'Emergency: NYC' review: Hospital docuseries celebrates the human spirit
DOCUSERIES "Emergency: NYC"
WHERE Streaming on Netflix
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Despite the name, this follow-up to 2020's Netflix documentary series about Manhattan's Lenox Hill hospital — produced by Ruthie Shatz and Adi Barash — also profiles major Northwell facilities on Long Island, with a focus on Cohen Children’s Medical Center (pediatric and gunshot victims) in New Hyde Park and North Shore University Hospital (transplants) in Manhasset. SkyHealth — the emergency chopper service that operates out of MacArthur — gets a starring role too.
And speaking of stars, "NYC" introduces quite a few new ones, including Dr. Elliot Grodstein, a transplant surgeon and kidney specialist, and Dr. Jose Prince, surgeon-in-chief at Cohen. Other transplant surgeons on-camera are Dr. Ahmed Fahmy, pediatric trauma surgeon, Dr. Chethan Sathya and Dr. Lewis Teperman.
The series goes back to Lenox Hill where viewers can catch up with Dr. John Boockvar (neurology vice chair) and David Langer (chair, neurology, who suffered a serious spinal injury while skiing). ER doctor Mirtha Macri is also back.
LI-based caregivers flight nurse Mackenzie Labonte, EMT Vicky Ulloa, trauma transport nurse Donald Darby and paramedic Kristina McKoy are featured too.
MY SAY "Lenox Hill" packed some of its emotional wallop by happenstance, or what perversely might be called a happy accident. The filmmakers followed the caregivers at the Upper East Side hospital in the months before COVID, so that by the time the series dropped during the pandemic, we not only knew the doctors and staff but also what they were going through in real time. This bonded them just a little more tightly to us, and made their ongoing journey — albeit on some vastly more heroic scale — just the tiniest bit our journey too.
"Emergency: NYC" was taped in the pandemic's waning moments, with COVID scarcely acknowledged. Nevertheless, you do have a sense that an F5 tornado recently roared through the sprawling Northwell health system. Everyone has scrambled to rebuild, and at long last — or at least over these eight episodes — their world is back to "normal."
"Normal" needs those quote marks because "NYC" also insists that nothing is normal in healthcare anymore. Instead, it's back-to-normal-Plus 1 — more gunshots, more ODs, more delayed care, more crises of every imaginable kind. We see two kidney transplants, two C-sections, three or four cranial transections. (The series closes with a heart transplant.) There are also three gunshot victims here — they recovered — who represented all the others treated at Cohen during production who ("NYC" says) weren't so lucky.
"Anxiety, depression, panic" are trending up, explains Macri, and that's easy to see why. Gun violence is "NYC's" throughline, or the dark shadow that falls across the heroic efforts of so many of these caregivers. "NYC" wants to ask, What's a "hero" if he or she can't do anything about this particular crisis other than treat the victims?
But of course they are heroes, and that's the beating heart of "NYC'' much as it was with "Lenox Hill." They get in a helicopter at MacArthur in the middle of the night to rescue someone, somewhere. They work their way through snarling traffic to get to Huntington Hospital or Syosset or North Shore. They get on a plane to North Carolina to get a donor liver. Together, they save lives.
No one profiled here seems to be looking for Netflix glory, but they all do seem to be motivated by something — call that "life's meaning" or whatever else it is that gets any of them out of bed in the morning. Most seem to have found that.
You also begin to realize this series isn't just about Northwell, but all the other world-class hospitals in and around Long Island. "NYC" celebrates the human spirit, not just an institution. A young woman, Lisa — no last name given, whose sight was restored by Langer and Boockvar — best sums up this generous spirit:
"We can't give up on hope," she says. "The world is still good." Watch this and dare to disagree.
BOTTOM LINE A beauty.