The opening monologue of Meredith’s voiceover tells us that, without sleep, we make bad decisions and see things that aren’t really there, which sets up for an episode of noncooperation and hallucinations. It’s looking to be a long operation. Meredith has been up for over 48 hours before the surgery even begins, and Owen has been up so long that he jokes “What day is it?” Webber, however, walks in fully rested and caffeinated up. Webber has always loved coming to the hospital at night, even when he wasn’t on call, because that’s when the more interesting emergencies come through the ER, and those are the best, most unique learning opportunities.
Webber pushes Meredith to elaborate more on her thought process so that Stephanie is understanding and learning as much as possible, which shows that he is trying to remember to apply things that were mentioned in the previous episode by Eliza. He asks for information about this patient, but he’s a John Doe. They don’t know whether he causes the accident or if he was an innocent victim, or if he has a family. Webber decides that they need to create an identity for this body, in an attempt to make them care more.
Stephanie decides to play along, saying it’s Brandon from IT.
When she doesn’t know anything about Brandon from IT, they change it to Joanie…
And then finally changed to Gail. The camera shows the faces transforming from one pretend patient to the next. They give ‘Gail’ an irrelevant, elaborate backstory.
Meredith doesn’t think it’s a good idea to contact UNOS for a liver transplant. She believes this patient would likely die anyway. Meredith quickly pulls rank when ex-chief, Webber, tries to call the shots.
Webber ‘listens’ to the story Gail tells him. He urges Owen to take a turn at creating Gail’s story, but Owen, not seeing the point, declines. Owen then gets thrown into a hallucinatory flashback of when he and his sister were in the army. She asks how things are with his new wife, and asks if he’s choked her (when he was dating Cristina, a bout of PTSD in the middle of the night ended with him choking her. Not cool to bring up, Hallucination Sister). Owen shouts “Shut up!” in the OR. He snaps out of this, and now he sees his sister in the OR with him, while everyone else is frozen still. Talking to his sister reminds him of the pain he feels over losing her, and reminds him that this patient on the table is a person with a life, and they need to do everything they can to keep him alive. Owen tells Stephanie to call UNOS and say that they have an emergency. Meredith is angry that he’s making this call against her judgement.
(Note: Anyone else notice how horrible the attendings are with teamwork this season? They all are convinced that their judgement is way better and more important than any other doctor on staff, and their cockiness creates a nightmare situation, when a collaboration should have the surgeons coming together to create the best solution.)
Stephanie hallucinates next. No one is listening to her observations, and a young Stephanie appears, telling her that she has to be loud and make them listen. “If you’ve got something to say, speak up!” After a few attempts, Stephanie manages to make them listen. She believes the body’s patient is attacking itself from the inside. She compares it to filling a gas tank that has a hole in it. They need to pump the patient with steroids to stop his body from wasting all of the new blood them put in him. It’s risky, but when the other option is death, why not take the risk?
Someone on the staff at Grey-Sloan takes a picture of the patient’s face on the operating table. There’s a woman who came to the hospital after hearing about an accident on the news, It turns out that this John Doe patient is, in fact, this woman’s husband, Carl. They have a son and a daughter, which reminds Meredith of when her husband, Derek, died, and she had to tell Zola and Bailey (Her son, not Miranda Bailey, Chief of Surgery).
Suddenly, we’re in another hallucination-flashback hybrid. where Meredith’s children ask if the doctors are going to fix their father. With surgeon parents who save lives every day, Zola is frustrated that no one can save him.
Meredith realizes that Webber must have been relating too. Gail must have been someone important to him, and not just a random fake person. Gail was his mother.
He tells his fellow surgeons about his mom, and then goes into her symptoms, having the doctors try to figure out what was wrong with her. After a few failed attempts from Stephanie, Meredith says his mom had pancreatic cancer, which Webber confirms. His mother only had six months left to live by the time they diagnosed her.
Meredith changes her mind on closing up the patient, which was what she had been pushing to do this entire time. She says they should do a partial liver transplant, using the patient’s own liver. Transplant the right, repair the left, and graft the remaining vessels. They finish the surgery and Stephanie moves him up to the ICU.
Meredith apologizes to Webber, and asks if he’s always mentally replaced anonymous patients with his mother. He explains that the old way of teaching was to dehumanize the patient, so that essentially, you were just operating on a mannequin. One day, he lost a patient. He went to tell the family the news, and he was numb. He saw the family crying, and it had no effect on him, even though that patient had died of the same thing his mother had. He decided that the rules needed to change, and he worked on building this new way of teaching.
This episode mainly just seemed like filler. I think it’s important to have these episodes that focus on the surgeons being surgeons, and not just drowning in personal drama. This episode also showed why Webber is in charge of the residency program, and the advances he has made. Whether Webber will stay in charge of this program or be replaced by Eliza is undecided. Hopefully we won’t have to wait through winter hiatus for some answers.
The Grey’s Anatomy winter finale is Thursday, November 17th at 8/7c