Author Topic: NEAR DEATH (documentary, 1989)  (Read 61 times)

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Offline agate

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NEAR DEATH (documentary, 1989)
« on: September 26, 2020, 05:48:42 am »
NEAR DEATH (1989 documentary)

This Frederick Wiseman documentary, like other Wiseman films I’ve seen, provides just the scenes as they (presumably) occurred in real time without any narrative. Set at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital, it moves us through some episodes in the approaching deaths of several patients, with particular focus on their families and how they are coping with facing some major decisions suddenly and under great stress.

Because no explanations are offered, we never know just where in the hospital hierarchy each member of the hospital staff is. Some are clearly doctors, some are presumably nurses, but whether we are looking at students, interns, residents, attendings, etc., is by no means clear and might have been helpful to know.

There are some very daunting scenes where over a dozen hospital staff members are clustered around the bed of a patient. Apparently each one has a specific task and is doing that task while coordinating it with the tasks the others are doing. These have to be very impressive achievements on the part of a medical care system that has become so technologically complex that it may be in danger of collapsing.

The doctors (I’m assuming that those with a stethoscope on their person are doctors but this is probably not a safe assumption) talk at considerable length about this possibility and that one, referring to test results and almost always coming up with one conclusion: They don't know. The whole thing is a crapshoot.

But, given that that is the way it is, they’re being very compassionate with the patients and their families, allowing them time to think, time to talk, seeming to know that people in these situations–often being asked to choose whether a loved one’s life should be ended now–are being given a humanly unacceptable, impossible problem to solve.

From what I know of hospitals and these situations, most hospital staff members are not nearly as caring or considerate as these people. Maybe Beth Israel is an exceptional hospital. Maybe things have changed over time. But it is comforting to think that if a loved one is hooked up to elaborate life-support systems, the family will not have to linger helplessly nearby with no guidance from anyone who knows anything.

Of course all of the people shown here knew that they were being filmed, and quite possibly all of them were on their best behavior for the sake of the movie. Even so, the movie does an impressive job of letting us know how complicated the near-death state is and how important it is for people to make their wishes clear. It also shows an awareness that people can and do change their minds, often, at the last minute.

As anyone who has watched death knows, it isn’t such a black-and-white business as we might think. The phrase “dead or alive” and others like it lead us to think that you’re either one or the other. This movie makes it clear that there is often a long time when you can be in-between, with some parts gone and other parts still there. It’s not so simple as a stopped heart or a brain that isn’t working any more. This movie makes this abundantly clear, and it’s a point that needs to be made, now that medicine has many ways of keeping some of our systems going, possibly for no good reason.
« Last Edit: September 27, 2020, 04:06:43 pm by agate »
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