M*A*S*HCast #137 – Tea & Empathy

Season 6, Episode 17: Tea & Empathy

Special Guest Star: Dr. Chris Lewis

Air Date: January 17, 1978

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18 responses to “M*A*S*HCast #137 – Tea & Empathy

  1. Kind of a little forgettable for me. It’s not a bad episode, it’s just whenever I’m binging I forget this one. It feels like a Season 3 episode honestly, even though it isn’t.

  2. I really like this episode. It’s fun seeing Father Mulcahy and Klinger out on an adventure together. Bernard Fox is hilarious with his comedic delivery of all those British phrases. In the early seasons such a character would have been written as a one-note antagonist, but by this point in the series, characters tend to be given more complexity. I like how his character and Hawkeye come to understand each other. The addiction story was resolved a little too easily but I still credit the show for tackling the subject. All in all this is one of my personal favorite episodes of the sixth season because of the Mulcahy/Klinger story and Fox’s performance.

    1. Klinger & Mulcahy are a terrific pairing (…and together – They Fight Crime!), and Bernard Fox is a really good guest star. Along with the skilful interweaving of the three plot lines, they definitely lift this episode above the mean, IMHO.

  3. I can follow the logic of Major Ross. It’s less about “mind over matter” and more about avoiding depression in the men. Think of it this way, if he’s normally a brusque commander, then if he comes into Post-Op as all caring and “How are you feeling my boy?” then the men might be convinced that the pity indicates that they’re mortally wounded. Acting how he normally would, though, he convinces them that they must be alright, since he hasn’t changed his behavior towards them. Then, when he comes back and listens to their letters, he can be more caring and not trigger anything in them. Kind of like how a paramedic might tell a patient that they’ll be alright, even if they’re missing a leg and have massive internal injuries. Why add a psychological factor when there’s physical wounds to deal with?

    1. Hi Gene. I concede that perhaps there might be something to Major Ross’s approach, but it’s rather convoluted and probably needed more time to expand on than the episode’s running length permitted.
      I think Ross genuinely does believe in his men and he wants to do the right thing by them. For me, the way he delivers that is lacking in kindness and compassion and it simultaneously feels like he’s undermining the efforts & advice of the MASH medical team.
      It makes for a good denouement of the episode that Hawkeye and Ross come to recognise that they both have the welfare of the patients at heart… even if they demonstrate it in rather different ways.

  4. I like this episode, I had forgotten how much goes on in it. I agree with Dr Lewis about the inauthentic accent and the dialogue of the soldiers, but I love Bernard Fox so that makes up for it. I agree that Father Mulcahy and Corporal Klinger work well together.
    I am also another Brit who isn’t fussed about tea. I think the concept of ‘a nice cup of tea’ is much nicer than the liquid itself.
    Chris Mulkey is best known to me from his role in Twin Peaks. I remember someone once suggesting he would have been a good Frank Burns should, heaven forbid, they have remade M*A*S*H and I tend to agree.

  5. I will never not love Bernard Fox in anything he has ever done. (Oh, how I wish NBC had spun-off his marvelous one-shot COLUMBO character, Scotland Yard’s Detective Chief Durk, into his own series!).

    I do however question the methodology of Major Ross. I understand the psychology he’s employing (no matter how much it is hooey, as Doctor Chris so elegantly states it). But it seems to me that he undermines whatever hopes there may be for his men to have faith in the 4077’s doctors to heal them, as Ross belittles their medical competency and openly defies their authority. At a bare minimum, as an officer and a gentleman, he should have respected Hawkeye’s professional authority, at least in front of the wounded, even if he was merely a lower-ranked Captain. I’m certain the Major would never have tolerated some rear echelon Lt. Colonel coming to the front and undermining his own authority in front of his men in the midst of battle, so why would he think it acceptable to do such a thing to the M*A*S*H* doctors who are treating the wounded?

    Well, at least it was nice to be reminded that Korea wasn’t just an American war…there were plenty of other allied nations in the fight. That’s a fact that was often overlooked on the show, unless a particular storyline called for a foreign soldier to be there.

  6. I am having surgery Monday. I received the following list of what I am allowed to consume that morning:

    Milk or dairy products (including in coffee and tea)
    Citrus juices
    Prune juice
    Juices with pulp
    Any food or beverage not in the “Allowed” column
    ClearFast, Gatorade or Powerade
    Apple, cranberry, and grape juice
    Italian ice
    Ginger ale, Sprite, Sierra Mist, or 7 Up

    Coffee or tea. NO MILK, CREAM OR ARTIFICIAL CREAMER. Sugar is OK.

    They also said this:

    In the past, it was thought that nothing could be taken by mouth after midnight the night before surgery, but we now know that intake of clear liquids (not food) is safe, with some limitations.

    Not mentioned on the podcast, but Fox also played a doctor on Bewitched. I enjoyed seeing him in everything he did.

    On the Hawkeye/Charles debate, I’ll repeat what I’ve said before. Charles is more technically skilled and classically trained. He is certainly who I’d want if I had a severe heart defect and he had time to study my case. My procedure is somewhat major (involves the nervous system) so someone on his level would be welcome. His skill set isn’t really geared for meatball surgery.

    Hawkeye is who’d I want in an emergency. He is also better in bedside manner.

