Frederick Wiseman is my favorite documentary maker.
You could have read about him if you’d clicked on the link to his Wikipedia page.
But you didn’t.
Was that because you’re intellectually lazy? Or, just too cowardly to test your own convictions? Or perhaps it is that you have the tractability of a cult member, blindly accepting as gospel whatsoever proceeds from the brilliant minds of experts and influencers such as myself?
We may never know the answer to these questions. But whatever the reason, one thing’s for sure. I spit on you and everything you stand for.
You’ll have to forgive me if I’m blunt. Sorry to have hurt your feelings. But guess what? Nobody goes to the hospital over hurt feelings. They go for hurt groins.
Take it from me. Last Wednesday, I woke up in severe chills, with a swelling in my left groin. Actually, the swelling had been there since Saturday. After first discovery of the swelling, I googled my symptoms only to find the possible causes running from inguinal hernia to serious vascular clutter to lymphoma. But these swellings in my groin area happened all the time, typically passing quickly, leaving me little the worse for wear. Surely this swelling would too.
But days went by, and on Wednesday, I had violent chills and fever.
Jacquie rushed me to the emergency department at Auckland City Hospital.
Which brings me back to Frederick Wiseman. Going to the emergency department reminded me of Wiseman’s documentary, Hospital. Going to the hospital was almost as real as watching a documentary about one.
And I learned a lot about what makes the New Zealand health care system differs from the one in America.
For example, the system as a whole is very efficient. The admitting nurse took all the important information. Her questioning was thorough, and thoughtful.
“And how are your balls?” she said.
“Fine, fine,” I said. It made a good impression on me, this keen interest the staff were taking. The admitting nurse summoned an orderly to guide us to the ED registrar where I was immediately assigned a room. While neither of them asked after my masculinity, I was visited by several doctors and nurses who needed to “have a peek at your privates”.
At this point, I was absolutely thrilled by the New Zealand medical care system. Nobody in the US, in or out of the health care sector, ever asked about my privates. My enthusiasm for the New Zealand way of life swelled, and I began to wonder if I didn’t seem just a little too eager to pull down my underwear so a professional could “see what’s going on with the old stick and pebbles”.
They drew blood to rule out more serious things, dosed me with an antibiotics drip, and sent me away with scripts to take down the swelling, which turned out to be an infected lymph node, probably due to me scratching my dry itchy skin like an animal. Just like in the movies.
The one thing they missed, though, was the ringworm on my right wrist. Jacquie later assumed I’d gotten it from holding Vince, with the fungus taking advantage of my preoccupied immune system. But the vet said Vince didn’t have ringworm. Jacquie wondered how else I could have contracted it.
“Has he held a hedgehog lately?” the vet said.
That’s exactly the kind of magic that happens in Wiseman’s movies. The lack of narration, and utilitarian titles, would lead one to believe that Wiseman is pretending to objective narration. But that isn’t the case. Because he takes many more hours of footage than he will need in the final cut, his perspective comes out in editing. The result is something like how a musician might softly riff on a theme. At least that’s what some guy told me.
And what my experience with the New Zealand health system tells me is I may have suffered a week of fever and chills due to a terrible infection in my groin, my balls were never once in any danger. And some day soon, I’ll be able to say the same thing about much of the rest of my body.