February 18, 2020

ER 5.16, Middle of Nowhere: Southern Discomfort

Posted in TV tagged at 4:52 pm by Jenn

This is definitely not the kind of waiting room Benton’s used to

Summary: Benton and Elizabeth run into each other on an El platform on their way to work. Benton is heading straight from there to Minnesota for his locum tenens work. He’ll be one of only three surgeons in a small hospital for two weeks. He had some trouble working out childcare for Reese every day, since Carla also works, so Elizabeth offers to help out if needed.

At County, Shirley notes that there’s bad weather moving into Minnesota, where it’s already going to be below zero for a while. Benton is prepared with longjohns. But Romano tells him that he’s heading somewhere far from Minnesota – somewhere much warmer. He’s now going to Mississippi, to a small town called Laverne that’s hours away from an airport.

Benton’s annoyed that his assignment has changed at the last minute, but Romano tells him he must be needed in Laverne more than in Minnesota. Plus, he’ll need the extra money if he’s going to take the cardiothoracic fellowship Romano has earmarked for him next year. It’s prestigious but won’t pay much.

Jeanie’s being discharged and is annoyed to have to be rolled out of the hospital in a wheelchair. Benton tells her nurse he’ll see her out, then lets Jeanie out of the chair. She’s mostly fine after the accident and isn’t even that shaken by her hepatitis C diagnosis – her doctor thinks she’ll respond well to the medication. Benton tells her he’s heading to Laverne. Small world: Jeanie has relatives around there and used to visit a lot as a kid. He says he’ll keep an eye out for any family. She asks him not to mention her HIV status to them.

Some hours later, Benton is by the side of the road in Mississippi, dealing with a broken-down car. Two men in a pickup truck slow down to look him over, then keep driving. (They’re white and it’s Mississippi, so…do the math.) Benton can fix a heart but not a car, so he ditches his rental and starts walking. Fortunately, the first small town he comes to is Laverne. An old man named Jesse greets him and asks who he’s there to see.

Jesse takes Benton to a nurse practitioner named Maureen Chapman, who requested help at her clinic because she’s recovering from some injuries. She’s supposed to be staying off her feet, but her patients need her. Benton is surprised there’s no hospital within 80 miles. Maureen runs the clinic and treats everyone in town. Jesse tells her that Benton’s car broke down, and Maureen volunteers someone named Sonny to fix it.

Benton asks if there’s a doctor working at the clinic. Maureen says that’ll be him. He tells her he’s a fifth-year surgical resident, which I don’t think means anything to her. She tells Sonny to go find Benton’s car and fix it. Benton recognizes Sonny as one of the men in the pickup truck who wouldn’t stop to help him. Maureen tells him that the clinic stays open until all the patients have been seen for the day. Benton agrees to take over so Maureen can rest.

His first patient is more interested in trying to think of any Bentons she might know than in telling him what brings her to the clinic today. Benton’s cut-to-the-chase method of treatment + the slower ways of the south = a little frustration. Jesse is one of the last patients of the day. He has an ulcer on his ankle, and the mustard seed that usually works for his leg pains hasn’t helped. Benton tells him he’ll need to stay off his foot and soak it in warm water three times a day. He thinks Maureen can send samples to a lab, but one of the other patients says she’s used to getting her lab results right away.

Benton has dinner with Maureen and Sonny, though he has to find something to eat that doesn’t have meat in it. Maureen is sorry that Benton wasn’t able to talk to Reese on the phone earlier. Benton explains that Reese is deaf, so a regular phone doesn’t do them any good. He’d arranged for a video phone in Minnesota, but he might have to drive to another town to find one around here. Maureen tells Benton he can sleep in a motor home next to the clinic, though it might be a little small for him. She warns him that the door will shock him when he touches it, unless Sonny grounded the motor home.

In the middle of the night, Benton is startled awake by the sound of screeching brakes and breaking glass. Someone has sped by the motor home and thrown a bottle at it. Benton steps on the glass with his bare feet. Then, to add insult to injury, he shocks himself on the door of the motor home.

When Benton goes by Maureen’s house the next day, a couple is there to ask about treatment for their baby’s fever. She gives them some advice and encourages them to go by the clinic if the fever hasn’t gone down by the next day. Benton mentions that half the clinic patients are going to Maureen’s house for treatment. Maureen says it’ll take a while for them to accept him (meaning it’ll take a while for the white patients to agree to see a black doctor). Benton doesn’t plan to stick around until that happens.

He tells Maureen that she needs a doctor who’s a) not a surgeon and b) not black. Maureen asks if he only came there for the money. His car isn’t even fixed yet, so he’ll have a hard time getting to the airport. Benton says he’ll find a ride. He gets one with two black women, Becca and Annie, who are excited to show him off to their co-workers on a dock. Becca asks him to take a look at a wound on Annie’s hand. She got an infection from the shrimp she works with, and she can’t afford to stop working and let it heal.

They drive by a field where a tractor has crashed. Nearby is a man with an injured leg. Benton starts to tend to him, but the man tells Benton that his young son was also on the tractor. Benton finds the boy and gives him CPR, sending Annie to the nearest house to call an ambulance.

