Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Mrs. Hufnagel Chronicles, Part 14

Mrs. Hufnagel needs gallbladder surgery, but she insists on a new physician when she meets Dr. Chandler.

Ham radio enthusiast Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop)
assumes that Dr. Philip Chandler is an orderly.
In her previous appearance, Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop) had been discharged from St. Eligius, but a visit from Dr. Elliott Axelrod (Stephen Furst) and his gift of a baked ham for his former patient aggravated her gallbladder symptoms and landed her back in the hospital. In "Give the Boy a Hand", her case has been assigned to Dr. Philip Chandler (Denzel Washington). Mrs. Hufnagel, whose racial insensitivity had been established in her first appearance, is trying to get a signal on her ham radio to connect with her compadre in Puerto Rico. Phil enters, but she assumes he's an orderly and asks him to adjust her antenna.

When he explains that he's her new doctor, she's not having it, and insists on someone else. Phil asks her why, and she's not shy about her reason: "You're colored." While conceding that Phil is a snazzy dresser, and despite learning that he went to Yale, Hufnagel is wary of his credentials, as he was likely put through due to affirmative action. Phil defends himself--he graduated pre-med Summa cum Laude with a distinction in biochemistry, his grade point average was 3.9, and he finished in the top 2% of his class at Yale. Her dismissive, racist, yet hilarious reply: "Go tell it on the mountain."

Dr. Chandler handles Mrs. Hufnagel's (Florence Halop)
racially-insensitive remarks with class as only Denzel can.
Her colicystitis requires surgery, and all the physician has to do is see her through post-op follow-up, but when he asks his colleagues Axelrod, Fiscus (Howie Mandel) and Ehrlich (Ed Begley, Jr.) to help him out and take over his case, he gets a sharp rebuke from the three doctors who have already done a few rounds with St. Eligius's most infamous patient. So, with the other doctors "too chicken" to take her on, she warms up to her latest physician. She's in good spirits after her operation, especially pleased the whiz of a surgeon was Asian.

It occurs to me now that not everyone might find such overt racism as funny as I do, but if you've got the kind of sensibilities that led you to watch and enjoy St. Elsewhere, then you'd probably get why it's funny coming out of this abrasive, old woman. Things have changed a lot since then. I haven't interacted with an overt bigot in a long time myself.

Despite her racial insensitivity, she's friendlier to Phil than all the other doctors except Dr. Bobby Caldwell (Mark Harmon). I think she respects people who stand up to her (or in Caldwell's case, those who charm her). Or maybe she just likes the good-looking ones.

Some other observations:
  • Chandler says he has taken over her case from Dr. Po, who has been called out of town. We met Dr. Alan Po (Brian Tochi) in the third season premiere, when he was one of the first-year residents taking a tour of the hospital led by Wayne Fiscus. Unless some stuff with him got cut out in syndication, this is the only other mention of that character. I enjoyed that the character's name was a goof on "Edgar Allan Poe".
  • Elliott's neck brace is the result of a headlock applied by a large, agitated patient in E.R. who freaked out while Elliott was taking blood. 1990s TV viewers will recognize him as James Avery, who was hilarious as Uncle Phil on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. His name does not appear in the credits.
  • We learn a bit about Mrs. Hufnagel's background. Florence's family, the Glucks, came over on a ship that pulled into Plymouth Rock just after the Mayflower. I couldn't make out the name of the boat. If anyone wants to take a stab at it, feel free to do so in the comments section.

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