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June 2, 2015

Code Black

by Franz Patrick


Code Black (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Code Black,” directed by Ryan McGarry, takes us into the world of emergency room physicians at the Los Angeles County General Hospital. Although neither a highly focused nor a very detailed documentary, it is nonetheless worth seeing—especially those who, like myself prior to seeing the film, have no idea how it is like to be a patient in a county hospital. It is a sobering documentary that offers difficult, maddening truths about the state of our country’s health care system.

Part of the picture’s power is seeing real patients, real doctors, real blood and other bodily fluids—whether it be on an operating table or the waiting room. Movies and television shows, in general, make the profession look appealing and polished but the reality suggests otherwise. Here, we see low income, underprivileged individuals who cannot afford health insurance and so they are willing to wait ten, fifteen, twenty hours to get medical care. At times the wait is so long that they decide to go home instead.

I enjoyed learning about the some of the doctors who address the camera. Particularly interesting is the director’s story about how he was diagnosed with Stage IV lymphoma during his first year of college. By telling us about his past, it makes sense why he is in this profession and why he chose to be trained in this hospital. And then there is Dr. Eads who was involved in a terrible car accident when he was in high school. His story is best heard in his own words.

The first quarter of the film consists of events shot in 2008 when the residents worked at the C-Booth, also called “critical booth,” a twenty square-foot area where multiple major trauma patients are worked on at once. To say that it is a sight to behold is an understatement: Doctors, nurses, medics, patients, and family members are all cramped in one area—and yet somehow it all works. Everyone appears to be feeding off each other’s energy that what may seem like chaos at first is actually a system.

We see injuries up close and personal. The camera is right there as incisions are made. Some people are able to be saved. Some are not. Contrast these images a few years later when the same residents are working in a brand new building where rules and regulations must be followed accordingly. We see doctors filling out seemingly endless paperwork. They complain on camera that sometimes they spend more time writing on forms than interacting with patients. Meanwhile, the line of people in need of urgent medical attention grows.

It is sad and frustrating that “healthcare” in America is run more like a business. Are we really this kind of society? Although this is the reality and it is likely not to change any time soon, there is still something morally wrong when words like “patient” and “profit” are uttered in the same sentence. I don’t have the answers, but maybe a solution is to require everyone to seek care from a county hospital at least once to get us all on the same page and start to make some real changes.

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