The rescue leads Benton to decide to stay in Laverne. He goes for an early-morning run, passing Jesse and asking if he’s soaking his foot as directed. He tells a couple of kids they shouldn’t smoke. The two banter with a girl named Adelina, asking her to share the sodas she’s bought. Benton goes to the clinic and tells Maureen to take the day off – he’ll take her patients.

The wife/mother of the people Benton saved after the tractor crash brings by a sweet potato pie to thank him for his help. Benton is thrilled by the food and forgets to be polite when he says in front of Maureen that it’s the best thing he’s eaten since he got to town. She tells him she makes house calls on Tuesday and needs to check on a pregnant girl. Benton hasn’t done OB since he was in medical school, but he’ll go in Maureen’s place.

The Ebee family’s home can’t be reached by car, so Sonny takes Benton to them by boat. Mrs. Ebee doesn’t want to let him in, but her pregnant daughter, Melanie, wants a checkup, since she was feeling faint the day before. Unlike her parents, she has no problem being seen by a black doctor. Benton advises her to get some tests and an ultrasound in another town. Mr. Ebee interrupts and sends Melanie into the house. He tells Sonny to kick Benton off the property since Melanie has spent enough time with people of “his kind” already. Sonny is either sympathetic toward Benton or surprised to see him not cower in front of Mr. Ebee.

In the motor home that night, Benton practices his sign language. On his run the next morning, he encounters Jesse, who’s walking around against Benton’s orders. Jesse points out that Benton told him to soak his foot three times a day. Getting water requires taking a walk. Benton treats Adelina in the clinic, chastising her for not taking better care of herself after being diagnosed with diabetes a month before. Her grandmother isn’t happy to learn that she’s been drinking soda. She admits that she hasn’t thought much of doctors since Adelina’s mother died.

Benton comes home with groceries and tells Maureen he’s cooking dinner for them. He tells her that Adelina and her grandmother haven’t gotten the supplies they need to manage Adelina’s diabetes. He doesn’t think the grandmother understands what Adelina needs. Maureen doesn’t appreciate being condescended to about the kind of medical treatment and equipment her patients can receive.

Benton says he wants to raise the standard of care for Maureen’s patients – they should expect 100%. Maureen wants that much, but she’s learned to settle for 60%. Benton notes that that’s an F. Maureen tells him that Adelina is an athlete and is probably worried about how her diabetes will affect that. He angrily says that she could end up in a diabetic coma. Of course, Maureen knows that, but Benton says he doesn’t know what she knows.

Mr. Ebee comes to the house to announce that Melanie’s in labor but something’s wrong. Maureen asks Benton to go take care of her, which Mr. Ebee objects to. Maureen tells him he’ll have to take Benton, for Melanie’s sake. Mr. Ebee reluctantly agrees and takes Benton back to his house. Benton doesn’t know how to deliver an upside-down baby, so he has to look up what to do. He gives Melanie ether and tells Mr. Ebee to read instructions from Benton’s computer. Mr. Ebee sends Mrs. Ebee to do the reading instead, possibly because he can’t read.

After a tense couple of minutes, Benton delivers a baby girl. Mrs. Ebee is pleased because the baby looks like their family (e.g., she’s white). Mr. Ebee says Melanie’s lucky. Later, Benton asks Melanie if the baby’s father might be black. Black and biracial babies are sometimes light when they’re born but get more pigmentation later. Will Melanie or her daughter be in danger if the baby doesn’t stay this light?

Sonny brings Maureen to the house to check on Benton, since he was gone so long. He tells them the baby’s okay but he’s going to bring her and Melanie into town just in case. Mr. Ebee offers Benton some money for his work, but Benton won’t accept it. Maureen takes it, saying that it took a lot for Mr. Ebee to offer Benton payment. Benton tells her that she needs to explain to the Ebees that Melanie and the baby have to come to Laverne for a few days because the baby has jaundice.

On his next morning jog, Benton goes by Adelina’s house and tells her to come run with him. A couple of boys join in, including the two who were bantering with Adelina before (they seem to have crushes on her). A dog tags along as well. Jesse thanks Benton for leaving a jug of water at his place, but he had to come into town anyway. If he doesn’t sit in his regular chair outside the general store, who will?

Maureen is well enough to work at the clinic alone, so she asks Benton to go to the pharmacy for her. She tells him that Melanie’s baby’s “jaundice” hasn’t gotten worse in the three days since her birth. Maureen knows what’s really going on and likes how Benton handled Mr. Ebee. He might be better suited to country medicine than he thinks. That makes both of them laugh. Maureen tells Benton that Adelina’s grandmother has agreed to drive him to the pharmacy 80 miles away. They can take Adelina to see a doctor at the medical center there, and Benton can use their video phone to call Reese.

Benton thinks Adelina should have an insulin pump, but the doctor at the medical center thinks she needs more practice managing her diabetes first. He also thinks she has a heart murmur, which Benton didn’t detect. It’s not too bad right now, but she should get it repaired before it gets worse. That means surgery, which Adelina’s grandmother is opposed to. Benton laments not listening to Adelina’s heart and detecting the murmur.

