Friday, October 9, 2009

Episode 180 - Life Time

Season 8, Episode 180: Life Time
Original Air Date: 11/26/79
Written by: Alan Alda and Dr. Walter D. Dishell, M.D.

Directed by: Alan Alda

Wounded arrive, and one of them is a young man named George. He has a severe injury to his aorta, so severe that Hawkeye has to reach into chest--right there on the chopper pad--to pinch it off to stop the bleeding.

As if that's not difficult enough, having the aorta pinched off in this way is cutting off blood to George's spinal column. If that goes on longer than 20 minutes, he'll end up paralyzed.

As they load the young man onto a jeep headed for the O.R., a small clock appears on the screen, keeping real time as it passes.

B.J. and Margaret help Hawkeye, and he asks Klinger to round up as much ice as possible--thinking Hypothermia might buy them some time.

Another wounded soldier, named Harold, has a traumatic brain injury, and its clear he's going to die. While frustrated over not being able to do anything, B.J. gets the idea that perhaps, once he does die, they can take a piece of his aorta and give it to Hawkeye's patient--the only problem is, Harold could stay alive for hours.

While Father Mulcahy makes a run to the chopper for some much-needed blood, he asks his Lord, "If you're going to take him anyway, please take him quickly, so we can save the other boy."

After precious minutes go by, Hawkeye commits himself and removes the damaged part of George's aorta, in the expectation he's going to get a viable graft. Winchester questions this, but finally agrees when he sees for himself that George's aorta is so damaged it can't be repaired.

But eventually, the other young soldier, Harold, dies, and B.J. gets the graft, running it into the O.R. immediately. Hawkeye puts it in, but of course its not that easy--he wants to get blood pumping to the spinal cord, so he has to try and stitch it while the blood is coursing through it. We see some of that blood as it spurts up, out of the chest cavity.

When the surgery is over, they check their time: unfortunately, they're three and a half minutes over. Hawkeye is enraged, thinking they've all but certainly paralyzed the young man for life. B.J. tries to offer some hope, suggesting that the Hypothermia may have bought them some time.

Later that day, in Post Op, George starts to wake up. They yell in his ear, trying to get him to wake up. They uncover his feet, and run a pencil along the bottom of them, to see if they can move.

After a few seconds, they see them move, proving the young man isn't paralyzed, after all. Hawkeye, B.J., and Margaret squeal with glee, delighted all their extraordinary efforts have paid off.

Fun Facts: Another format-busting episode, since it is told in real time. Since there is no "B" plot, this works really well, and is directed with a crisp sense of urgency by Alda.

This episode was co-written by Dr. Walter Dishell, the show's long time medical consultant.

The scene with Father Mulcahy praying is really interesting--it looks like the camera was planted on the hood of the jeep, and so we see Mulcahy climb in, start the engine, and drive through the compound, all in one unbroken shot.

They make a big deal of Winchester having the right blood type to donate to George. That's fine, but the show already established (in Season Seven's "C*A*V*E"), that Winchester, Klinger, and Mulcahy all share the same blood type, so why not ask them?

Favorite Line: Nurse Kellye shows Hawkeye what aortic graphs they have on hand, but Hawkeye rejects them: "No, these are too small."

Kellye argues, pointing to one of them: "Well, this one's pretty big."

Hawkeye: "No, that's no bigger than a piece of spagatini. We need rigatoni."

Kellye: "Rigatoni? Doctor, I'm part Chinese and part Hawaiian. Can you put that in ethnic measurements I can understand?"

Hawkeye: "A small eggroll."

Kellye: "That I understand. We don't have any that big."


What the Parrot Saw said...

"Life Time" remains a classic.

With 24 (as my World Civ students pointed out to me when I touched on the fact that Oedipus Rex occurs in "real time") reminding us that this is hardly a new conceit, it is innovative for the series, building on S7's "Point of View"'s verite while offering a perfect example of the training, dedication and knowledge of the staff.

I'd argue that there is indeed a Bplot present: that between Roberts and BJ. Harold's buddy cannot understand that Harold is essentially brain dead and that there is nothing the team can do to save him. His anger at seeing the haste in which BJ opens up him to salvage his aorta is more then understandable, as is BJ's inability to take a moment to explain that why what he is doing is so crucial to save another man's life. This is the pathos of battlefield surgery at its core-- difficult choices, sometimes by necessity made in haste-- and it really contributes to the episode's drama.

Mulcahy offers some measured comfort and perspective when he tries to impress upon Roberts why Harold's post-mortem sacrifice is so important to a someone who is after all stranger to Roberts. Christopher really begins to shine towards the end of the series and his gentle manner here with Roberts is impressive.

One of Alda's best episodes. It doesn't even need its on-screen clock to underscore its urgency. Outstanding.

And there's some funny lines, too. Klinger riffs on his vocabulary course, Charles offers his usual bon mot.

BJ: "Great verbiage, Charles."
Charles: [operating, but agreeably returning the parley] "Heh. I'm on day 14."

rob! said...


sure, the BJ bit is a bit of a B plot, but its connected to the main story, so i think off it all as one piece.

when i think of A and B plots, its when there are two storylines that no connection to one another.

Agreed, a classic episode.

What the Parrot Saw said...

^^ Ah- I've been defining A/B plots somewhat looser. Makes sense!

Robert Gross said...

The other thing that's interesting about this episode, which *was intended to run in real-time*, is that the clock reveals where all the edits for syndication took place.

Matt Wiser said...

Here's a possible reason why Klinger or Father Mulcahy weren't tapped for blood-they had donated a day or two earlier, and thus couldn't do so again?

Paul Pelkonen said...

Did anybody notice that Hawkeye has bought himself another bathtub to replace the one that went to "the Scrounger" in Season Seven's 'None Like it Hot?'

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