December 7, 2021

ER 9.22, Kisangani: Culture Shock

Posted in TV tagged , , at 5:05 pm by Jenn

This shot of Luka is a gift to us all

Summary: We started the season in the Congo, and we’re ending it with Carter heading there to meet up with Luka for Alliance de Medicine Whatever work. The man next to him on the plane to Kinshasa warns that he’ll have a lot to do in Kisangani. After hours of traveling, Carter meets up with a man named Charles, who’s flying with him to Kisangani. He tells Carter that Luka’s still working at a clinic in another town for a little while. Charles says that all the women there love Luka. Well, of course.

On a bumpy drive to their destination, Carter asks Charles if he’ll be dealing with any conditions more than others. Charles says it depends on the day. When they arrive at their accommodations in Kisangani, they’re met by a bunch of refugees huddled in an open tent to stay out of the rain. They’re quieter than the ER patients Carter deals with every day, and most likely have more urgent needs.

Carter spends the night on a cot, surrounded by mosquito netting (which doesn’t seem to be doing its job), then reports for his first day at the clinic. He meets a surgeon named Angelique, who gives him a quick rundown of the illnesses they see most and the medications they use to treat them. They mostly have antibiotics, and if infections don’t respond to them, there’s not much the staff can do. She introduces Carter to Gillian, and the two women talk about him in French, which he doesn’t speak. Gillian is man crazy, it seems, so Angelique guesses she already has a crush on Carter.

Gillian tells Carter that Angelique is originally from India and has worked in Kisangani for six years. Carter will be one of four doctors at the clinic, all from different countries. Charles is in charge of logistics and supplies. (I’m not sure where he’s from; the actor playing him is Swiss.) There are five nurses, but patients’ family members pitch in a lot. Carter thinks the nurses at County might stop complaining if they had the same patient load as the nurses in this clinic. He has no idea – the admit area is so busy, Carter thinks he’s already on a patient ward.

He and Gillian treat some patients together, sending as many people home as possible, even when they have something like malaria. They don’t have enough beds to admit everyone who should be admitted. Gillian uses some diagnostic tests rather than blood work to determine that a boy has polio. His father is devastated. Carter is clearly blindsided by how serious his patients’ conditions are compared to the people he treats in Chicago.

Gillian joins Carter for lunch, which is apparently horrible. He compliments her English, and she teases him because he assumed her French accent means she’s not a native speaker (she’s from Montreal). She’s only been in Kisangani for ten days, but that’s just this time around – she spends a month there every year. She calls it her penance for her wildness in the rest of her life.

Angelique joins them and asks Gillian in French how Carter’s doing. Gillian says he’s competent but out of his depth when it comes to the “primitive conditions.” Carter calls them out for obviously talking about him right in front of him. He tells them he works with Luka, and Angelique and Gillian exchange a glance. When Angelique asks what Luka’s like back home, Gillian decides to leave the conversation.

Angelique tells Carter that Luka went to another town, Matenda, a few days ago with an immunization team. The clinic doesn’t get vaccines often, and refrigeration is tough when they do, so they went as quickly as they could. They were supposed to return yesterday. Angelique isn’t worried, since it happens.

Carter goes back to work, finding a man and woman sitting by a wall, waiting for treatment. He tells a nurse that the woman has died. The man says he knows. His wife has been dying of AIDS for months, and he didn’t know where else to go. Carter’s shellshocked again. Are you getting the theme here? How Carter, a privileged white guy from the U.S., is stunned by the conditions people experience in other countries? Are we all on the same page here? Good.

On day 6 of his African adventure, Carter is communicating more with his patients (through translators) and getting to know them more. The lights go out while he’s making rounds. Outside, Luka arrives in a makeshift ambulance with a couple patients with gunshot wounds and one with a machete wound. Angelique yells for Charles to start their generator so they can do their jobs. The lights come on as Carter and Gillian use whatever tools they have available to treat a patient.

The clinic is running out of oxygen, and they only have a few hours left of fuel for the generator. If they turn out all the lights, they can ration their supply. Carter thinks his patient needs surgery, but Angelique says that would be a waste of their resources. She’s familiar with the kind of ammo he was shot with, and she knows that even with treatment, the patient will most likely die. She’ll go treat the other patients, and if the lights are still on after that, she’ll come back.