    1. Hi George – what an interesting list (especially that milk & cream are explicitly forbidden, in the context of Hawkeye’s line in the show). It’s a great example of how medical “received wisdom” is challenged & changed in light of new research evidence. This isn’t the only example – what was once our first line medication for treating high blood pressure in the UK has now dropped to a fourth tier treatment. Things change all the time, and part of the challenge of my job is keeping abreast of these revisions.
      You put the difference between Winchester & Hawkeye very succinctly. Any sensible triaging system would pass Charles the most urgent / desperate / technically challenging cases to work on separately… but that doesn’t give sufficient conflict to make for good TV, I guess! And generally, I think Hawkeye’s bedside manner is much better than WInchester’s. (Although BJ is the Doctor I’d really want by my bedside, to be honest). Winchester’s manner is just plain weird sometimes – definitely in need of some remedial communication training!

      PS Hope your surgery was successful!

  7. This episode of MASH is one of my favorites! It’s the first one I remember watching. It was Thanksgiving weekend at my dad’s mom’s house, and a hairy guy got his dress ripped off. *cue 10-year-old confusion* I asked why he was in a dress, was told that it was because he wanted to get out of the Army, and that was it. 20+ years later, it still brings back fond memories of my grandma’s old living room, and the holidays.

    I wanted to point out a slight religious inaccuracy. As we all know, MASH was incredibly respectful of religion, and people of faith, and as far as I can tell, did it’s best to be accurate when showing religious ceremonies. The Catholicism in this episode is almost correct, except for one crucial detail: a priest hearing Confession is not allowed to disclose *anything* he hears in Confession whatsoever. No exceptions. To the point if a priest’s secretary were to admit to stealing from Fr’s personal desk, the priest would not be allowed to lock his desk in the future. In the case of criminal activity (child abuse, murder, sexual crimes, etc), the priest can make part of the penance – the “making it right” of it all – turning oneself into the proper authorities. But the priest is not allowed to disclose anything or anyone that he knows from confession. Doing so actually incurs excommunication! However, the way “around” this, so to speak, is to ask the penitent for permission to talk about what was heard in confession, or for the penitent to ask to talk about it later. It’s rare for a priest to want to talk about confession outside of the actual sacrament itself; I’ve been Catholic for more or less my whole life and have never been asked to talk about things outside of confession. (Granted, I’ve never committed a sin that endangers the lives of a camp full of wounded, but the point still stands: this is very irregular.)

    I like to imagine that as the soldier was leaving, Fr. Mulcahy asked if he could go retrieve the antibiotics himself, and the soldier agreed, but reluctantly. That would explain why Fr. Mulcahy himself was so cagey with Col. Potter, and why he even thought it would be ok to say something at all.

    Anyway, thanks for a good podcast episode! I’m not a theologian, but I love MASH and Catholicism and the intersection of these two things makes me a very happy lady.

    1. That’s fascinating Emily – thank you for sharing that information. In medicine, we’re strongly versed in confidentiality, but we are allowed to break that confidentiality under very rare circumstances.

      Effectively that comes down to there being a high risk of harm to others (especially if they’re vulnerable) if the information wasn’t shared. It’s always a tricky moment, as it goes against what we’re trained to do, and in those situations we’ll often discuss with a colleague and take medicolegal advice to ensure what we’re doing is right and in the best interests of the patient and wider society.

      Examples might include a minor disclosing that they were being abused – a doctor would have an overriding duty of care to protect that child, and that might mean sharing information with social services or police. Another example would be if a patient was unfit to drive but refused to stop, potentially harming other road users or pedestrians; in that case, we might have to break confidentiality and inform the licensing agency.

      So it sounds like we’re not quite as strict as Father Mulcahy’s rules, by the sound of it!

  8. Finally catching up!

    The tea thing is interesting. If they have an injury so bad that part of the stomach or bowel is perforated, then already stomach contents/stool are spilling out. No one enters combat without eating recently, I’m sure. So tea is probably not as big a problem as you’d think. Now, you might say that cream and sugar is adding ‘food’ for the bacteria causing peritonitis to flourish. But you are probably (hopefully) heading to the OR soon enough to get your abdomen washed out.

    Look, I suppose once you know the injury is there you don’t want to exacerbate it. So keep off the tea. But I also don’t think that is the biggest problem for someone with a belly full of shrapnel already.

    Always great to hear the doctor!

    1. Welcome back Anj!
      Yeah, tea should – by rights – be pretty innocuous by itself, what with it being basically boiled water. I guess the danger is that it’s a medium to wash gut flora out into the abdominal cavity (not withstanding whatever bacteria have been introduced by the penetrating wound)?

      Either way you’d definitely want a good couple of shots of broad-spectrum antibiotics as well as a skilled surgeon on hand!

    1. Awww, Bret – you’re too kind! Thank you for the complement. FW has a deep bench of fascinating guests, and it’s a genuine delight to be asked to record with both Rob & Shag.
      BTW, trying to work that particular phrase into conversation every single day may – in itself – be over-egging the pudding!

  9. Just catching up. Great episode, loved the medical insight!

    Just wanted to say, the Judas concert is remembered incorrectly for being at The Royal Albert Hall (the bootleg album even calls it ‘The Royal Albert Hall Concert” – in quotes), but it was actually at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester (which the track listing on “The Royal Albert Hall Concert” acknowledges on each track with ‘Live at the Free Trade Hall.’

    Again, great episode!

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