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Emergency Department opens its doors for Learning Channel documentary

When a 37-year-old New Haven man leaped from the third story of a burning building and was rushed to Yale-New Haven Hospital, filmmakers from The Learning Channel met him at the E.R. door alongside the trauma team.

The story of the injured man was among dozens of trauma and emergency room cases followed by “shooters” from TLC’s reality TV show, Trauma: Life in the E.R. To gather raw footage for the show, a producer and three video journalists endured schedules to rival a resident’s, recording life in the Emergency Department 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for a month this spring.

From 250 hours of videotape recorded on hand-held cameras, producer Penny Fearon will distill two 47-minute documentaries, one to be aired this fall and the other sometime in 2002. The award-winning show attracts an average audience of 1.5 million on Tuesday nights at 8 p.m., according to Nielsen Media Research.

Yale-New Haven Hospital will be the first in New England to be featured on the five-year-old show. Series producer Brian Seligson said Yale-New Haven appealed to him because of the contrasts afforded—“on the one hand, Yale University and everything it represents, and on the other hand, the fact that it’s an inner-city hospital
dealing with an inner-city population.”

How the film will be edited, and consequently how the hospital will be portrayed, is in the hands of The Learning Channel, said Reuven Rabinovici, M.D., professor of surgery and chief of the section of trauma and surgical critical care. The confluence of The Learning Channel’s real-life depiction of the trauma world and his team’s ability to provide cutting-edge trauma care leaves him confident the team will come across positively.

“To care for a trauma patient, you need to have an endogenous sense of mission and responsibility, because it’s very intense. The people involved are doing their best to provide optimal care, whether they are on camera or off.”

Producer Fearon will choose a few people to follow—physicians, nurses, patients—to create two shows with recognizable characters and coherent plot lines. She said the “shooting ratio” of tape to finished product is luxurious, at more than 150 hours to 1 compared to the 50-to-1 ratio typical for reality TV documentaries. One show will document the story of the man who jumped from the building, following him as he is treated for smoke inhalation and through surgery for a broken femur and heel until, after three weeks at Yale-New Haven, he heads out the door.