Elizabeth holds an ecstatic Reese while he has a video chat with his father. Benton uses the sign language he was practicing earlier. Adelina’s grandmother is disappointed that Benton’s only in town a few more days and is passing Adelina off to this new doctor. What else will he find wrong with her? She gets a referral for a surgeon, but Grandma doesn’t want to commit to an appointment, let alone agree to have Adelina undergo surgery.

At the clinic, Benton complains to Maureen that Grandma is ignorant for not approving the surgery. He’s stunned to see that Jesse has been brought into the clinic, dead. Benton worries that Jesse’s leg pain was from an embolism, another medical condition Benton didn’t discover. Maureen reminds him that Jesse was old. Another patient says that Jesse’s wife is buried in her churchyard, and though Jesse was Catholic, he wanted to be buried next to her. The “sister” should offer a prayer.

That sister turns out to be Maureen, who was either a nun before she became a nurse practitioner or is still a nun (it’s never explained). She prays over Jesse’s body at his burial and wishes him peace. At the reception, one of Adelina’s admirers tells Benton that Adelina’s been saying she might like to be a doctor someday. Benton thinks she’d be good at it. Now Adelina has changed her mind, though – doctors act like they know everything when they don’t. Benton admits that he made a mistake with her murmur, but he also learned something.

Maureen tells Benton that he shouldn’t bother trying to convince Grandma to let her have the surgery. Benton doesn’t want to leave town before she agrees, but Maureen says she’ll try to change Grandma mind. She thanks Benton for staying in town and helping her so much. She gets that Benton might not love Laverne the way she does.

They talk about Benton’s specialty, cardiothoracics, which makes it even rougher on Benton that he missed the murmur. Maureen points out that she never detected it, either. Benton brushes that off, since she’s just a nurse. Dude, don’t ever let Haleh find out you said that. Maureen takes it with good humor, and Benton makes it clear he was just kidding.

He admits that he’s been distracted the past year, because of Reese. Maureen can relate. She reveals that Sonny, who Benton thought was her son, isn’t actually her child. He moved in with her a few years ago after his parents died. They agree that parenting is a full-time job. Benton’s face breaks into a huge smile as he says he loves spending time with Reese. Maureen thinks that spending time with other people shouldn’t be any harder. She says it’s a blessing that he can hear the sound of his own heart.

Sonny pulls up in his truck and announces that there was a boat accident at the wharf. He takes Benton and Maureen over, and the two set up a makeshift triage center. They don’t have many medical supplies, but they’re able to use whatever they can find to take care of their injured patients. Benton even enlists Sonny as an assistant, and Sonny provides some important help. It turns out Benton’s surgical skills are more important in Laverne than he’d thought.

Once the emergency is over, Benton tells Sonny he did a good job. Sonny now respects him enough to shake his hand. Maureen says they were lucky to have a surgeon in town. The emergency made Benton miss his flight, but he’s not worried – he’ll just catch one tomorrow. In the morning, he says goodbye to Maureen earlier than planned, saying he has to take care of something.

Benton returns to Chicago with two guests, Adelina and her grandmother. Elizabeth is there to meet him with Reese. Adelina is thrilled to experience snow for the first time. Benton takes her to an appointment with a surgeon, then chats with Weaver, who has heard from Romano that Benton will probably get the fellowship he wants next year. Now, though, Benton isn’t sure he wants such a demanding specialty, since it’ll leave him with less time to spend with Reese.

Jeanie’s back in the hospital, having had a setback. Her nose starts bleeding, and when Benton takes a tissue and tries to wipe it away, she tells him not to touch her – she’s poison. She whispers that she can’t handle this. Benton assures her that she can and touches her cheek, not worried that she’ll pass her poison on to him.

Thoughts: Maureen is played by Celia Weston, one of my favorite character actresses.

When this episode originally aired, I wanted it to end with Benton and Jeanie getting back together, but now I think she’s better with Reggie.

I assume Benton has some sort of medical database on his computer, because there’s no way he could get Internet access at the Ebees’ house, especially in 1999.

1 Comment »

  1. Nick Rivers said,

    I never remembered this one-off episode the first time around, but it was really, really good. Shades of Doc Hollywood, of course, but how can you escape such comparisons? I liked that they sent him to small-town Mississippi… though as a former Minnesota resident, he might have faced even more subtle racism up there than he did in Mississippi. They like to paint themselves as progressive, small town Minnesota is very closed off to outsiders and the “Minnesota Nice” doesn’t extend to racial understanding, as we’ve all witnessed lately. At least in Mississippi they were just flat-out “We don’t like you!” to his face so you get that understanding right off the bat.

    Celia Weston did a fabulous job with this. I liked that they dropped in the nun bit towards the end. But if I were a town resident I’d be nervous — what happens if she gets really sick herself and not just injured?

    The Jeanie bits were interesting bookends if a little clunky, only because they don’t interact all that much the rest of the time. But they seem to have softened Benton a bit this season, and maybe Reese is the reason. Really loved the dock scene as my favorite episodes always do deal with mass casualty triaging of some sort, at some point.

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