For most people, visiting the set of their favorite TV show is a dream come true. My recent trip to NBC’s Chicago Med was a dream, and a nightmare, and a true healing experience.
As a trauma survivor, a hospital is the absolute last place I want to be. I spent the first decade of my life in and out of various facilities being operated on, tested and treated, and the last time I went into one six years ago the experience was so severe that it broke both of my legs, left twelve physical scars and inflicted other emotional ones I still carry to this day.
Thus, there’s a certain irony in the fact that I’m a fan of Chicago Med. I want to know what Dr. Rhodes, Dr. Halstead, and company are going to do each week, even if I have to look away every time it gets too bloody and I cringe each time I hear the too-familiar buzzing of surgical equipment.
So when NBC sent me to the Chicago Med set on Monday as part of its One Chicago Day press festivities, I was simultaneously elated and terrified.
I’ve only been on a medical set once before, and it didn’t end well. TNT’s Monday Mornings was a brilliant show that was cancelled too soon, but when I walked into the Chelsea General Hospital operating room and remembered what it was like to have to climb up onto my own operating table and wait for someone to come after me with a scalpel, I had a panic attack. They found me in the hallway, ironically next to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, sweating and in the middle of tears. I had nightmares for two days afterward.
That was three years ago, and while I’ve made steps in my recovery since then, this isn’t so much a step as a flying leap. There’s a big difference between watching a hospital scene on TV and actually standing in the middle of it.
But I don’t have a choice this time, not really anyway. I can’t catch an instant flight back to L.A. So as my press group makes the walk into Gaffney Chicago Medical Center, I ignore the fact that I can already feel my chest starting to tighten.
There are three different medical demonstrations to choose from. The survivor in me wants to opt for the easy one, in which we’ll learn how to intubate a patient. The fighter in me says that there’s a chance I’ll panic no matter what I’m looking at, so I may as well take the hard route and go for the cardiothoracic surgery that comes with a warning and a set of scrubs. I’m so lost in my own head (and trying to get the latex gloves on) that I forget that happens to be the specialty of one Dr. Connor Rhodes.
If Colin Donnell hadn’t been standing across that fake patient from me I don’t think I would have made it through. Half of my brain is watching the whole chest-cracking, heart-shocking experience and wanting to bolt for the door, because I know too well what it’s like to be broken open and bleeding. But that fear is shouted down by looking over at an actor I admire, both as a performer and as a person, and saying I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of him. I don’t want Colin to find me in the hallway crying. I want him to respect me because I respect him. So that means standing my ground.
It means several deep breaths, in and out, counting each of them like I’m keeping score. It means looking at Colin and not the amount of corn syrup that passes for TV blood. It means allowing myself to laugh when my good friend Curt Wagner, who’s with me on this trip, tries to perform the procedure and can’t quite get it right. If I’m teasing him, I’m not thinking about myself.
Everyone asks me if I’m going to try my hand at saving the patient. After all, I’m already gloved in and what’s a little corn syrup when you’re well used to being splattered with your own real blood? I consider it, but I can’t make myself get that close. Not today. Maybe in another three years. Maybe let’s take one step forward and not run the whole mile.
Instead, while Curt’s still being his totally awesome self, I’m standing in the doorway talking to Colin. I’m not entirely sure what I’m even talking to him about. It’s not so much the words as it is the act of conversing with him, the fact of finding a safe place in his presence, and that he makes me smile. He’ll never know it, but us sharing this talk together is pushing all the negative thoughts and terrible memories out of my mind. I feel okay with myself right now, because how can I feel like less of a person if I’m good enough to be standing next to Colin Donnell?
And that makes all the difference. As we leave the Chicago Med set a few minutes later to continue on to our next stop, I realize that not only am I not afraid anymore, but that I want to go back. I want to be here again because of the joy I’ve shared with the cast, crew and with my friends, that’s worth a hell of a lot more than my fear. There’s a positive experience on Chicago Med that’s just trumped 31 years of pain and suffering. Thanks to this, I’m not afraid, I’m not even okay, I’m excited.
I’m not going to say that everything is magically perfect now. I still have a long way to go and things I have to figure out. But on Monday night I’ll be sitting at the wrap party and who should come over to join me but Colin. We’ll sit together for a few minutes talking about more of the most random subjects, and share more laughs than I think I’ve had in awhile. I feel lucky to spend time with him.
I’ll also feel a sense of gratitude. Thanks to Colin, and to Chicago Med, I had something to look forward to that was more powerful than looking back. Wanting to be on the set of a favorite TV show, and to spend time with one of my favorite actors, was the push I needed to break my fear.
Now I’m hoping I get invited back next year. Then I’ll be the one performing the cardiothoracic procedure, and I promise you I won’t mess it up.
(Photo Credit: NBC)