Charles runs through the clinic, turning off the lights, as Angelique and Luka operate on her last patient. Carter and Gillian’s patient needs more blood, but they’re out. Carter suggests that they donate. Gillian reminds him that they can’t save everyone. The lights flicker, which Gillian recognizes as the staff rolling the generator to get every last drop of fuel.

Angelique finishes with her last patient, then comes back to Carter’s to see what she can do with their last half hour of generator power. Carter assists in surgery, which means somewhere, Benton is chuckling. They’re wrapping up when the lights go out again, so Angelique says they’ll have to pack the patient’s wounds and come back tomorrow, assuming he survives the night. Gillian notices that the man is bleeding from his fingertips and gums, which means his blood isn’t clotting. Carter tries to massage the patient’s heart, working even after Angelique tells him it’s time to give up. The man’s family watches the whole time.

Carter finally gets a chance to talk to Luka, who’s taken up smoking, that rebel. Luka’s going back to the other clinic the next day to continue treating some patients who can’t be moved to Kisangani. Gillian gives him a cool welcome back, and Carter quickly puts together that Luka and Gillian have hooked up. Gillian guesses that Carter’s upset about the patient they weren’t able to save, so she shares some good old-fashioned American Pepsi with him.

She heads off to bed, announcing that she hopes someone will join her. Luka ignores her and asks Carter how Abby is. Carter thinks Luka believes he and Gillian hooked up, and he promises they didn’t. Luka’s like, “So does that mean I’m free to join her in bed?” Luka, I’m 100 percent sure Carter doesn’t want to spend a single second thinking about your sex life, so just go do whatever you want and let him pretend he doesn’t know anything about it.

On day 10, one of Carter’s patients from his first day at the clinic returns, since her malaria medication isn’t working. Two new doctors arrive from the U.S., so Carter gets to be the veteran with some newbies. Angelique tells him that Charles is bringing in some vaccines the next day, and if he can find a nurse to tag along, he can go to Matenda with an immunization team. Carter picks Gillian, and though I’m sure Angelique thinks it’s because she’s pretty, it’s really because she’s one of only two nurses in this episode, and the only one who got paid to say more than one line of dialogue.

The next day, Carter, Charles, and Gillian head to Matenda, passing the bodies of people who have been killed in the country’s ongoing war. Their driver, Patrique, is from the Congo and remembers how beautiful and peaceful things were when he was a child. In Matenda, they reunite with Luka, who’s happy to have Carter’s help in vaccinating a long line of patients. He teaches Carter a little French so he can tell the kids not to be afraid. (Yes, Luka speaking French is just as delightful as you’d imagine.)

One of the patients has a bad cough, and Carter guesses he has whooping cough. The boy gets admitted to the clinic, though Carter can only give him basic antibiotics. After work, Carter asks Luka if he told the boy’s father they can save him. Without stronger antibiotics, the boy doesn’t have a chance. Carter laments not being able to give him a $10 medication that’s easily available in the U.S. But Luka’s still optimistic: They vaccinated 200 kids today, which means they saved 200 lives in a single afternoon, something they never do in Chicago.

That night, some of the staff hang out and listen to Willie Nelson’s version of “Willow Weep for Me” (Charles chose the music; he went to college in Texas). Luka ends a dance with Gillian by dipping her. Carter gives a happy bow in response. Moments later, bombs hit the site just a few feet away. Everything is quiet for a few moments, but then a woman runs up, carrying a screaming child. Her foot was blown off by a bomb.

Carter and Luka move quickly to treat the girl, Chance, even as bombs continue blasting and gunfire can be heard. Patrique announces that they need to evacuate their patients. Rebels are getting closer, but Luka won’t move until they’ve stopped the Chance’s bleeding. The staff does their best to ignore the sounds of war outside. Willie Nelson takes over the soundtrack as they finish up and rush Chance and their other patients into the relative safety of the jungle.

They all spend the night there, and in the morning, Chance is doing well. Carter praises Luka for his surgical skills. Luka says he’s done this before. He knows war starts with patriotism and talk of pride, but it always leads to death. The people of the Congo want the same things every parent does. They want their children to be safe no matter where their country’s borders are or who their president is.

