-ager involved in a motorcycle accident - is lost. We watch the feverish communal efforts to revive the anonymous boy on the operating table and then hear a doctor say simply and without emotion, "He'se dead."
Perhaps the best of the five parts is the last, which deals with the aftermath of emergency treatment. "You were in an accident about a week ago and you had a hit to your head," a nurse explains meticulosly to a patient. "That's why things are a little foggy up there." Another nurse asks another immobile body, "Are you finding it hard to move? That's because we gave you madicine during surgery that paralyzed you."
Fine's cinematography and Holly Fine's sensitive editing of it, are so strong that any melodramatic meddling would be ruinous. There is none. Reporter Gary Axelson's remarks are lean and to the point; most of the soundtrack consists of humanizing interviews with the team members and location sounds of their crucial work.
"A Race With Death" will be reassembled and shown as a half-hour documentary on Channel 7 Saturday, June 24 at 7:30 p.m.
The reason nearly every TV station is having a "special series" on its nightly newscasts now is that we have entered another key rating "sweep" period when the lust for audiences peaks. There seems to be a shortage this time of the traditional sensationalist rabble-grabber: teen-age prostitution, angel dust; and so on. Instead one Baltimore station is offering viewers the wildly dubious priviledge of a week behind the scenes at the "Mike Douglas Show," which happens to be carried by the same station.
In Washington, WTOP is trotting out Sonny Jurgenson for a series on the stale subject of keeping fit, and WRC is amending a recent and over-praised documentary, "Washington Odyssey," with further annotation of historical trivia and bursts of civic boosterism.
The very least that can be said for the Fines is that their work is the best in the city; even when they take on a relatively frivolous subject, they rarely insult the much-insulted term, "news," and with the shock-trauma report, they show again how keen a sense they have for appreciating and imparting matters of life and death.