Wednesday, November 6, 2019

"Family History"

Description: Armstrong investigates a man's medical and family history to diagnose his chronic nosebleeds. Chandler's amnesiac patient doesn't recognize his visiting parents. Craig struggles to accept his old roommate's impending sex change. White tries to reconcile with his wife.

"Family History" is the 13th episode of season 1 of St. Elsewhere.
Originally aired February 8, 1983.
Teleplay by Andrew Laskos
Story by Joshua Brand, John Falsey
Directed by Kevin Hooks


Bob Overlin wants to talk with his old friend, Dr. Mark Craig.
Dr. Mark Craig (William Daniels) addresses Nurse Helen Rosenthal (Christina Pickles) at the nurses' station. His college roommate, Bob Overlin, will be having a sex change operation. She tells him he's going to have to get over it. Mark discussed it with his wife for hours the night before, but it "didn't do any good." Helen suggests he talk to the hospital's psychiatrist, Dr. Beale. Mark had already tried to enlist Beale to change his friend's mind.

Mark returns to his office to find Bob Overlin (Andy Romano) waiting for him. Bob isn't happy that Mark has been avoiding him. Mark admits that he can't come to terms with Bob's decision, and he thinks Bob is making a mistake that he'll regret for the rest of his life. "At least it would be my life," Bob counters. Mark doesn't have anything to say, so Bob gets up to leave. At the door, he pauses, and tells Mark, "You know, there's one thing you can't do. And that's to make new old friends."

Dr. Philip Chandler (Denzel Washington) checks in on amnesia patient John Doe #12. He hasn't remembered anything new. But his parents have been located, and are on their way to see him. Chandler saw the records: pictures, fingerprints, and blood type all match, and he is indeed David Stewart of Port Dalhousie, Ontario, Canada. David is worried, because he was hoping that everything would click into place when he sees them, but it's clear that it won't be that simple.

In the E.R., Dr. Peter White (Terence Knox) is looking in the ear of a Mr. Singer, who thinks there's an ant in his ear canal. Dr. Wayne Fiscus (Howie Mandel) tells Peter that his wife is on the phone. Peter gets irritated when the man starts rubbing his ear. "Don't do that. It's raw enough in there already."

Peter takes the phone call. As he makes arrangements to see his estranged wife, Myra, that afternoon, Nurse Sandy Burns (Jane Kaczmarek) stands nearby and listens. He hangs up. "That was Myra. I've got to go over there to pick up a few things. I mean, uh, I got, like, uh, two pairs of socks, three shirts. It's ridiculous." She stares at him. "I gotta get back in there," he says.

Also working the E.R. is Dr. Wendy Armstrong (Kim Miyori). Her patient is an old man with a bloody nose, Charlie Heller (Keenan Wynn). She asks him if it's been this bad before, and he tells her "will you make it stop already?" She asks him about his general health, if it's okay. He says, "Okay? I'm seventy-seven years old, I pee too much, I sleep too little, what's okay?" She asks if he has had any sudden weight loss, and he's irritated. "I have been a contractor for fifty-one years, and I have never lost one day to a nosebleed. Now let's get with it, or find somebody who can." She glares at him. He apologizes. He realizes he's been griping, but he has no energy and he's frustrated. He explains a bit about his work as a contractor, and she tells him they won't know what his issue is without running some tests.

Dr. Chandler meets John Doe #12's parents.
In his office, Dr. Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders) is talking with Mr. and Mrs. Stewart (Alan Feinstein, Claire Mails) about David's condition. It's been two weeks since he was shot with a hollow-point bullet and suffered damage to his lung, liver, heart, spleen, and kidney, and lost a tremendous amount of blood. Chandler arrives and introduces himself. He explains that David can't remember anything prior to entering the hospital. Westphall cautions Mr. Stewart that David may never recover his memory, and if he does, it may only be partial. David has been missing for thirteen months, and Mr. Stewart doesn't want to wait to see him.

