The Death of Mr LazarescuBMJ 2005; 331 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.331.7526.1209-a (Published 17 November 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:1209
Most recent television medical dramas have shown doctors as superheroes who can save lives with the brush of a magical wand. Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation by doctors on Casualty or ER always has a happy ending with patients walking out of hospital as healthy as ever. This is not the case in the recent Romanian surprise hit film The Death of Mr Lazarescu, which has won several international prizes, including a best film award at Cannes.
The film follows the misfortunes of one Mr Lazarescu, a 63 year old widower who is fond of cats and a little too partial to alcohol. One night he develops stomach pains and a headache. These are not helped by the alcohol and some ibuprofen tablets that he is given by his neighbours, who take the opportunity, while they are in his flat, to express their disapproval of his lifestyle, self neglect, and continuous cynicism.
When Mr Lazarescu's pains get worse, he calls an ambulance to take him to casualty. Now the real drama begins as he is shuttled from one emergency department to another to see a specialist. Unfortunately for him, there has been a major road crash the same night, and most casualty departments are already full. Accompanied by a paramedic through this journey of disappointments and frustration, Mr Lazarescu is accused along the way of alcohol misuse, malingering, and abusive behaviour towards medical staff.
As soon as an investigation is completed in one hospital, he is sent to another hospital miles away for an urgent neurosurgical procedure. The farce continues—with health professionals dismissing Mr Lazarescu's deteriorating condition all the while—until the tragic ending.
Interlaced with black humour, the film tells a believable story, and one that doctors, patients, and relatives will recognise—sick patients turned away from hospital because of a lack of beds and misdiagnoses that result in patient deaths are common features of the popular press. The combination of a pressure to empty hospital beds and overstretched doctors on duty result in premature discharges with disastrous outcomes.
Director Cristi Puiu offers an acutely observed picture of the doctor-patient relationship. His film teaches us how to treat patients as human beings, and not as cases or figures in a hospital's performance league table. Watching this film made me think more about taking patients seriously, listening to their complaints, and respecting and maintaining their dignity; duties that every doctor should not forgot in a busy on-call day.
More reviews from the London Film Festival are available on bmj.com