This is what happens when a home-schooled doctor of pop culture and a for reelz doctor of medicine (University of Minnesota, class of 1993) get together and binge watch ten episodes of Cinemax’s only hit show. We (mostly me) thought it would be great fun to critique the series both for entertainment value and it’s attention to medical reality. As an extremely squeamish person I had to watch all the surgical scenes with the remote control shielding my eyes which is where my fully trained emergency medicine physician pal Ann* came in handy. That and she brought Dairy Queen. The Knick is basically a 1900’s version of General Hospital crossed with an awful lot of House and a little bit of Upstairs/Downstairs set in downtown NYC before it became super fabulous and none of the patients in the show could ever afford to live there.
Episode One = Method and Madness (Guess Who’s Not Coming to Dinner?) Drs J.M. Christianson (Matt Frewer aka Max Headroom) and Thackery (Clive Owen) lose a patient during placenta previa (rhymes with stevia) surgery which causes Dr. Christian to commit suicide and have even more room in his head. Now Dr. Thack gets to be sheriff of everything surgical and has to choose who gets to be his deputy between two not so lovely contestants, the mega stuck-up Dr. Everett Gallinger (Eric Johnson), or the super-sweet Dr. Bertram Chickering jr (Michael Angarana, who if he looks at all familiar means you watched Will & Grace because he played Sean Hayes and Rosie O’Donnell’s son Eliot). I know who I’d pick, but no one gets to pick because old Mr. Moneybags Robertson (Grainger Hines) who funds the hospital wants it to be his hired help’s son, the Harvard educated and European trained Dr. Algernon Edwards (Andre Holland). Did I mention that Dr. Edwards was not white? Because he isn’t and Thack is not down with integration so he says no way. Sleazebag hospital administrator Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) hires Edwards anyway, not because he is a nice progressive kind of guy (he is the total opposite of that), but for Robertson’s money so the Knick can install some electricity.
Also Thack is a cocaine addict, thanks to Max Headroom’s bad influence, but he tries to go cold turkey one day which of course ends up with him having major withdrawal issues right when he is needed for an emergency bowel surgery (can there be any other kind?). Seemingly innocent southern belle newbie nurse Lucy Elkins (and if she looks familiar it is because she looks exactly like her dad, Bono) has to inject him in his personal bits so Thack can come back to the Knick and save the previously up the creek without a paddle patient. Dr. Edwards decides to stay even though no one likes him because of the being black thing and Nurse Elkins also decides to stay probably because of that whole penis thing.
Ann’s medical professional take: My experience is not in OB/GYN so while I have diagnosed women with placenta previa that is about the extent of it. The depiction seems legit to me. Sadly physician suicide is a very real issue. An entire medical school class is lost to suicide each year in the U.S.
Episode Two = Mr. Paris Shoes (Hospital Flowers for Algernon) We meet Cornelia Robertson (Juliet Rylance), Mr. Moneybags daughter, chair lady of the hospital board and all around do-gooder. Algernon is now not only working in a shit hole but also living in one where he has a run in with a fellow shit hole dweller who is jealous of his fancy shoes from Paris. When Algie goes to work he finds out his new office is not one with a view, unless you count the furnace, and decides to open up his own hospital for African-Americans who are not allowed in the Knick, except to work there. Sleazebag Barrow has the electricity installed in the Knick and of course it is shoddy (mainly because he skimmed some of the money for his own nefarious purposes) which leads to a surgical patient catching on fire (thought that only happened to drummers?) and a nurse being electrocuted because they obviously did not teach basic safety rules in nursing school like how water and electricity are not a good combo, ever. Bye-bye nursey, we barely got to know you.
Barrow owes lots of dough to his loan shark Bucky Collier (Danny Hoch) but can’t pay him so Bucky kindly has one of his goons remove one of sleazy’s teeth for collateral. Ouch. There is a cadaver shortage in NYC, Thack loses another patient, this time to an aortic aneurysm, and when downstairs hospital basement baby Algie says he knows a procedure to make sure that doesn’t happen again Thack tells him to get lost and sends his two flunkies, Gallinger and Chickering, to steal a medical journal with Algie’s procedure in it. Only the journal is in French. Guess who knows French? If you said Mr Paris Shoes Algie Edwards then you would be 100 % right.
Ann’s medical professional opinion: Aortic aneurysms have a pretty good survival rate these days as long as they are diagnosed in time. AAA’s are very bad news but are somewhat preventable. Risk factors would be hypertension and smoking. While the surgical scenes are grossing Amy out the scenes to me seem way less messy than they would be in real life.
