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Movie receives a diagnosis

April 30, 2006|Allan M. Jalon

DR. SUSAN STANGL, a UCLA professor, uses film to teach students to navigate the human sensitivities that come into play between doctors and patients. She's screened films like "The Doctor," "Wit" and "Awakenings," and she agreed to show "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" to a small group at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

"There is a lot that he gets right," she said of the director's attention to medical details. "That feeling at 2 or 3 in the morning, he gets that. And the slowness. That's real. It's not all zip-zip-zip, the way you see on 'ER.'

"A night in an emergency room can go very slowly -- until, suddenly, it's fast.

"From an American point of view, though, what happens here is very extreme. But the joking about the patient, that is something that might go on, but not to his face. In another room, maybe. As a doctor, you are not supposed to judge the patient the way they do here for his drinking. But, hey, doctors are people, and it happens."

Jessica Lloyd, a pediatrician in training, sounded shocked, even offended by the film. "How could they not care more? That's what I want to know," she said.

"I must have seen 10 doctors in this film, and I want to know how they could be so indifferent. Where was their compassion?"

Compassion -- or the lack of it in the film -- came up over and over, as students spoke.

They said compassion motivated them to be doctors, more than the financial or status rewards that people might assume are driving them. Most said Lazarescu's world seemed distant, until a thin blond student of surgery with a worldly toughness asked if she could speak without giving her name.

"I'm a third-year student, and I've spent time in emergency rooms in this city at 2 and 3 in the morning," she said. "I don't think this is so bizarre or out there. I'm glad for the enthusiasm of the first-year and second-year students here, but I think the mood and the attitude of the people [in the film] does happen like that."

Still, she said that most of the doctors she's observed tend to "get things done" to help patients, unlike those she saw on screen.

Stangl said the more dismissive treatment of Mr. Lazarescu probably would not happen in the United States "because they'd be afraid of getting sued."

The American system, she said, generally requires that people arriving at emergency rooms "have to get care. It is hard to say this would never happen in the United States, but the way it takes place, no."

-- A.M.J.

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