For obsessive TV addicts like myself, Christmas comes early in September every year. Under our tree? The return of our favorite shows. Luckily, there’s always something for everyone, whether you’re a sci-fi fan (hello, Supernatural) or crave a Kleenex-worthy tearjerker (tune in to This Is Us).
For me, there’s nothing better than getting wrapped up in the busy lives of my favorite TV doctors. As Grey’s Anatomy gears up for its 14th season premiere tonight, I found myself counting down the days until Meredith was back in my life, waxing poetic about love and loss and Hunt is quickly rolling a gurney into Grey Sloan’s ER and furiously shouting orders in an attempt to save the patient’s life.
Yet over the years, I’ve realized that my obsession with medical dramas goes far deeper than the fast-paced dialogue or the soap opera personal lives of the docs. It goes far deeper than any of that because for most of my childhood, I could have easily been one of those patients fighting for their life at Grey Sloan.
Growing up, hospitals and doctors were as much a part of my life as hopscotch or hanging out at the mall with friends; in fact, depending on what year it was, sometimes those frivolities of childhood took a back seat to the hospitals and doctors. I was born with Freeman-Sheldon Syndrome, a genetic bone and muscular disorder, which meant at least one surgery a year and multiple hospitalizations spent either recovering from surgery or hooked up to an IV after I’d get dehydrated.
The one constant through it all, though, was my family — my mom, dad and younger sister were the people who were there for me, who sat by my bed day after day, who reassured me that everything would be OK. Thankfully, everything was OK, so I suppose it comes as no surprise that by the mid-’90s, our favorite family ritual slowly began to take shape.
It started in the small living room of our apartment, where we would gather every weekend for frozen pizza and episodes of ER and Chicago Hope, my mom and sister lounging on the couch and my dad curled up under a blanket on the floor. Sometimes, we’d even diagnose a patient before the doctors on the screen. It was as if all those years in the hospital were the perfect training — our own private “med school,” if you will.
Although I didn’t think much of our weekend activities at the time (aside from my burgeoning crushes on George Clooney and Noah Wyle), my dad’s unexpected death in 2003 shed everything in a new light for me. I couldn’t help but feel like our choice of shows wasn’t just some random occurrence. It’s not that we just found these shows thrilling; it’s more that they were incredibly comforting too.
For me, growing up in and out of hospitals, watching these shows is sort of like watching a home movie. The bright lights of the operating room took me back to the moment when I’d be wheeled in and place on the operating table. And the infernal paging of doctors over the PA system? Those were exactly the kinds of things that used to jolt me awake in the middle of the night — that is, if the nurse taking my temp and blood pressure didn’t wake me up first.
As odd as it sounds, I’m reminded of happy times when I was young and with my family. It’s sort of like going home again. In a world where everything is constantly changing, I can spend an hour each week catching up with the Grey‘s crew and also feel like my past is still close to me, like I can still somehow hold onto a piece of my father even in his absence.
Sure, my hospitalizations weren’t always smooth sailing, and I can see how medical dramas could potentially bring up some negative emotions for people; I do sometimes flinch when I see a patient in pain on screen because I remember what that felt like.
However, on the larger scale, I think my love of these types of shows also speaks to the power of TV to transport us to another time and place in our memory — maybe a time we don’t even realize we miss until we’re sitting and watching our favorite show and feeling the waves of nostalgia wash over us. I mean, we only have to look to the reboot craze in recent years to see nostalgia alive and well — Fuller House, anyone? The past is powerful, and maybe our attachment to it is reflected in our DVR picks.
So many years ago, my family didn’t talk much during the heyday of our medical drama marathons since we were so engrossed in the action, but we were together for those 44 minutes. That, I see now, is what mattered most. Every beep of an IV on screen was a memory. Every shuffle of fast-talking doctors brings me closer to my past.
So this year, I encourage you to find a show that does the same for you. I’ll bet you’ll be surprised just how comforting it is. Here’s to the fall TV season!