Australia is home to one of the most technologically advanced hospitals in the world. St Vincent’s is renowned for cutting-edge surgeries and elite specialists who often perform the best work in their field.
Documentary filmmaker Julia Peters managed to get unprecedented access to the high-stakes drama that happens in the operating theatres and consultation rooms every day.
With the 9-episode series Miracle Hospital airing on 21 February, we asked her for a behind-the-scenes scoop on what it’s like to bring a camera crew into the medical world.
What was it like being in the hospital, experiencing things up close in the operating room that normally even patients’ families wouldn't get to see?
I feel incredibly privileged that the doctors allowed us to have such access. For me it was quite exciting a lot of the time, for example, seeing a 3D body part put in a patient, seeing the types of surgeries doctors performed.
But the stories are also quite moving.
There are sensitivities around working with patients, because they are allowing you into a time of their lives when they are very vulnerable. It's a balance between being a filmmaker and getting the shots that you need, and also working with the patients and knowing when to ask questions and when to pull back.
The doctors are really good at telling you 'I can't talk now'. They're very no-nonsense, and at the end it's all about the patient, not about the filming. You can't tell them 'could you just say that again, please'? You also have to be respectful—when they've been on their feet for 10 hours in the operating theatre, you can't simply ask them to step over and give an interview.
Were there any technical challenges?
Oh yes, a lot. You're often working in dimly lit areas, with fluorescent lighting. You want to make it look beautiful, but frankly it's hard to make a hospital corridor look beautiful.
And, to be honest, you have to work around what is happening in the hospital; they will not stop to accommodate you. If someone is being rushed to the theatre, you have to rush behind them with a camera. When you watch an episode, it's real; it's told by the doctors and the patients.
Not everyone is comfortable seeing medical procedures happen, especially when blood is involved. Did you have to prepare your staff so nobody would faint?
Definitely. We talked to staff about what they would experience, and also debriefed them when dramatic things happened, offering support. The hospital offered counselling and support, too. Everyone was looking after everyone, really.
But, in terms of blood and gore, if someone knows they faint at the sight of blood, this is not the show for them [laughs].
What's the message you'd like to give the viewers before watching Miracle Hospital?
Our motivation was to show what is now possible and what the future is going to look like.
It's an incredibly positive documentary, and not scary.
Hospitals like St Vincent's are working towards better outcomes for the patients. To see that, in Australia, we are at the forefront of innovation in medical science and technology, is exciting.
The patient stories we shared are incredibly encouraging and life-changing. It's about seeing what's possible, what the future is going to bring us. It gives people a lot of hope, and pride!
Watch Miracle Hospital on Tuesdays 7.30 pm AEST from 21 February on Nat Geo People!