As they leave Westphall's office, Mrs. Stewart explains to Phil that she is David's stepmother. His mother died of botulism four years earlier. She married Mr. Stewart only nine months after his wife's passing, and she feels that David never accepted the re-marriage. Mr. Stewart disagrees with his new wife's feeling that David felt his mother's memory was betrayed. She doesn't know this for sure, but she knows that David took his mother's death hard. Phil asks about the word "sterling," but it doesn't mean anything to them.

At 10:42 AM. David is re-introduced to his father and stepmother. His father hugs him, and is glad to see him. His step-mother approaches, and David tells them he doesn't know them. His father wants to talk to him, but David asks Dr. Chandler when he's due in physical therapy. It's not for a few hours, though that's not what David wants to hear.

In the x-ray room, Dr. Armstrong approaches Dr. Westphall for a consult. She's got a patient with chronic nosebleeds, but she doesn't have anything to treat. The tests she ran showed nothing abnormal. He asks her if the patient had any relatives who had the same condition. She doesn't know. "Wendy, diagnosis is less of a gamble if you start at the beginning. You didn't take an adequate history, right?"

"I thought I did."

"You should know by now. How important it is to get a complete family medical history. Now you ask him, mother and father, alive or dead. If they're dead, what did they die of. Brothers and sisters, did any of them die? Also, why, of what. You've got to delve into this thing as far as you've got to go."

"Well, I used what I had on him. He wasn't my patient the first time he came in."

"Well, that's just fine. Why don't you tell him that? I'm sure he'll understand. But I suggest you get that history and work from it. Otherwise both you and your patient are in for a pretty rough time, right?"

In the office of Dr. Hugh Beale (G.W. Bailey), Dr. Craig is watching Beale prepare a slideshow for a group of medical students from Harvard. Mark isn't interested in the slides, but he wants to know if Hugh spoke to Bob Overlin. Mark suggests that Bob is having a mid-life crisis.

"In my opinion, Bob is handling the situation very well," says Beale. "I think you're the one with the problem, Mark."



"I do not have a problem."

"You and Bob are very old friends. You have similar backgrounds, similar families, similar educations, similar mindsets."

Mark is not about to get his thing cut off.
"But I'm not about to get my thing cut off."

"There is that one difference, yes. I think you have to admit, however, that what he's doing takes a whole lot of courage."

"Yes, I admit that. Bob's always had a lot of courage. Integrity, strength. Like those guys up there. Daniel Boone. Natty Bumppo. Hawkeye. What the hell am I talking about? Will you turn this damn thing off?" demands Mark, motioning towards the slide projector. "I'm trying to have an intelligent conversation, you keep showing me these stupid slides."

"All right, all right," says Hugh, turning on the lights. "Look. Bob is one of your oldest and best friends. You want what's best in life for him, what'll bring him happiness, right?"

"Of course."

"Then try and separate, just try and separate the two facts. Number one, you are personally offended by this operation. Now, that is a fact. Number two. Bob has lived his whole life as a man and it has not brought him happiness. This may just do it for him."

"Separate the two."

Dr. Armstrong is still questioning Charlie Heller. He was raised in three different cultures: Yiddish at home, German, and American. She asks if anyone else in his family had nosebleeds. Sure, he says casually. "What, doesn't everybody have nosebleeds?" he asks. Not everybody, she tells him. He remembers his maternal grandfather Nathan, holding a handkerchief over his bloody nose, in 1910 at Ellis Island, just off the boat from Danzig, when he was five years old. She has him sit in a wheelchair, to go for testing.

Dr. Armstrong gets to know Mr. Heller and his family's
medical history.
He asks her about her last name, and if she's Chinese. Japanese, she corrects. She asks how his grandfather died. He says the dybbuk got him. Or, as she's looking to learn, he had an inner ear infection. He asks if her father was American. He feels his nose start to bleed again, and wants to know what she's going to do to help him. She tells him she needs to keep taking a thorough family history along with the tests so she can determine what his illness is.

