The Weekend's TV: Frontline Medicine, Sun, BBC2
The Secret Millionaire, Sun, Channel 4
Frontline Medicine is supreme silver-lining television, pointing at the blackest cloud and drawing our attention to the filigree rim of brightness round the edge.
Last week, Michael Mosley visited Afghanistan to see how Camp Bastion medics were pioneering techniques on combat casualties that will, eventually, save civilian lives. This week, he was on safer ground, looking at the long-term rehabilitation of those whose bodies have been shattered. And just as the First and Second World War resulted in big leaps in reconstructive surgery, Afghanistan's relentless supply of raw material is leading contemporary surgeons to discover new ways of repairing damage. It seems that military amputees, in particular, are model patients, largely because they aren't patient at all. Take Chuck, for example, who Mosley watched coming in to a Camp Bastion hospital with one foot hanging by a thread. Meeting him again in an American military hospital, Mosley discovered the foot had gone. Given the choice between a reconstruction that would take well over a year (and might not work anyway) and a clean cut, Chuck had opted for the latter. He wanted to get back on his own two feet, even if one of them would now be made of milled steel and carbon fibre.
Mosley visited MIT to see how far prosthetics have advanced, trailing behind a professor who had a direct personal interest in artificial limbs (he'd lost a leg in a climbing accident) and who practically skipped ahead of him. Another soldier Glen demonstrated his false arm, controlled simply by thought after the nerves that once led to his vanished wrist had been rewired into his upper arm. And Rob Long, a British soldier blinded by an IED, tested out a device that fed visual information to him through his tongue, allowing him to "see" and follow a twisting white line across the floor. Did he perceive it as out there, you wondered, as ordinary visual images appear to us? Or would that only come later as the brain adapted?
Mosley also looked at improvements in transplant technology, talking to a farm worker who'd lost both hands in an accident and now has a new pair, along with a rather unsettling seam halfway down both forearms. Many of these new techniques involve an equally unsettling splice between established fact and hopeful experiment; they seem to work but nobody is yet entirely sure why in all cases. And that left you wondering a little exactly who it was that could be said to be on the medical frontline here? The doctors who pioneer the treatments? Or the patients who test them out, once again walking point for the rest of us? Either way, it was thought-provoking television.
The Secret Millionaire, always a series that wobbled a little on its base (does it really raise consciousness or just salve millionaire consciences?) has become even more awkward in the light of the Occupy movement, contriving, as it does, to bring a member of the one percent into direct contact with the bottom rungs of the 99 per cent. Last night, it was Charles Allen's turn – a very well-connected millionaire indeed (he seems to be on the board of pretty much everything) and it was difficult to suppress a spirit of contradiction, despite his genuinely emotional response to the hardship he encountered. "This is worse than I had imagined," he said, arriving in his accommodation. If that's true, you thought, you really haven't been exercising your imagination enough. And when he described the task of deciding how to support the groups he'd encountered as "Sophie's choice" I got even more testy. No, it isn't, Charles. You don't have to choose between them because you can easily afford to sign a cheque for all three. As he then did, to be fair. One hopes that his freshly aroused social conscience persists, as he promised it would. But couldn't this process go a bit faster than one sheltered, over-rewarded plutocrat a week?
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