The television show, of course. For some God-unknown reason I fell to thinking of this program on the long drive home from one of those tedious, day-long meetings. It was a ’70s genre medical action show that tracked a pair of fire department proto-paramedics around Los Angeles. The dialogue, it seems to me now, was stilted, and the plots were formulaic and predictable. (It was television in the 70s, after all. However, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.)
Emergency! might have been the first television show that depicted the processes of emergency care, however dramatized; it’s been claimed the show influenced the general adoption of emergency medical services in North America and around the world — and it certainly had a lasting cultural influence. There were a couple of good-looking paramedics (ur-paramedics?), a lot of high tech gadgetry which must have seemed like magic, including a radio that transmitted ECGs, big noisy pieces of rolling stock, an alphabet soup of medicalese, a base hospital (“Rampart General”), some avuncular doctors, and also a white-clad-and-capped nurse, Dixie McCall. Her principal job, it seems, was to answer the patch radio and crack wise, while the “men” did the important work. Like I said, nothing ever changes.
At any rate, I can’t say Emergency! influenced me in any way whatsoever in becoming an emergency nurse — the road to my present exalted position is long and convoluted. (If I had figured Nurse McCall in my calculations, I probably would have run the other way. Dixie McCall, though, might be the prototype for the crusty ED nurse.) I was, however, desperately in love with the paramedic played by Randolph Mantooth. I was 12 or 13, a hopelessly geeky misfit, friendless and desperately lonely. I got instructions on where to write television actors from some gossip magazine, and it was to him I composed my first (and only) fan letter.
Dear Mr. Randolph Mantooth (I wrote)
I am 12 years old and really like your television program. I watch it every week. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It is very cold here in the winter, and I know in Los Angeles it is always sunny and warm. I am very lonely. I don’t have many friends and I hope you will be my friend and write me back.
My mother found this letter on my desk. She was not sympathetic — she viewed herself, I think, as the perpetual inquisitor and judge of my character and development — and the letter made her angry. “The reason why you’re so lonely,” she said, in a kind of self-evident tautology, “is that you don’t know how to make friends.” (She didn’t quite call me ugly or dull or slow, but nevertheless, she was very good at assigning blame. Almost needless to say, I left home at the first possible instant.) She threw away the letter.
Funny how thinking about an old television show can dredge up formative, unpleasant memories. Perhaps better left forgotten? Or perhaps makes for creativity?