At the nurses' station, Dr. Jack Morrison (David Morse) tells Peter that he just got stuck with Mr. Singer, whom Peter had sent to be de-loused, for 45 minutes while he talked about his perennial ear-bleeds. Peter tells Jack he'll be seeing Myra later in the day. Jack is optimistic about the two of them reconciling.

Dr. Craig walks by, whistling. Rosenthal comments that Mark is feeling better. He's taken at least some of Hugh's advice to heart: if Bob wants to screw up his life, it's his business, and has nothing to do with Mark. Mark goes to Bob's room. He enters, and Bob has a visitor. Bob introduces Al Kinley (Joe Lamble), an old friend. Mark tells Bob he's been in the wrong, and apologizes for his interference. Mark asks Al if he's related to a Kinley who is a pediatrician in West Somerville, but he's not. Bob explains that Al is his sex therapist. Mark asks how someone gets to be qualified to be a sex therapist. Al says he became interested when he was a woman, before his sex change operation. Bob explains that he and Al are lovers.

"Uh, let me get this straight," says Mark. "You were a woman, before you were a man. And you're a man, and you're going to be a woman. And the two of you are..."

"That's right."

"My dear God."

Mr. and Mrs. Stewart are showing photos to David. He asks if he can see a picture of his late mother. Mr. Stewart addresses his son by his name, but David gets angry. He doesn't want to be called David. He doesn't remember them, or his identity. His father suggests he'll remember when he gets home, but David says he can't go home with them. His father keeps trying to treat David as his son, but David keeps resisting. David explains that he knows that it's hard for them, too, but he doesn't want to see his father anymore. His step-mother tells him that they'll leave the pictures for him, and they leave David alone.

At 3:17 PM, Wendy is listening to Mr. Heller. He's telling a story about his family traveling from Danzig to Ellis Island and settling in Chicago near grain elevators. She explains why they're running this test, and asks about his sister who also bruises easily. He wonders why he's telling her the story of his life, and what a bruise on his elbow has to do with his nose. She tells him it's all relevant and there may be a connection, and that some diseases are hereditary. She decides that she wants to do a liver/spleen scan. She apologizes, but says they are looking for a "zebra," a case where there's no easy answer.

At the White house, Peter is talking to Myra in their kitchen. He says he wants to try it again, and see if they can work things out. He tries kissing her, but she pulls away. He asks why, and she says she just doesn't want it right now. He asks why she asked him to come over, and she pauses for a moment, and then explains: she needs more money. She can't get by on $100 a week. He says there isn't any more. He gets $600 a month and she already gets $400 of that. He adjourns to go upstairs to get his things.

Dr. Chandler and Nurse Rosenthal calm down an agitated
David Stewart.
Back at St. Eligius, yelling can be heard from down the hallway. David Stewart is yelling at his father to stay away from him. A security guard is holding Mr. Stewart in the hallway, and Rosenthal is trying to calm down David. Dr. Chandler arrives, gets David to relax, and confronts Mr. Stewart in the hall. Mr. Stewart was trying to help jog his son's memory, but Phil points out that he ended up making things worse. He tells Mr. Stewart not to come back until Phil tells him to. Back in David's room, he gives the pessimistic David a pep talk. David was disappointed by his own desire to have it all come back to him, and is feeling frustrated as a result.

In the cafeteria, Mark is eating by himself when he is joined by Al Kinley. Al tries to make small talk, but Mark cuts right to the point. "This thing was all your idea, wasn't it."


"You should have left well enough alone."

"When I first met Bob four years ago, he had everything that was supposed to make him happy, and nobody knew who he was. Not his family, not his friends, not himself."

"I don't want to hear all this."

"Well, I think you need to. We're talking about a man who tortured himself knowing that he had to make love with his wife."

"He loved Anne."

"He tried to. He tried to live the kind of life you'd want him to. But he's decided he can't live a lie anymore and it's cost him. As soon as his company found out about it, they fired him, no pension, no benefits. His friends discreetly disappeared. One son won't talk to him at all, and when the other one does, it's just to make a verbal attack. He's lost everything. And all he wanted from you was a little understanding. And for whatever reason he needed it, and you could have given it to him. It wouldn't have cost you a thing. You really should have, you know. For old time's sake."

