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The anatomy of "Grady's Anatomy"

By Bud Bultman
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Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences covering news and analyze the stories behind events. Bud Bultman is a managing editor with CNN's Special Investigations Unit.

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- It's 4 a.m. at one of the busiest Level 1 trauma centers in the country and our cameras are following surgical intern Nii-Daako Darko as he looks for a place to grab a nap.

We -- well, several CNN crews -- have been tailing him through the past 24 hours at Grady Memorial Hospital. It's been a typically busy weekend at Grady, so he hasn't had a chance to sleep yet.

"It's a full moon. We're busy, and everybody's stretched thin," says Darko, a first-year resident from Morehouse School of Medicine. "Something about Friday. We already had a gunshot wound to the eyeball, MVC (motor vehicle crash) rollover with multiple injuries. So these patients are one step from expiring."

He has finally gotten a break. The bleary-eyed Darko sneaks away and curls up on a sofa in the residents' lounge. He quickly nods off.

But 11 minutes later, his pager beeps. A scratchy voice barks, "We need a chest tube." As he shakes off his grogginess and rushes off to perform a critical procedure, our cameras roll again.

I was with one of the CNN crews shadowing Darko throughout his 30-hour shift. He's one of four residents we followed for an upcoming Special Investigations Unit documentary, "Grady's Anatomy." We also trained our cameras on CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, an attending physician from Emory University School of Medicine who trains neurosurgery residents at Grady.

To get a behind-the-scenes look at residents' real-life dramas we first had to negotiate with Grady to allow our cameras inside the hospital. Grady's public relations department was understandably concerned about patient privacy and the staffing it would take to accommodate the kind of 24/7 access we needed. Once we agreed on the ground rules for coverage, we faced another challenge -- choosing which residents to profile.

The public relations departments of Emory and Morehouse medical schools, which supply Grady's 900-plus residents, put out a casting call. We ended up interviewing 26 candidates. Narrowing the field was tough. They were a brilliant bunch and also talented in other fields; there was a viola player, salsa dancer, martial arts expert, marathon runner.

Along with Darko, whose inspiration for becoming a doctor was "The Cosby Show," we chose Luis Tumialán, a former Navy doctor who trained as a diver and worked with SEAL units; Robin Lowman, an aspiring diva who performed off-Broadway before her residency; and Andrea Meinerz, a champion poker player who was the first in her family to go to college (along with her sister).

One question we asked all of them, "Just how realistic is 'Grey's Anatomy?' " Most of them couldn't answer, because they never have time to watch the hit TV show.

Next, we had to coordinate our shooting schedule with the hospital and the four residents. Trying to connect with their busy schedules was like trying to solve a difficult Sudoku puzzle. We soon realized the amount of time our crews worked was nothing compared to the residents' grueling hours (a recurring theme in the documentary).

It took three CNN film crews just to follow Darko from the time he started his 30-hour shift at 3:45 a.m. Friday to finally going home to bed Saturday afternoon.

Throughout the three-week shoot, Grady media relations manager Denise Simpson got less sleep than the residents. She would meet our crews at 3:30 a.m., working a graveyard shift that night, and come right back the same afternoon.

And then there was the final challenge: whittling down more than 100 hours of tape into a one-hour program. The result? We think it's a gripping look at the demands and pressures of residency that rivals any episode of the fictional "Grey's Anatomy."

As Gupta says, "This is real life."


CNN's Bud Bultman

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