I recently watched Season One of Nurse Jackie – a Showtime TV series now available on DVD. Nurse Jackie stars Carmello Soprano (real name – Edie Falco) as Nurse Jackie, a veteran no-bullshit inner city ER nurse with a bad back, who has become addicted to pain medicine, which she gets from the pharmacist who she is banging during her breaks. Oh, yeah, and she is happily married with two kids, that the devoted pharmacist knows nothing about.
I’ll say right from the onset, the show has its moments – where anyone with any emergency medicine background can point out the errors or how something like that would never happen. But much about the spirit of the show feels real.
I watched all the episodes with an ER nurse who loved it. The show won her over in the opening minutes when the nurse administrator admonished the nurse for taking overtime against policy and then in the next breath asked her if she could do a double.
I enjoyed the show even though I ultimately disliked the lead character. Nurse Jackie is self absorbed with a dubious ethical sense, but that ethical sense aside, she knows what is going on with her patients and she knows the system. She reminds me in her actions and demeanor of some nurses I have known — tough exterior, a mean streak, but with some true Florence Nightingale thrown in. Like real people, she is a complicated character, and thus doesn’t fall into the good or bad category. While I may not like her, I have empathy for her.
I feel bad that she has to work so much to get the bills paid, that her back hurts so bad, and that her nice husband, who you can see she loves, doesn’t quench her soul.
Besides feeling true in spirit if not in all deeds, the show works for me because it often makes me laugh. It is a dark comedy, which I think is the most successful way to write about emergency medicine.
In reading the Nurse Jackie Wikipedia entry on the show I see that the New York State Nursing Association protested the show’s portrayal of nurses, citing Nurse Jackie’s constant violation of nursing’s code of ethics. I can understand that, and as a paramedic, I am somewhat offended that so many paramedic shows and books portraying medics show us as unshaven burnouts with deep psychological scars. Ironically, my favorite EMS movie is Broken Vessels, in which the two primary medics do heroin and other drugs on the job and one of them, steals from patients. Obviously, enjoying the movie and understanding its message doesn’t mean I endorse its characters’ behaviors.