'Grey's Anatomy': Real-Life Doctors Dissect the Drama
By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 29, 2007; C01
Scene: Morning. Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd is waking up in bed next to fellow doctor Meredith Grey. Izzie Stevens bursts in -- wearing only a towel -- and starts complaining about another doc who just walked in on her in the bathroom.
Ben Gbulie, chief resident at Howard University Hospital, is incredulous.
"Do you realize there is one attending [doctor] and three residents in the same bedroom right now? In the morning?? And one of them is half-naked?!"
Gbulie and some fellow real-life interns and residents have gathered to watch a recent episode of ABC's hit medical drama, "Grey's Anatomy." The show's interns at fictional Seattle Grace Hospital practically all live together in one big house, where bed-hopping is a sport and drunken bacchanals are de rigueur.
"Um, noooo, my life isn't really like that," Gbulie says.
But it's so nice to live vicariously.
Joining Gbulie are residents and interns in orthopedic surgery, ophthalmology, podiatry, general surgery and a trickle of others who wander in and out of the room at Howard, all on-call, many of them 15 hours into their shifts. Amid their harried work lives, it's not easy to be a regular "Grey's" watcher, but they're likely -- even from casual watching -- to know more personal details about the characters on "Grey's" than they do about each other.
"Sure, we all have stories," says sixth-year resident Vanessa Ngakeng.
"But," Gbulie breaks in, "we leave them at the [front] door."
"Grey's Anatomy" is the nation's most popular non-reality program -- emphasis on "non" -- and it definitely stirs some chatter in hospital hallways, lounges, cafeteria.
It's addictive. So when members of the Howard group watch the show, many get sucked in despite the soap-opera drama. Or, often, because of it.
"It's not about the medicine," Ngakeng says. "It's entertainment."
* * *
First-year intern Loiy Mustafa is studiously quiet while watching the show at Howard, unfamiliar with the plot's ins and outs. So, for his benefit and perhaps yours, a quick recap:
McDreamy (played by Patrick Dempsey) and Meredith, the Grey of the show's title (Ellen Pompeo), finally have settled into a relationship. Burke (Isaiah Washington) and Cristina (Sandra Oh) are engaged. And both of those relationships are between attending physicians and their interns.
"Sleep with an attending?" Ngakeng says. "No way."
Isaiah Washington made headlines this season when he used a homophobic slur to refer to cast mate T.R. Knight (who plays George), prompting Knight to come out in People magazine, and causing actress Katherine Heigl (Izzie) to rise to Knight's defense. As a result of the incident, Washington went into inpatient counseling.
"I heard about that," says first-year resident Gautam Siram, momentarily looking up from obsessive checking of his PDA. "That's like rehab for bullies."
Heigl, meanwhile, is in a public snit over her contract renegotiations.
"How much do they make an episode?" podiatrist Michangelo Scruggs wonders out loud. Speculation in the group jumps as high as $1 million.
In real life, Dempsey and his wife just had twins. And Chandra Wilson, a.k.a. Dr. Bailey, won a Screen Actors Guild Award.
"Which one is Bailey?" Gbulie asks. She's the one known as "the Nazi," he's told. It's the character closest to himself, a late-year resident, shepherding the interns. Judging from room reaction, she's one of the favorite characters because, unlike the attendings (who are too busy sleeping with their charges), she keeps the interns in check.
The group's response gets more and more lively as the show progresses.
So, unlike George, you guys wouldn't get to scrub in on an appendectomy on your first day of residency?
"The first day, you don't even know how to hold a scalpel," Ngakeng says.
And all the show's back-talking of superiors?
"The way they talk to the attendings is just wrong," Scruggs says.
How about dating a patient? Several residents respond:
"No way." "It's not allowed." "You could you lose your license."
Scruggs, the podiatrist, has a somewhat different take.
"The thing is, after seeing a patient in a certain way, I don't want to see anything else.
"But I deal with feet."
* * *
Many lascivious scenes later, Dr. McDreamy -- who is a neurosurgeon -- has to open up a patient and perform something a cardiothoracic surgeon would actually do. The room is riveted.
