A doctor inspired to heal people after her father survived a car crash returns to an award-winning emergency room show tonight.
Dr. Bri Budlovsky, a former Oak Bay resident and graduate of St. Michaels University School, is hoping viewers of the sometimes bloody and shocking, emotional and tear-filled real-life drama in the emergency room are both educated and entertained.
“It’s great in that it’s unscripted and unplanned and un-narrated,” Budlovsky said. “It makes it more like this is what we do — this is the emergency room.”
Emergency Room: Life and Death at Vancouver General Hospital, which follows the only accredited Level 1 Trauma Centre in B.C., returns to B.C.’s public broadcaster Knowledge Network at 9 tonight. It’s produced in partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health.
Budlovsky is a fourth-year resident at VGH. During filming, she was seven to nine months pregnant with her first child. She is featured tackling everything from summer accidents — lawnmower mishaps and falls — to cardiac arrest and head staples.
Budlovsky is prominently featured in episode 204, called Summer, and 206, called Going Home.
The six-part second season of the series promises to show the high-intensity, life-and-death stakes of emergency medicine and to probe the province’s most pressing health and social issues.
Budlovsky believes it’s important for people to have inside knowledge of what goes on in their public health care system and especially in the emergency department, where few go.
“Our hope is that it’s educational,” Budlovsky said. “I think it’s realistic in that it shows some of the difficulties that we have and the tough medical decisions that we have to make for people.
“Sometimes when it’s hard to watch I think that’s important, too, because that’s what it looks like, that’s what our job is and that’s what people are coming in with.”
Budlovsky says the showdoesn’t hide the systemic problems including overcrowding, and the issues faced by the elderly and people with mental health issues in the ER.
The videographers are discreet and the team of health-care professionals that staff the ER hardly noticed the filming, she said. Hospital staff were impressed with the accuracy and realism of the first season’s shows. “It was very easy for us to say yes to Season 2.”
“It allows people to see what we really do,” Budlovsky said. “It features some of the highs and the excitement but also some of the lows and the difficulties we face.”
Knowledge Network delivers commercial-free documentaries, arts and culture, drama and children’s programs from B.C., Canada and around the world.
For Budlovsky, the most heart-breaking cases aren’t the unexpected, but the expected preventable injuries.
“It’s a near-daily occurrence,” she said. “I think maybe sometimes it doesn’t go through people’s minds what the outcome could look like [cyclists without helmets; people on unsecured ladders] and you know it could have been different.”
Especially difficult for Budlovsky to witness is people who lose mobility or cognition because they didn’t wear a bike helmet.
“Not wearing helmets is a huge thing,” Budlovsky said.
For Budlovsky, 29, it’s personal, not just as a physician but as a daughter. On May 24, 2002, her father, Erik Bentzon, was cycling to work at 7 a.m. on Cadboro Bay Road. It was sunny, the first day of bike to work week, when he was struck by a pickup truck.
Her father went hurtling into the windshield and was thrown to the roadside. His bike helmet shattered into 30 to 40 pieces.
An optometrist, he survived because of his helmet, but he suffered major neck damage because one cervical vertebra was crushed and two others were fractured. He also suffered a pulmonary embolism. When the extent of his injuries came to light, he was flown by air ambulance to Vancouver.
Budlovsky’s father escaped becoming a quadriplegic, but was forced to retire due to his neck injuries.
It was that experience of seeing her father’s life saved and how well staff treated the family that caused Budlovsky to reflect on what she wanted to do with her life. “I was really touched by the care he received,” Budlovsky said.
Now as a resident physician, Budlovsky is able to approach patients and their families with the same compassion she received as a teenager who was scared she would lose her father.
Her sister, Stephanie Bentzon, is also graduating from medical school.
Emergency Room: Life and Death at Vancouver General Hospital is a graphic and sometimes heart-breaking look at issues ranging from the tragic to the absurd. It tackles the issues involved with an aging population and introduces new and potentially life-saving technologies such as an automated chest compression tool for cardiac arrest patients.
Budlovsky said the show highlights the importance of having “really hard” discussions with family on “end of life decisions” at home rather than during an emergency at a hospital bedside.
In one episode, doctors talk about very elderly patients having a “full code” — which means to do everything to revive them — while others come in with a Do Not Resuscitate order.
“Sometimes for the right candidate that [intervention] means to go to the Intensive Care Unit and do cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and put down a breathing tube … but for someone chronically ill or someone who already has a poor quality of life, those things may not make them better … and may be a very traumatic thing to go through,” she said.
The hardest part of real life in the emergency room, which will be portrayed in the series, is when the outcome is not what doctors want it to be, Budlovsky said.
One of the toughest is seeing sick children. “I don’t think that gets any easier over time.” And when people die: “You feel the gravity of that moment in a patient’s [and their family’s] life.”
Budlovsky returns to work from maternity leave in September. She and her husband have a six-month-old daughter, Poppy.