Hooked on Nurse Jackie
If I am ever rushed on a gurney to Emerg, with a tube up my nose and a throng of doctors yelling orders in my wake, I want the first face I see to be Nurse Jackie's. Nothing stands between TV's stalwart nurse and her patient---not meddlesome relatives, not by-the-book hospital brass, not MDs determined to be heroes no matter what the cost. And certainly not her own limits. Killer backache? Time for a pain pill. Anxious kid at home? No worries; it's a stage. Jackie loves her work with such full-tilt, obliterating passion that when she's on the floor, the rest of the world falls away. This is why I trust Jackie---and why, deep down, we're soul mates.
For Nurse Jackie, I joined my first---very likely my only---Facebook fan group. First discovery: other nurses identify with Jackie (although some swear they'd never help a terminally ill colleague end her life, as our heroine did in the most powerful episode yet). But make no mistake: this is not a show about nursing. It asks brave, thorny questions about the role of work in women's lives. If you are a woman who has sacrificed for a job, I defy you not to see a little of yourself in Jackie, compellingly portrayed by Edie Falco of Sopranos fame.
It's not as if I ever dreamed of being a nurse. From Dr. Kildare, the medical show of my childhood, I concluded that nurses took orders while doctors saved lives. I grew up to to be one of those silk-shirted careerists who turned up their noses at traditional women's jobs. We believed little girls who aspired to be nurses should be asked, "Really? Why not a doctor?" Meanwhile lots of us made less than we deserved but loved our jobs too much to ask for more. As an editorial keener who wrote five columns and fine-tuned every word in the under-resourced women's magazine that employed me, I never went home without a briefcase full of copy to attack between the washing up and bedtime. When I dared to broach the matter of my meagre salary, it was with the most abject delicacy.
My work gave me a shining sense of competence that I found nowhere else, one that flourished under fire. To excel in any job, you have to throw your arms around the problems that come with the territory. That's what I did. It's what Jackie does, too. As she tells the wide-eyed trainee nurse, Zoey, "This job is wading through a s**t storm of people who come into this place on the very worst day of their lives. Just so you know, doctors are here to diagnose, not heal. We heal."
On the face of things, Jackie has what most of us want: absorbing work, lovely children and an impossibly handsome husband who shoulders his share of the chores without one cross word or misplaced sock. Shades of that tattered old buzz phrase "having it all!" She's also wangled a doubly illicit bonus: nooners with the hospital pharmacist who keeps her supplied with painkillers. To him their affair is a full-fledged relationship, honoured on their one-year anniversary with a pricey bracelet. To Jackie it's what she has to do to stay in fighting form. (Anniversary? What anniversary?) Bracelets mean nothing to Jackie, who's never shown in anything but hospital blues* and that cropped, slicked-back hair she can comb with her fingers. You get the feeling she doesn't own an off-the-shoulder dress, let alone a pair of stilettos.
And don't talk to Jackie about "life balance." What she's cobbled together is not so much a life as three separate compartments: job, family, affair. She and her adorable husband glide past each other planting kisses with the offhand, practiced affection of spouses too busy to address their biggest problems. Oh, Jackie! I've been there. And her daughter Grace, whose drawings contain not one smiling sun or jot of colour, clearly isn't just going through a phase.
Until now I've always been the last to champion a TV show. I only watched Nurse Jackie's debut because Edie Falco dazzled me in The Sopranos (which had been reinventing television for a couple of season by the time I finally saw what I'd been missing). She inhabits the role of Jackie Peyton with such commanding devotion that I saw no trace of coiffed, bejeweled Carmela Soprano. Come to think of it, though, she shares a bond with the queen of New Jersey mob wives. They're both compromised women. Carm knows what's paying for her lavish home and full-length mink, but she's not about to ask questions when associates vanish into the void of the "witness protection program." She's hooked on her perks, as Jackie is hooked on her pills. If you haven't discovered Nurse Jackie, check it out. Bet you won't believe how much insight grit and moral challenge the show delivers in half an hour. Oh, one more thing: don't forget to tell me what you think.
* Don't be misled by the white coat in this poster. Just some art director being creative!