Tonight is the last episode of the first season of Nurse Jackie and I, for one, will be very sorry to see it go. As critics have pointed out, this is the one of the best, if not the best, shows on television and it’s about a nurse. I know,I can hear nurses complaining that Nurse Jackie is not how nurses want to be presented on TV. Some nurses are down on Nurse Jackie because she has so many problems. Some nursing groups have complained — rather than congratulated — Showtime because Jackie isn’t picture perfect. What they ignore is how real Jackie is. Anyone who wants a nursing show that is “a love song to sensitive nurses”, as Boston Globe TV critic Mathew Gilbert wrote in today’s review of the show will be disappointed. To desire such a “love song” would also be deeply misguided. TV shows don’t do lovesongs and if they do, they don’t last. Gone are the days of Marcus Welby MD. We now have, god help us Grey’s Anatomy and The Practice. Perhaps the best show to which to compare Nurse Jackie is Rescue Me. Along with nurses, firefighters routinely garner the highest scores on public trust. But Rescue Me doesn’t depict a bunch of saints sitting around the firehouse. The characters are a group of deeply dysfunctional men and women. They drink too much, fight too much, and live amidst the debris of failed relationships. They even disobey the rules when fighting fires and rescuing victims. But they are unfailing pros who exhibit courage,compassion and expertise when those alarms go off. Which is why firefighters like the show and why firefighting organizations don’t launch protests against it.
Nurse Jackie fits precisely into this mold, only in my opinion the show is a lot better. Why do nurses want an angel in the hospital? Why don’t they understand the difference between early 21st TV drama and a public service announcement for the profession? I wonder if it has to do with the fact that Nurse Jackie — perhaps inadvertently — reveals one of the profession’s closest held secrets. That many nurses treat themselves — and each other –as badly as Nurse Jackie treats herself. In his review of Nurse Jackie in the Boston Globe (http://www.boston.com/ae/tv/articles/2009/08/24/nurse_jackie_wraps_up_a_compelling_first_season/) points out, the compassion Jackie shows her patients “never extends to herself.” He also notes correctly, that those around her don’t seem to notice how she is self-destructing. In other words, no one nurses the nurse.
This is one of the fundamental fact of nursing today — perhaps of nursing perenially. Nurses are expected and do — as nurse Jackie does — sacrifice themselves on a daily basis for their patients. But they don’t take care of themselves and the institutions that employ them all too often treat them like machines rather than valued professionals. In fact, sometimes hospitals treat their machines better than they treat their RNs and other nursing staff. Hospitals maintain their high tech equipment far better than they maintain their nurses. Just ask any nurse when she/he last had her/his lunch break on time or whether she’s/he’s had a UTI recently because of not being able to go to the bathroom and you’ll find that out pretty quick. When our cars are on empty we fill them with fuel. When are nurses are running on empty we just ask them to run further. The result is a lot of nurses who have problems similar to those of Nurse Jackie. They may not be popping uppers and downers. But they have more depression, hypertension and other stress related illnesses than the rest of the population. And just look at the obesity epidemic in nursing. It’s frightening. That’s probably because nurses are in chronic stress which means higher cortisol levels, lower immunity, and higher craving for food.
I am saddened every time I talk to nursing audiences about Nurse Jackie and learn that nurses don’t like the show. What saddens me even more is how many nurses comment negatively about Nurse Jackie but haven’t even watched one episode. It’s not too late. The show will certainly be out on DVD and it will, thank you Showtime and Edie Falco and all those who have worked on the show — be with us next year. I personally can’t wait.
another great review on the show was in USA today