Hospitals have always been filled with heroes, even before the COVID-19 pandemic set in.
A new docu-series on Netflix, “Lenox Hill,” serves as a timely reminder with its compelling look at the pre-coronavirus work done behind the walls of that titular New York hospital system.
The show, which premieres June 10, was filmed over about 18 months between spring 2018 and fall 2019 — before the global pandemic took hold — at the hospital’s facility on the Upper East Side and its emergency room in Greenwich Village. That seemingly long-ago world, as documented on film, was quite different from the overrun hospitals that have struggled to contain the novel virus.
“What I would tell myself, if I had a crystal ball before COVID, is, ‘Get ready,’ ” says documentary subject Dr. John Boockvar, the hospital’s vice-chair of neurosurgery, in an exclusive interview with The Post.
“The current day, during the pandemic, was unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” he says. “Not just [us] in the documentary but any health-care professional. We never had a day like we had during the pandemic.”
The eight-part series follows two brain surgeons (including Boockvar), an emergency room physician and a chief obstetrics-gynecology resident as they and their colleagues relay good news and bad to patients and navigate the emotional highs and lows of hospital life.
The other documentary subjects include:
- Dr. Mirtha Macri, emergency medicine. She is winding down to her final night shift — in a job that is “overwhelming at times” — before taking maternity leave. “A collage of people that come in — that’s what I love about this field,” she says in the docu-series of her variety of patients in the ER.
- Dr. David Langer, chair of neurosurgery. “It’s the humanity of your own patient that matters. It weighs on you,” he says in the show of his intense position. “Everything has to be incredibly precise. You cannot f - - k it up. You just can’t.”
- Dr. Amanda Little-Richardson, chief resident in obstetrics and gynecology. Immediately after delivering a child, the doctor — who is herself pregnant — greets newborn babies with a cheery “Happy birthday!” and their moms with a hearty “Congratulations!”
In the show, the highs and lows encompass a broad spectrum. On one end, Langer is greeted by a smiling, 28-year-old Brooklyn patient who tells him following successful brain surgery, “I think you just saved my life.” And a visibly touched Macri is surprised with a baby shower before she takes maternity leave for several months. “This is honestly the best place to work,” she says before heading back to her department to see what emergencies have arisen.
On the other end, Langer must grapple with another patient whose health takes a “very, very unfortunate” turn. “Complications are not things that I take lightly, and certainly in the vascular world it happens,” a pensive Langer says while biting his lip and trying to keep his emotions in check. “But this was, um, just hard to take.”
The emotional drama and behind-the-scenes moments may be of particular interest to viewers today, says Boockvar, because of the spotlight that COVID-19 has shined on front-line workers since the crisis began.
“I think that viewers are more curious — now, more than ever — about what happens in hospitals, particularly here in New York City, because of COVID,” Boockvar says. “I think, frankly, the docu-series is coming at a very opportune time because there’s a thirst, a real appetite for what health-care heroes do on a day-to-day basis.”
And he makes certain to point out that the series isn’t the stuff of a fictional medical TV drama.
“We didn’t fake it,” he says. “This is a documentary that its intent was to tell the truth and to show and expose the beauty of what goes on inside these great walls of hospitals across the nation and really to tell the stories of the patients and their suffering, and their success, and their crying, and the laughing, and the joys and the tears that go with it.”
Of course, what the audience sees in the pre-pandemic series — routine childbirth, brain surgeries and lesions in need of lancing — is drastically different from what medical professionals are doing these days. Boockvar says the pandemic surge between approximately mid-March and mid-April saw the health-care system put to the test. With elective surgeries on hold, many specialized physicians found themselves assisting in other areas. For instance, Boockvar and his team were “redeployed” to run the hospital’s COVID-19 clinical trial program that offered “novel drugs and therapeutics,” which he calls “extremely interesting and fruitful.”
And even with resources pushed to capacity, Boockvar is awed by what was accomplished.
“We all worked 24/7 to make sure that we held the line,” he says. “We did not let the front fall here in New York. I’m quite proud of how well everybody did.”
Boockvar admits that “before the coronavirus, life was different,” but he also sees a silver lining to the enduring pandemic.
“I mean, we have changed as a health-care industry, as physicians, as nurses, as respiratory therapists — we’re all different,” he says. “We’ve improved in a lot of ways what we know were inefficiencies in the health-care system prior to the coronavirus. So, frankly, we’re more efficient now than we were before COVID. We have safety measures in place that we didn’t have before COVID.”
Boockvar — whose father, grandfather, great-grandfather, uncle and brother have all been doctors — hopes that means an eventual return to so-called normalcy. Or better.
“I think that the hospitals will actually get back to a superior sense of normalcy, meaning that we were normal before COVID, we had COVID and now we’re actually going to be even better than we were for having gone through COVID,” he says.
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