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  • The TV show ER saved my life. More specifically, episode twenty, season four, "Of Past Regret and Future Fear".

    When the show first came on, I didn’t watch it. I didn’t have a TV, but even if I did, medical melodramas aren’t usually my kind of entertainment. However, in 1999 I was living in Moscow, Russia teaching English, and my apartment came with a TV. The few channels that existed showed a mix of Russian and foreign shows, and I quickly discovered that ER was on right after I got home from the night classes I taught, five nights a week.

    Watching ER became my nightly ritual. Though dubbed in Russian, it was done so badly that you could still here the original voices, if you listened. I would sit close to the TV and try to block out the Russian, concentrating on the background noise until it came out in front, similar to refocusing your eyes on a fractal picture until you see the hidden image, but once you do see it, it just pops right out in front of you.

    My Russian language teacher would have yelled at me for this, she wanted me to watch only shows in Russian, but I guess I was never that good of a language student. Even the most hardcore expats, exiles and immigrants, on occasion, need some connection to their original home, to a more familiar culture and experience. That is what ER became for me. This was my first time living abroad, in a very different country, and returning from work and watching ER became warm comfort food from home, where I didn’t have to think or make my way through a massive foreign (to me) city. I could block out the Russian.

    So how did the show save my life? One weekend some friends and I visited another Russian city, and I got a terrible stomach ache, but it soon disappeared. I figured I had ate something bad. But a week or so later the pain came back, worse than before. I continued to work, though I could barely stand, hoping that the pain would go away like the first time, and not having any real desire to try out the Russian medical system. After a couple days of this, I came home from work and turned on ER, and it was season four, episode twenty. In this episode, a character played by Michael Rappaport goes into the hospital with a little problem, and ends up dead by the end. It scared the fuck out of me, and convinced me to see a doctor.

    The next morning I went into the school office, who sent me to a clinic, who put me in an ambulance to the hospital so they could take out my appendix. When I woke up in the middle of the night from my surgery, I had a giant scar down my belly and drainage tubes coming out of everywhere. I later found out with much difficulty that wasn’t my appendix, but for some reason a giant hole had exploded in my intestines, and that everything had been draining into my gut creating a massive infection, which all my organs had moved over to try to block off. If I hadn’t come in when I had, I would probably have been dead by the end of the day. Even after surgery, the doctors had given me a five percent chance of survival.

    So that is how ER saved my life. Soon the show would be replaced on the schedule with Nash Bridges of all things. I couldn’t get into that.
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