Episode Three = The Busy Flea (When Love Comes To Town) A former flame of Dr. Thack’s Abigail Alford (Jennifer Ferrin) asks him to fix her fallen off syphilis nose (just like in Candide) thanks to her cheating scumbag of an ex-husband. Dr. Thack does not want to do it but of course does in the end because deep down inside he is not just a crabby junkie but a kind of okay guy, kind of. The surgery is super gross and requires the patient to have their arm be attached to their face for like a month and I am starting to think the blue metal nose seems like a much better option for poor Abigail. Barrow has a teen-age prostitute friend (which is one of the reasons he is so in debt to Bunky) but the less said about her and the busy flea that gave this episode its title the better.
Algie hosts a job fair for his underground hospital, hiring a seamstress as a surgical nurse which makes perfect sense if you think about it. He successfully repairs a huge hernia on a patient with strict instructions that the man can not go back to work for six weeks. (Algie’s hospital was ahead of its time kicking patients out the door as soon as the anesthetic wears off. ) Of course the patient goes back to work because he is poor and they did not have disability insurance in the bad old days. The man dies and Algie gets a major case of the sads. This leads him to pick another fight with a random stranger and we learn the hard way that Algie does not have very good coping skills. The stolen medical journal is now in the hands of Dr. Gallinger’s teeny tiny wife Eleanor (Maya Kazan) only her French proficiency solely involves being able to order crepes off a menu which is no help at all. Mon Dieu!
Ann’s medical professional take: In way too many years of medicine than I care to count I have never come across someone losing their nose to syphilis. I have seen the disease plenty of times but it generally gets diagnosed before appendages fall off. STD’s are 100% preventable, practice safe sex people.
Episode Four = Where’s the Dignity? (Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves) Edwards tries to talk Gallinger through a cardiac surgery but instead has to take over to save the patient because the blonde pretty boy is not a very good surgeon. This does not endear Algie to Gallinger so alas these two will not be going out for beers any time soon. In his off time Algie meets with a Hoover salesman, buys an upright for his underground hospital, tweaks it and invents modern suction. Thack has been ignoring his former flame, because he is probably still pissed about her choosing her STD-riddled ex over a cokehead. Nurse Lucy puts him to rights and guilt trips him into a little meet-and-greet. (FYI: her arm and nose are still firmly attached and I can’t even imagine how much that is gonna hurt when she finally gets to put that arm down.)
Dr. Thackery tries to save a woman who gave herself an abortion and just like the 5,000 women a year prior to Roe v. Wade, she dies. After seeing this, former judegy blackmailing ambulance driver Tom Clancy (Chris Sullivan) joins forces with Sister Harriet (Cara Seymour) who as a trained mid-wife at least knows how to safely perform the procedure.
Ann’s medical professional take: Open cardiac massage been there, done that. Usually when the patient is a member of the gun and knife club and has penetrating trauma. This technique was pioneered by Moritz Schiff in 1874 so it being used in 1900 by a surgeon at the Knick makes sense.
Episode Five = They Capture the Heat (What Happens In Nicaragua Stays In Nicaragua) Barrow thinks that if Thack saves one of his loan shark’s wounded henchmen Bunky will clear his debt. Of course Bunky doesn’t and we would feel bad for him if he was even one ounce human but he isn’t so c’est la vie. Hospital basement baby Algie is perfecting his hernia surgical skills. The Gallinger’s daughter gets sick and the stunt baby they are using makes the one in American Sniper look convincing. After Barrow gets insulted at a posh restaurant by Gloria Vanderbilt’s daddy (Anderson Cooper’s granddaddy for the youngsters) he decides to buy the Knick a new fangled x-ray machine, used of course, because he is a cheap bastard.
Thack must not be getting enough love from the ladies at the opium lounge he regularly crashes at because he starts creeping on Nurse Lucy. Bertie is in love with her but Lucy has the fever for the cokehead old enough to be her dad. Gross. Perhaps Owen is going all method in this role because he is not looking at all like his hot Croupier/Children of Men days. We also learn in this episode that Mr. Moneybags Robertson and Dr. Thackery go way, way back to Managua which quite possibly explains why Dr. Feelgood still has a job at the Knick.
Ann’s medical professional opinion: Never seen that trick with a belt before, ever. The only time we used belts were to tie patients down for their own safety or ours.
This recapping thing is way more wordy than we could have imagined. After five hours in my lady lounge we had enough of cocaine addicts, racists and gore, even with DQ treats. Part deux of this very special edition of Oh-Amy will be posting tomorrow.
* For real legit medical and wellness information check out Ann’s blog at mcintoshmd.com. Link below or on the right sidebar, depending on your device.