The first eight episodes of the Netflix documentary series “Lenox Hill” followed doctors who are clearly passionate about what they do. In the heart of a profession that requires a specific, continuous commitment, these medical experts each talk about what motivates them to keep going in a job that’s drenched in uncertainty.
But for as much enthusiasm and conviction as those episodes have, the new half-hour follow-up detailing these doctors’ experiences after the arrival of coronavirus in New York City shows them in moments that bring them to tears. In this epilogue, there’s a very different feel to what viewers get to see of this fight. In the process, it shows how far away we still are from a point where we can look back with any definitive answers.
It’s a chronological look at how the hospital (shown in the rest of the season under more normal circumstances) has dealt with COVID-19 challenges. As much of a blur as some of these past months may have felt like in many countries worldwide, this is a situation that’s evolved over time as scientific understanding of the spread becomes slightly more clear. This episode stretches from the days before lockdown all the way through the nationwide wave of racial justice protests. Even though these time jumps are jarring, they’re a sign of how much has changed even if the incremental (and in some cases, exponential) rise of COVID-related harm too often goes unnoticed.
Even though series directors Ruthie Shatz and Adi Barash are behind this new episode as well, the limitations of production under this new set of circumstances means that this latest “Lenox Hill” has a different rhythm. There’s an urgency here unlike what the show had, even when it was capturing childbirth or life-saving brain surgery. The times in the doctors’ respective offices for casual regrouping are noticeably absent. The conversations and interviews happening onsite all have a sense of unease underpinning them. Neurosurgery Vice Chair John Boockvar sweeps a floor in an attempt to try to keep at least one thing sterile. Emergency medicine doctor Mirtha Macri wipes down a chair and gestures to rooms across a hallway that are unusable without first being cleaned by a specialized decontamination crew.
The rest of the “Lenox Hill” series found an anchor in focusing its attention on a quartet of doctors. Dr. Amanda Little-Richardson, who moved to the West Coast after the filming of the original series, is the only one not also featured here. In her absence, Shatz and Barash use that extra time to widen the scope of professionals featured from inside the hospital. If the opening eight installments of “Lenox Hill” were an equivalent of a reported magazine feature, this new episode is more akin to a back and forth text message convo with those same subjects, checking in to make sure that they (and their colleagues) are still doing OK. Still illuminating and from the same source, but in different ways.
A key part of the original “Lenox Hill” equation was a familiarity with the patients undergoing treatment. That relationship, fostered through the trust built up with the doctors, was also a product of time. Here, with an illness manifesting so quickly, with family members unable to visit, their place in the series changes, too.
That change is also reflected in the work that these doctors are doing. New responsibilities, helping with managing COVID spread and conducting clinical trials, means seeing surgeons Boockvar and Neurosurgery Chief David Langer adopt a different form of bedside manner. Thrust into situations that don’t allow for the kind of pre-procedure planning that comes with a complex neurosurgery, these experts are now being asked to adjust to a different kind of patient relationship as well.
Elsewhere, these frightening changes are upending the normal rhythm of daily life at the hospital. Some people work certain managerial and organizational shifts remotely. There are windows into meetings where department heads are shuffling duties, obligations, and operating space in order to meet the facility’s demands. The juggling of the present and the future, as the rest of the season did with highlighting the journey of new mothers, also repeats here as Macri considers the kind of help she can offer. There’s even a short clip acknowledging the newest mantle that doctors like these are taking up: becoming a trusted source of up-to-date scientific information in a media landscape where other figures who are dominating the conversation rarely have any to offer.
This episode isn’t pitched as solely a time capsule, but the breadth of time that it covers is far more than a daily news piece. It’s not chaos, but following an ever-changing set of circumstances, especially with an explicit lack of hindsight, means that this project is going to have some inherent gaps in understanding about what’s transpiring. It’s a snapshot of informed desperation and the kind of resilience that is giving communities a chance at survival at a time when far too many people still refuse to acknowledge the ongoing severity of this crisis. So, while there will be plenty of time in the future to offer windows into this era with clearer perspective, this is a slice of “Lenox Hill” that feels particularly made to be watched in this current moment. As this country is still in the midst of responding to a crisis that has no signs of slowing, it’s a valuable reminder of what’s at stake for those risking their lives.
“Lenox Hill” Season 1 is available to stream on Netflix.