Gbulie: "He's aspirating . . . That's good TV!"
Scruggs: "Thumbs up!"
For all the craziness in the way "Grey's" depicts their day-to-day experiences, the residents do agree that the terminology and medical procedures are pretty accurate. Most of the time.
But then, there are TV "sweeps" months, when good ratings are a must and the writers get a little carried away. Like, an intern gets to drill holes -- with an industrial drill -- into the head of a patient trapped under a car because of a ferry accident.
* * *
Among the interns, three of the show's story lines were voted the most entertaining:
No. 3: Code Black! There's live ammo in a patient's body, Meredith's got her hands on it, and unless the hottie-hot bomb squad guy (Kyle Chandler of "Friday Night Lights") can disarm it, the whole operating room might explode!
Gbulie: "The live grenade episode. I saw that one! That's not comparable with real life, but I thought it was a beautiful story."
Siram, sarcastically: "Very realistic. And the dude [Chandler] blew up in the end. I think that was the most realistic part."
No. 2: Izzie cuts the (incomprehensible medical acronym alert!) LVAD wire! Izzie endangers her patient (and fiance) by cutting the wire to his heart pump in order to make him "sicker" -- so he'll move up the transplant list. He gets the heart, but dies anyway. And she doesn't even get fired!
Ngakeng: "She kills her patient, and she's back at work!"
Gbulie: "She'd so be in jail."
And the absolute favorite, from a three-episode arc in February:
No. 1: Meredith rises from the dead! Meredith drowns, McDreamy pulls her from the waters. Then, miraculously, she comes back to life, and immediately begins talking in that whiny voice of hers (which was inexplicably unaffected by having had a tube down her throat while she was . . . did we mention she was dead?) .
Siram: "They coded [tried to resuscitate] for like four hours."
Ngakeng: "No, like half a day."
Gbulie: "Then she was resuscitated and she got up a half-hour later."
Oh, and she went back to work practically the next day -- and threw an impromptu dinner party after her shift.
* * *
Scene: Izzie and George are sitting on the floor of the house, drinking from a large bottle of whiskey, pouring shots.
So what happens after the shift at Howard? Do you guys head out together, and hang out for hours, drinking booze and bonding?
"It's actually just us alone, sitting on the floor drinking," Siram jokes.
"All by ourselves!" Scruggs adds.
Now comes the final scene, which involves -- what else? -- two more people who shouldn't be together, naked in bed. As the show ends, the Howard residents get up, check their pagers and head out in different directions.
Time to go back to the ordinary, unsexy dramas of real medicine.
SIDEBAR: Doctors Playing Doctor
Can't keep up with all the relationship drama at Seattle Grace Hospital? We've put together a little primer to help you keep track of who's sleeping with whom, who used to sleep with whom, and who works for the person he or she is and/or was sleeping with.
Dr. Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd
Divorced from Addison, dating Meredith (his intern).
Dr. Preston Burke
Engaged to Cristina (his intern).
Dr. Meredith Grey
Dating McDreamy (her boss), had a disastrous one-night thing with George.
Dr. Cristina Yang
Reluctantly engaged to Burke (her boss). Also, her former mentor and lover has just arrived as a new character (and, potentially, her boss).
Dr. Izzie Stevens
Formerly engaged to Denny (a patient who later died), has slept with Alex, and had a disastrous (or not) one-night thing with George.
Dr. George O'Malley
T. R. Knight
Married to Callie (his boss), had one-night stands with Meredith (pre-marriage) and Izzie (post-marriage).
Dr. Alex Karev
Slept with Izzie, has kissed Addison (his boss). Oh, and he also had a fling with a nurse who later gave George syphilis.
Dr. Addison Montgomery
Cheated on McDreamy (while married) with McSteamy, has kissed Alex (her intern).
Dr. Mark "McSteamy" Sloan
Slept with (married) Addison, had one-night stand with (pre-married) Callie, currently celibate (!) in an attempt to win Addison back.
Dr. Callie Torres
Married to George (her intern), previously slept with McSteamy.
Dr. Miranda Bailey
Happily married to someone who does not work at the hospital, thank you very much.
© 2007 The Washington Post Company