Some days Barbara Krause mixes solutions of fake "blood." Other days she orders medical supplies, and frequently she teaches actors the fine points of medical maneuvers such as giving injections, donning surgical gloves and performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) during a "cardiac arrest."
"Initially, it was frustrating," said Krause, 37, a former intensive-care nurse at L.A. County-USC Medical Center, of her work as "St. Elsewhere's" on-set technical adviser. "I think the first day I worked, I went home almost in tears. I wasn't used to dealing with the 'time is money' factor."
But after three years with "St. Elsewhere," Krause has become used to the challenges of making art imitate medical life. CPR has been one of her biggest concerns, because many viewers have learned the technique and some will have to perform it someday. Some viewers have complained that actors on "St. Elsewhere" bend their elbows -- rather using than the correct technique of keeping their arms straight -- while they pump on the chests of patients.
What these viewers don't realize, Krause said, is that practicing real CPR on a live actor could break ribs or damage internal organs. Nonetheless, Krause agreed that bent elbows weren't permissible and has since helped the actors arrive at a safe but more accurate-appearing compromise.
"I think a lot of medical people don't understand that what they are seeing on the show is not real," she said. "They're so used to seeing it in real life that . . . they think it's going on."
Krause has obtained videotapes of real operations to coach actors who must "perform surgery," and she has disabused the makeup department of the notion that surgeons are drenched with perspiration when they operate.
"When I first came here, they were sweating people down as if they had been running a marathon," she recalled.
Some medical details pose an unexpected challenge, like putting on rubber gloves during an emergency room scene. Krause said actors frequently get two fingers stuck inside one finger of a glove, sometimes forcing the whole scene to be reshot.
Krause works as a nurse during summer breaks in shooting, and said her daily earnings from the two jobs are about the same.
"I don't think I would ever want to get out of nursing completely," she said.
"St. Elsewhere" has increased her respect for television in general, she said, and the importance of medical accuracy in particular.
"Initially, I thought, 'This is just pretend, it doesn't matter.' But it does matter."