Wendy has an idea about what's causing Mr. Heller's
At another table, Wendy, carrying a stack of books, sits down with Dr. Victor Ehrlich (Ed Begley, Jr.), Dr. Jack Morrison, Dr. Wayne Fiscus, and Nurse Shirley Daniels (Ellen Bry). She announces that she knows what's wrong with her nosebleed patient, Charlie Heller. She's a copy of Arthur O. Lovejoy's Essays in the History of Ideas, from which she attempts to quote Isaiah Berlin, but Drs. Ehrlich and Fiscus cut her off. She explains that Berlin is suggesting that people be aware of "individual elements" like class, language, and ethnic background. Mr. Heller is a German Ashkenazi Jew, and his people are particularly susceptible to Gaucher's Disease. Jack asks her if it's just a guess, or if she actually ordered a glucocerebrosidase deficiency assay. Shirley comments that it's a particularly expensive test, and Ehrlich adds that it would require Westphall's permission and there's a million-to-one chance that she's right. Wendy was looking to her colleagues for some encouragement, but she leaves disappointed.

At another table, Phil is sitting down with Dr. Beale. Phil realizes that he forgot to temper his own expectation that David would recover his memory once he met his parents. Beale helps Phil realize that he is David's chance for recovery. "You'd have reached the same conclusion on your own eventually," Beale quips. "Even if you did go to Yale."

At 5:28 PM, Phil runs into David's stepmother outside David's room. She has remembered something about the word, "sterling." When David was about 10 or 11, he saved his money to buy his mother a sterling silver St. Christopher medal. After his mother died, he kept it as a keepsake. Phil enters David's room. David is sleeping. He skipped physical therapy, and he blames the drug that Phil prescribed for him. Phil says that's baloney, and low-dose sedatives don't make you that sleepy.

Phil begins, "Okay, now, you bought your mother a sterling silver St. Christopher medal. And when she died, your father gave it back to you. Do you remember?"


"Try. It was five or six years ago. You saved up the money by getting a job at a local grocery store."

"Sorry, I can't."


"I am."

"No, you're not."

David Stewart is tired of trying to work through his amnesia.
"I said I can't remember."

"You're not trying."

"Think. Try. Remember. Talk, talk, talk. I'm tired of it. I've had enough."

"Just concentrate."

"I'm tired of it."

"Look, David, I can't help you if you won't let me."

"I don't want your help. It won't do any good. I'm gonna be this way forever, so just stop wasting your time, okay?"

Wendy approaches Dr. Westphall in his office, and says she knows what's wrong with Mr. Heller. He says that Gaucher's is one of thirty possible bleeding disorders to consider. She cites Arnold Toynbee on the migration of the Ashkenazim. He knows about their susceptibility to the disease, but wants her medical opinion. She presents her diagnosis, and acknowledges that the test will cost $250, but it's the only way she'll know. He tells her to go ahead and try it.

At the nurses' station, David approaches Phil, slowly, using a walker. Phil asks, "How can help you?"

David replies, "I do want to remember."

Outside the O.R., Bob Overlin is lying on a gurney. Dr. Craig approaches him. "You were right, you know. You can't make new old friends. You're a good person, Bob. You always were. And I know you always will be. So I just wanted to say, um... Good luck, buddy." Mark bends over and kisses Bob on the cheek. He gives Dr. Vijay Kochar (Kavi Raz) a dirty look, and leaves.

Nurse Sandy Burns is falling for the recently-separated
Dr. Peter White.
Peter White is lying in bed, looking satisfied. Nurse Sandy Burns enters the bedroom, carrying a beer can, and tells him she doesn't know how he can drink cold beer when it's so cold outside. She climbs on top of him, and they kiss. She confides, "I've always needed someone like you. I've dreamed of someone like you. When you went to see Myra today..."

"I just went to pick up a few things."

"Feel my heart, Peter. Feel it."