Carter admits to not knowing the politics of the situation, like, of course not – you’re a rich white dude from America. You probably couldn’t even find the Congo on a map before you got on the plane. Luka notes that Americans fight wars a lot differently than people in other countries. American soldiers get to maintain a lot of distance from the people they kill.

Carter argues that American soldiers died in Iraq. Luka points out that back in America, people don’t suffer the starvation and assaults that the civilians in warring third-world countries do. Back in Croatia, Luka was won over by all the newspapers and reports that urged the country to fight for freedom. Then his family was killed and all of that felt pointless. His children were dead – nothing else mattered.

The group heads back to the clinic, passing bodies on their way. They find one man who’s still alive and bring him with them. The rebels took the clinic’s stash of food and some supplies, but the staff will continue their work anyway. Patrique identifies the man they found as a government soldier. I don’t think it matters who he is; Luka’s going to treat him anyway.

The boy with whooping cough isn’t getting better, but Luka tells Carter to keep using the same treatment he’s been using. Chance, on the other hand, is doing well. The soldier doesn’t want to stay at the clinic, and he insists on going back to his regiment. Carter will let him go when he can walk again. Luka argues with Charles about whether they should go back to Kisangani or stay in Matenda. Luka says at least three of their patients will die if they’re moved. He suggests that the others go back to Kisangani and leave him behind in Matenda.

Charles is okay with this, but Gillian isn’t. She knows Luka can’t take care of all three patients by himself with only Patrique’s help, since Patrique doesn’t have any medical training. Luka orders her to go back to Kisangani, reminding her that in a few days, a group will come back to get him. If you thought Abby was stubborn, Gillian is even more so, and she’s giving Luka a run for his money.

Some rebel soldiers arrive, and Charles explains to them why the clinic staff is there. One of the soldiers seems skeptical that they’re all with an aid group. The rebels pull the government soldier from the group and drag him off. They make everyone else get on their knees while one rebel holds a gun to Luka’s forehead. As Patrique continues begging for their lives, the rebel turns to Carter.

Patrique tells the rebel that Carter tried for a long time to save his brother (the man who died after being shot). Carter recognizes one of the younger rebels as that patient’s family member. Satisfied that the group is telling the truth about being with an aid organization, the rebels start to leave, but not before killing the government soldier. Carter’s seen murder before, but this seems more brutal. He can’t call the cops and have them bring the rebel to justice.

Later, Luka and Gillian kiss goodbye while Carter and Charles try to avert their eyes. Luka’s stay in the Congo is pretty open-ended, so Carter asks what he should tell Weaver when he gets back to Chicago. Luka doesn’t care. Carter tells him not to do anything stupid like get himself killed. Luka takes a moment, then goes back to the clinic to keep working.

Gillian cries on Carter’s shoulder, then his lap as they ride back to Kisangani. Sometime later, he returns to Chicago and lets himself into Abby’s apartment. Didn’t they basically break up? Eh, whatever. She’s asleep, and he doesn’t wake her to say he’s back. He just sits on the bed and probably thinks about how all his experiences in the Congo have made him a new person, or whatever.

Thoughts: The Africa episodes are the ultimate in white saviorism – well-meaning but ultimately pointless because they’re not helping anyone. They’re just the show patting itself on the back for shining a light on what some people go through around the world, but they don’t really offer any solutions, and they only show the negative parts of Africa. Also, they apparently filmed these episodes in Hawaii.

I’m surprised Carter doesn’t speak French. Wouldn’t he have learned it at some fancy private school? Maybe he took Latin.

I’m disappointed that there’s only a brief mention of how Luka watched his family die in a war and is now volunteering in a region that’s in the middle of its own war. How does he not have debilitating PTSD?

I feel like I just started season 9 a couple weeks ago, but we’re already done. Up next: Neela, Sam, Morris, and Thandie Newton.

1 Comment »

  1. Patrick Sullivan said,

    I agree with you about the Africa episodes. Lost was the only one I really liked because it strengthened the friendship of Luca and Carter. Also Darfur was more heavily in the headlines at that time, early 2000’s. I also appreciated how Luca learned how to be a better clinician and save the patients unnecessary expenses from his time there where he had much less resources.


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