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Michael McCarthy "Shines" on Lifetime's Strong Medicine

July 28, 2003
Michael McCarthy, BS, RRT, RCP, didn't plan on making his TV debut when he agreed to haul a BiPAP ventilator over to the set of Lifetime TV's Strong Medicine series. The AARC member was just doing a favor for a vendor who'd been asked to supply the equipment for the show.

Michael McCarthy But before the day was out, that's what happened. "I showed up and the assistant director asked me if I would play a part," says the therapist, who works full time as a critical care manager at Special Respiratory Care and part time on the RT staff at Placentia Linda Hospital in Placentia, CA.

They dressed him in scrubs and a lab coat, a union rep handed him a "non union talent voucher" to sign, and before he knew it, he was in a scene with actress Patricia Richardson, who most of us remember as the mom on Home Improvement with Tim Allen.

In the episode, which aired back in December 2002, Richardson played a chief of medicine comforting a female patient while a male nurse snips a lock of her hair to send to the lab for toxicology tests. "At that point, the patient goes rapidly into respiratory distress, and the doctor leans over and depresses the call button," says the RT.

Initially, McCarthy says Richardson called for "PEEP stat," but when he grimaced, she asked if that was correct. He suggested positive pressure was more exact, then inquired whether they were really interested in hearing what was most accurate. "She said yes, and I said, 'call for respiratory therapy.'"

Nice try! But McCarthy quickly saw they wanted something a little more "snappy," so he said, "Okay, you could call for BiPAP or CPAP." They liked the sound of "CPAP" and went with that, though McCarthy notes, "Patricia in rehearsals kept calling for 'C-SPAN' -- and of course I kept bursting into the room with an STD-1!"

As for his part in the scene, McCarthy says the director ordered a camera on him as he burst through the door, saying the shot would look "really dynamic." The extras on the set chimed in, telling him he would "shine."

"I thought that meant my nose was shining," he recalls now. "They explained that is what they call it when the camera features you."

So it's lights, camera, action. McCarthy recaps the scene: "Patricia hits the call button and orders CPAP stat. The camera is pointing toward the closed door, then I'm seen standing behind it. A nurse extra hurriedly opens the door and I come charging through, turning toward the patient, flicking the vent on as the extra takes the electrical cord and bends down to plug the vent in. I place the mask on the patient's face and look at Patricia. She orders me to 'give 100 percent and 5 of CPAP." I nod and turn to look at the vent, making the ordered 'changes' while holding the mask on the patient. The scene ends with my left hand holding the mask on the patient's face."

So did the RT "shine" as much as the extras thought he would? You bet! Not only did the directors tell McCarthy the scene was impressive, later they called him up and asked if he'd come back and play another bit part in an episode scheduled to air in 2003. In his latest role, he's featured in three scenes in the ER filmed for a show involving firemen burned during a mall explosion.

Says McCarthy, "I'm the good looking guy with the graying hair."

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