He rolls over on top of her. "Valium and everything," she says, "It just won't stop."

"Sandy, you have nothing to worry about." He kisses her.

"Move in with me," she says. "I'll make you the happiest man on the face of the Earth. Please."

"Come here," he says, and kisses her again.

David is looking at the picture of his mother. When he had his near-death experience and floated into the light, the woman who held out her arms to him was the woman from the picture. Phil tells him to concentrate on the photo, and to imagine her smiling and laughing. He has David imagine giving her the gift. He pulls out the St. Christopher medal. David starts to remember. The man who shot him had a scar. David told him, take my wallet and my watch, but please, leave me the medal. He remembers.

In Westphall's office, Wendy reports that the test came back, and it confirmed that her diagnosis was correct. He tells her not to be so happy about it, since Mr. Heller will require medication for the rest of his life. He reminds her of the importance of taking a complete family history. As she leaves, he offers her congratulations. She takes a moment to celebrate in the hallway.

Trivia for "Family History":
  • Director Kevin Hooks played Morris Thorpe on The White Shadow, which was Bruce Paltrow's series immediately prior to St. Elsewhere. Joshua Brand, John Falsey, and John Masius were writers on The White Shadow.
  • Nit-picking here... Re: Port Dalhousie, Ontario, Canada, John Doe #12's hometown. Chandler pronounces it "Dal-HOW-zee". It's pronounced "Dal-LOO-zee".
  • The actor who played Mr. Singer, the patient in the E.R. who thinks he has an ant in his ear, is not credited. There are no end credits for actors in this episode.
  • Keenan Wynn, who played Charlie Heller, had a long and busy career as a character actor, starting on Broadway in the 1930s, working right up until his death in 1986. He replaced David Wayne as Digger Barnes on Dallas for ten episodes in the 1979-80 season. Wayne later played Dr. George Wyler on three episodes of St. Elsewhere's third season.
  • Jane Kaczmarek, who played infatuated nurse Sandy Burns, would go onto fame playing Lois Wilkerson on the hit Fox sitcom Malcolm in the Middle (2000-2006). That role led to her setting a record by being nominated seven times for the Emmy award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series without winning.
  • As Kim Miyori explains in the interview clip linked below, she received a fan letter about this episode. A woman who was watching discovered that her grandson had Gaucher's Disease after learning about it from this episode.

Here's "Family History" on DailyMotion:

Here's Kim Miyori discussing this episode (and more) in a TV interview from 1983:


Ed Flanders as Dr. Donald Westphall
David Birney as Dr. Ben Samuels

Also Starring (in alphabetical order)
G.W. Bailey as Dr. Hugh Beale
Ed Begley, Jr. as Dr. Victor Ehrlich
Terence Knox as Dr. Peter White
Howie Mandel as Dr. Wayne Fiscus
David Morse as Dr. Jack Morrison
Christina Pickles as Nurse Helen Rosenthal
Kavi Raz as Dr. Vijay Kochar
Cynthia Sikes as Dr. Annie Cavanero
Denzel Washington as Dr. Philip Chandler

and Starring
William Daniels as Dr. Mark Craig

Guest Starring
Kim Miyori as Dr. Wendy Armstrong
Ellen Bry as Nurse Shirley Daniels
Keenan Wynn as Charlie Heller
Thomas Hulce as John Doe #12/David Stewart
Alan Feinstein as Michael Stewart
Andy Romano as Bob Overlin
Jane Kaczmarek as Sandy Burns
Karen Landry as Myra White
Joe Lamble as Al Kinley
Claire Malis as Mrs. Stewart

Watching St. Elsewhere on Hulu or elsewhere? Feel free to comment on this episode below.

1 comment:

  1. As someone that loves to read up on every show I watch I am so happy and thankful I found this site for St. Elsewhere today! I'm one S2E7 right now and have been going thru other episodes as well. Thanks for putting a this on here. The list of episode discriptions on the Wikipedia page is barely anything at all, I'm like this page I like to have it all.


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