New Cinemax drama shows one generation’s medical innovations are another’s horror show

For a culture in which gorefests — The Walking Dead and True Blood — are among the most popular cable shows, it takes a lot to shock most American audiences. So how’s this for original drama — a program centered on a state-of-the-art hospital in New York at the turn of the 20th century depicting […]

For a culture in which gorefests — The Walking Dead and True Blood — are among the most popular cable shows, it takes a lot to shock most American audiences. So how’s this for original drama — a program centered on a state-of-the-art hospital in New York at the turn of the 20th century depicting gory medical procedures that also looks at the culture of medicine and the community’s interaction with healthcare? That’s what Cinemax’s The Knick is all about. The first episode of the series created by Steven Soderbergh airs August 8 at 10 p.m.

Taking a stroll through history can work wonders both for the stark reality of the conditions that passed for normalcy and the unexpectedly new appreciation one gets from the comforts we have now. First HBO had Deadwood and more recently Boardwalk Empire.

The slickly designed hospital drama’s trailer and promotional pictures revel in the gothic effect of blood dripping from sharp medical implements and speckled on white boots. Yech! It portrays doctors with a hint at the awe and reverence of the times but with a creepy soundtrack that underscores how 21st century audiences view painful procedures that look more like butchery than medicine.

The pre-show reviews sound encouraging, like those from NPR and Vanity Fair, but The New Yorker is a little less impressed. Just as I enjoyed reading doctor bloggers review House episodes, I can’t wait to hear what medical professionals have to say about this program. I’m also looking forward to the inevitable parallels the show will draw between the current excitement around contemporary developments in medical technology such as the impact of electronic medical record adoption, robotics, cancer immunotherapy and personalized medicine and medical innovations in 1900.

MedCity has visited the history of medical innovation before, with an article that looked at the history of medical devices and a timeline of medical technology.

A Mashable article offers up a gross-out primer on 19th century medicine. It was a world in which doctors liberally prescribed medicines that would lead patients to puke or relieve themselves violently with the thinking that it would purge people of whatever was making them ill. X-rays were just beginning to come into use. Anesthesia was still making its way into mainstream medicine so amputations without it were still common practice.

Those of you familiar with hospitals’ efforts to combat hospital-acquired infections, particularly sepsis, will recoil in horror at the practice of surgeons “giving their tools and fingers a cursory rub down on their aprons or handkerchiefs between patients.” Apparently, the more blood on a surgeon’s clothing, the more he was trusted as an experienced professional. It will be interesting to see how many times the word innovation gets used in the new program and how the story behind the program unfolds.