It’s one thing to enjoy a good medical yarn on shows like Code Black or Grey’s Anatomy. It’s another to know that the drama is real, and it’s happening in a hospital near you.
Keeping Canada Alive, CBC’s ambitious new six-part series, chronicles what happened in the 24 hours comprising May 6, 2015, at more than 40 health and homecare locations in 24 Canadian cities.
Among the places grabbing screen time are Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Yellowknife and Fort Qu’Appelle, Sask.
Based on the U.K. series Keeping The Nation Alive, the Canadian version is narrated by Kiefer Sutherland and uses 60 camera crews to film 36 stories. Creative producer Dianna Bodnar and executive producer Rob Bromley spoke about the show.
Q What inspired you to examine the health care system in this way?
Bromley: I have a daughter who’s severely disabled, and among her challenges was a nine-and-a-half-hour scoliosis operation, so I’ve seen our health care system first hand and have a great respect for the people in it. But what comes with it is a natural conflict between the dollars available and what science can do. So decisions have to get made every day by health care professionals that aren’t always easy.
Q It’s an ambitious project — what were your biggest challenges?
Bodnar: One was the speed with which we needed to proceed. Because Canada is so many health authorities and systems across the country, it’s really getting the permissions from the hospitals, doctors and patients and finding our stories. It takes a lot of time. And then the other challenge was coordinating just over 60 crews shooting for 24 hours on one day. We wanted to really cover the country, rural places and bigger cities and try to get the broadest reach possible.
Q How did patients and their families react to being filmed?
Bodnar: People were incredibly generous with us. They gave of themselves at a very vulnerable time in their lives. They allowed us to film them not only undergoing those treatments, but also those emotional things you feel when you’re so vulnerable.
Q What are some of the stories that stand out for you?
Bodnar: There’s a 12-week-old baby undergoing pediatric surgery for a heart defect. There’s a young man in his 20s who was playing beer-league hockey and had a severe spinal cord injury. There’s wonderful couple — the wife is a caregiver for her husband, who has Alzheimer’s. We have a terrific story about a child who has her cochlear hearing implant turned on for the first time. It’s amazing.
Q Is there an underlying political statement about the health care system?
Bromley: I don’t think so. We’re just telling the stories of what happened on the day. That’s really what our role was — to present it, and then let the discussion flow from there.
Keeping Canada Alive airs Sundays on CBC