Boo on Nurse Jackie

Hospital_PoleI have just finished binge-watching all seven seasons of Showtime’s TV series Nurse Jackie. By the end of season three I was oh so sick of seeing all of those oval blue pills, supposedly the Oxycontin prescription pain killers the fictional character of ‘All Saints Hospital’ ER Nurse Jackie (played by Edie Falco) was hooked on. In the name of research for this blog post, I binged onwards through the next four seasons. I am relieved it is over. I am relieved, I’m sad to say, that Nurse Jackie seemingly dies of a street drug overdose in the penultimate episode. Please, do not revive Nurse Jackie; do not make a Nurse Jackie sequel.

Unless it is a Nurse Zoey show. Nurse Zoey (played by Merritt Wever) rocks, starting with her cute pink bunny scrubs, pink headband, and pink nursing notebook in Season One when she appears as a nursing student. We’ll ignore her improbable (and frankly, boring) love affair with hottie doctor what’s-his-name in Season Four. I like the character of Nurse Zoey so much better than Nurse Jackie, not because of Jackie’s addiction, but because Zoey is a more realistic and well-developed character. I’ve known, taught, and worked with quite a few Nurse Zoey’s many times and in many places (including in community health) over my nursing career. I love the freshness and zaniness of her outlook on nursing. I love her intelligence and inquisitiveness. I love her loyalty–and its limits–to the messiness that is her mentor Nurse Jackie. I love that towards the end of the show she is committed to becoming a nurse practitioner (and not, as the ER TV series character Nurse Abby Lockhardt–played by Maura Tierney–does and becomes a physician because she is “too smart to be just a nurse”).

What bothered me most about the character of Nurse Jackie was that she is not at all believable. Of course, addiction and especially addiction to prescription pain medications is all too common a problem for nurses (and physicians). There are many surveillance, intervention, treatment, and disciplinary programs in place at hospitals, clinics, and home health agencies to address this. Again, by point of TV show comparison, in the show ER, both Nurse-turned-physician Abby Lockhart and Dr. John Carter (played by Noah Wyle) have addictions: Lockhart is a recovering alcoholic who relapses, and Carter develops and then recovers from an addiction to prescription pain medicine. In both cases, the contributors to and consequences of their addictions are realistically portrayed.

The type and severity of the addiction Nurse Jackie supposedly has seems to have developed in a vacuum–maybe out of an on-the-job back injury–and she continues to function as some sort of super-hero, saintly nurse. That just does not happen. And what was with the Catholic/religious connections throughout the Nurse Jackie show?  I tolerated it until in the final episode of season 7, where Nurse Jackie appears to be Mary Magdalene washing the feet of the IV-heroin user (is that supposed to be Jesus in disguise?) with some heavenly glow all around her. Please. I realize this is ‘just TV’ and that at least this show highlights the profession of nursing, but we can do so much better than this.

5 thoughts on “Boo on Nurse Jackie

  1. I’ve been binge watching the entire ER series and I’m appalled at the similarities of the story lines and even the characters between ER and Nurse Jackie! I was a fan and now I know why…its just a dark-humored regurgitation of ER. Now I’m not such a fan…

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  2. As a person with a mother who chose her addiction over her children and family, the show is all too real. I found it rather traumatic to watch. I’m not watching from a nurse’s perspective and I agree the “ER” component is entertaining (Merritt Weaver is so wonderful) but not realistic. However, I remember when my mother gave up custody and so I knew exactly where Jackie was headed when she gave up hers. Even if seemingly for the right reason, it’s because she knew she was planning to use again. And it doesn’t start in a vacuum in the show or in real life. It started slowly during post-partum with her first daughter (she admits this to Charlie) and had become an extreme case over years. That was exactly what happened in my house growing up. And, like on the show, it all came crashing down when I was 15 and suffered my mother’s humiliations in public. My mother wasn’t a high functioning nurse but she hid her addiction for years until we finally started noticing signs like that she visited multiple pharmacies for her prescriptions. She’s now a heroin addict and I have no idea how she’s still alive.

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    1. Hi Roxy, Thanks for sharing your story and perspective about the Nurse Jackie show. I am really sorry to hear about your mother and your experience as a child/teen/daughter in light of her addiction. It also highlights for me (as a nurse) the vital importance of screening for and providing appropriate support/treatment for postpartum depression which can lead to ‘self medicating.’

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