Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Nurse Jackie RULES!

Undoubtedly you've seen the Nurse Jackie ads occupying every sidebar and banner ad on the Internet. Perhaps you've read my previous posts about the inadequacies of the popular media in representing nurses. All of those less-than-completely-truthful rearrangements of electrons notwithstanding, I'm here to say this:

Showtime GETS it!

Showtime may have exhausted their advertising budget promoting Edie Falco in Nurse Jackie, but I'm not ashamed to report that it worked on me. I watched the pilot the first time I could find it (here, by the way), and I was more than pleased, despite the dissapointment of others.

Edie Falco's burned-out, capable, smart, deeply flawed Nurse Jackie is enough to make my community college nursing instructors turn in their graves (or shake a wrinkled finger, at least those who are still alive). She's screwing a pharmacist and talking back to snotty doctors, and then there's that little pain pill addiction thing. Fittingly, the meticulous Jackie opens a capsule of God-knows-what, counts out precisely 16 granules ("no more, no less"), and snorts them to get her through the day in spite of back pain (A.K.A. the nurse's curse) and as-yet-untold psychic pain.

Nurse Jackie's hospital is old, dark, religiously-affiliated and a little scary. Gigantic, vaguely Biblical figures painted on walls loom over Jackie and her nurse friend on breaks, threatening to swallow them up in the bureaucracy and powerlessness nurses fight daily in health care. This point is driven home when an administrator rebukes Jackie for working over 12 hours at a stretch, then asks her to work a double on Monday. I would have laughed, except it's the truth.

Plenty of nursing groups are up in arms about this show, including the American Nurses Association. "It's unprofessional!" "It's just another distorted image of nurses!" "We have a shortage, you idiots!" they cry. The professor in me would just like to tell the ANA this:

Dear ANA, perhaps you are unaware that we do not have a shortage of people who want to be nurses; we do have a shortage of educators and its cause is a shortage of money. Almost 40,000 qualified aspiring nursing students are turned away yearly. In light of these facts, please explain your argument that the image of nurses in the media is harming recruitment into our profession. I expect a double-spaced APA- formatted 5-page paper by Monday. Include suitable references.

Frankly, I think some people will never be satisfied. Characters MUST be flawed to be interesting; an icon of professional perfection cannot carry the burden of being a major comic-dramatic character week after week. Perfection is too simple; perfection is downright BORING. So Nurse Jackie saves lives, screws a coworker, snorts pain pills, tells off stupid interns, acts with great compassion and tenderness and flagrantly violates the ANA Code of Ethics in the course of a typical day. And that's why she rocks.

I haven't seen TNT's HawthoRNe yet, but I hear Jada Pinkett's another tough, smart, imperfect, unconventional nurse. And, no, I didn't hear that from the American Nurses Association.

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