TVO's first commissioned drama series, Hard Rock Medical, provides a fresh and entertaining look at the unique challenges of delivering healthcare in Northern Ontario. Hard Rock Medical follows the lives of eight medical students, their struggles to succeed, and the obstacles they face in adapting to practising rural medicine and living in the North. Patrick McKenna heads a Canadian ensemble cast in this series airing Sundays at 8 pm, from June 9 to August 25 and at hardrockmedical.com.
The views expressed in TVO's Hard Rock Medical blog series are solely the opinion of the cast and filmmakers.
Northern Docs and the Field of Cool
On our first day of table readings for Hard Rock Medical, director Derek Diorio and writer Smith Corindia introduced us cast members to a sprightly, hearty and highly personable woman -- who also happened to be a practising Ontario doctor for 30+ years. A respected emergency medicine and family doctor and a distinguished investigating coroner, Dr. Louise McNaughton-Fillion was also HRM's official medical consultant.
And...she was pretty cool.
She sat graciously through the readings that day perched alert on a chair off to the side with scripts and a pen and, well, giggled at all the funny parts, tenderly sighed in the heavier moments and all the while speedily jotted notes. During discussions, she happily brought to light some of the medical procedures that were still a bit in the dark for some of us cast members, eagerly suggested possible alternate medical methods for some scenes, and ever so gently corrected our pretty laughable mispronunciations of all that textbook medical jargon. Patiently (and with this neat twinkle in her eye) Dr. Louise even taught us the Latin roots of those medical words -- for our "future use" -- when we might be doing our homework without her.
Like I said, she was pretty cool.
With an almost hipster-style show-and-tell of her medical tools from her old-school Doctor Bag, Dr. Louise taught us (pseudo-guerilla-style) basic medical examination procedures (complete with psychological insights); staged a routine patient intake session; did a step-by-step on how to build physical and emotional trust with a patient; and gave us free reign to practise with those über-refined medical tools of hers -- gleefully clapping when we all turned into little kids at a toy fair.
At one point during a break I was hanging in this mini-hallway with two fellow HRM cast-mates: beautiful and talented Kyra Harper (Dr. Julie Cardinal) and formidable and esteemed Christian Laurin (Dr. Raymond Dallaire). We were downing coffee, analyzing and dissecting all the info when Louise went to pass through. I practically leapt at her, stopping her in her tracks. Hoping to extract some pearl of wisdom that would tie all this doctoring data together in this neat little bow, I shot her with questions: how does she deal with all this stuff emotionally as a doctor? The things that she has seen, is witness to -- has she closed down emotionally? Do you become non-human? If so, why do it? Why be a doctor at all? And especially in the middle of Northern Ontario, isolated, removed?
She nodded her head gently, did a couple "mm-hmm" sounds that people do when they listen sometimes. And then she took a deep breath and sighed it out.
She told us an intimate story about a patient of hers, a woman who had been in palliative care for some time and it was only a matter of weeks, perhaps days, before she would die. Essentially, this patient made a significant gesture. She, this patient, granted an examination. She granted an incredibly intimate and painful examination at such an advanced stage in her disease where she, the patient, would not benefit at all -- nor gain. Why? To benefit the students. She granted it for the benefit of the students, their medical studies and their future careers. She extended herself beyond what anyone in that severity of condition and in that stage of disease could ever be expected -- or thought -- to do. This patient showed extraordinary bravery in that gesture, graceful courage and almost saint-like giving. This patient moved her -- deeply -- and illustrated to her the innate, ultimate beauty of people.
Louise paused in her story and tears flooded her eyes. Tears flooded all of our eyes. I saw obviously that doctors don't stop feeling -- they just simply put their focus on healing. Louise then told us why she does what she does, why she is a doctor: "It's because of the people," she smiled through her tears. "I love people."
This truly must be what a doctor is about, is it not? About the love of people? And a doctor "in the North" would be no different, right? Except, they might. I realized that after I got out there -- in the North -- and we began to shoot the series.
I realized a doctor in the North would also truly be about the love of people -- but with just one major twist: the love would spread. To the love of the land, the love of the waters, the love of the forest, of each and every cedar tree and birch; to the love of the wild creatures, woolly giant and furry small; to the love of the brittle cold but gloriously gorgeous winters; to the love of snow, of clearly cut and whole seasons; to the love of knowing your neighbours, and your neighbours' neighbours, and everyone down the road; to the love of expansiveness, northern skies -- star-lit nights or clear-forever days; to the love of straight and far ground or edgy rock-face cliffs, crystal clean lakes and secret-found waterfalls; to the love of the people, the beautifully unique people, gracious and big-hearted with humour always close; and to the love of community, and the palpable sense of community when everyone around you is loving the same thing. And that must be what a doctor in the North is truly all about.
And that, indeed, is pretty cool.