Watch Out for Nurse Jackie
At the end of this week, Showtime airs its new series Nurse Jackie with actor Eddie Falco, morphed from Carmela on the Sopranos to an ED nurse. I just went on line and watched the first episode on my computer. So here’s my first impression. A lot of nurses won’t like Nurse Jackie. She takes uppers to keep herself going and pain pills because she’s got a back injury. She was an alcoholic. She’s married and has two kids and is having an affair with the hospital pharmacist. She forges a young man’s signature on his license so it looks like he was a voluntary organ donor. This she does after a cocky young doc doesn’t listen to her when she tells him the biker — who got hit by a car — is going to have a brain bleed. The doc blows her off and the kid dies. So it won’t be for nothing, she makes him a donor. When a prostitute is brutally slashed by a John, the woman slices off the man’s ear. The hospital saves the guy’s ear. Turns out the guy worked at the Colombian embassy and has diplomatic immunity. The cops bring him into the hospital to have his ear sewn back on and Jackie has to take care of him. He shows no remorse, for his act. Quite the contrary. He insists that the girl liked being carved up like a turkey. “What do you like?” he asks Jackie. Jackie flushes his ear down the toilet and steals his money to give to the biker’s pregnant girl friend. I can hear some nurses wincing — screaming even — at every one of these scenes.
But if you’re tempted to scream out, or protest the show’s depiction of nursing. Remember two things. First, this is television. Television has to be entertaining. To be entertaining there has to be drama, conflict, humor. And Nurse Jackie has it all, not to mention really good actors, acting and writing. This show could be called Doctor Jackie — or Jack — because on doctor shows, MDs also pop pills (think of House), have affairs, curse etc. They have messy lives –each and every one of them. But they are still brilliant in the OR, ED, on the floors. Which leads me to the second point you need to think about. Jackie is smart. She is no nonsense. She cares like most of the expert, smart nurses I know — without a shred of sentimentality. This is no inane smiling nurse (at least not in this first episode). She’s gritty, wry, and has seen it all. That hasn’t left her callous. Not a bit. It has left her worn out, but not burnt out. And that’s the most important thing. Plus, at least this first episode depicts a lot of what is real about nursing today. Nurses work too many hours — and it’s not just mandatory — they volunteer for it . Jackie pops pain meds because she injured her backat work. Six to 11 percent of nurses leave their jobs because of back, neck and shoulder injuries. I reccomend that nurses watch this show carefully. That their bottom line should be is Jackie smart, expert, feisty. The question is –what does she have in her brain? From what I saw on my computer screen the answer is — a lot. If the pattern of this first episode carries through then I think nurses should support Jackie. They should suggest themes for the show. They should use Jackie as an opportunity to raise critical issues about nursing with their friends and neighbors. They should write op-eds and letters to the editor to discuss the show.
But give Jackie a chance. And remember, this is TV land, not sugar and spice land. Jackie gives you an opportunity to talk about what nurses do — really. It gives you a chance to contradict the hearts and flowers image so many nursing organizations promote on Nurses’ Week. It gives you a chance to wear your brains not your heart on your sleeves and talk about the kinds of things nurses know and how smart and feisty they really are. Go for it!