While hospital hallways have always been home to heroes — which the public has recognized during the pandemic — the Netflix docuseries “Lenox Hill” gives viewers a unique look behind closed doors.
The nine-part series follows four physicians at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. The leads are two neurosurgeons, David Langer and John Boockvar; an emergency room physician and a chief obstetrics-gynecology resident.
Langer’s and Boockvar’s passion for medicine can be traced to the University of Pennsylvania, where the Jewish doctors both completed undergraduate studies and residencies. Additionally, Langer attended Penn for medical school.
The two met at a Sunday football party in Philadelphia. Boockvar fondly noted that his choice to complete his residency at Penn was partly “because I liked David Langer so much.” He later joined Langer at Lenox Hill.
“John left Cornell. Who the f— leaves Cornell to come to Lenox Hill to start from zero?” asks Langer, who is credited with dramatically transforming the hospital, in the docuseries.
In the initial episode, Boockvar and his staff are shown practicing meditation techniques in the operating room. The idea is to relax the brain’s anxiety centers before performing a procedure.
“I took a host of neuropsychopharmacology courses at Penn,” Boockvar told the Jewish Exponent. “We looked at the importance of mediation as it relates to stress-reduction techniques.”
“It all started at Penn for me,” Boockvar recalled.
Boockvar emphasizes the importance of creating a stress-free environment for patients.
“When you’re dealing with terminal illnesses, it is important that your patient has trust in you and your team. That relationship helps the patient have a better understanding of their disease process,” he said. “It makes the decision process easier and less painful, particularly when you are dealing with death and dying.”
Due to the precarious nature of neurosurgery, “Lenox Hill” shows the difficulty of losing patients who have become friends — or even family — in the process.
“The best doctors are the ones that allow their emotions to show,” Boockvar said. “The hard part is actually balancing that emotional investment with the complexity of the procedures you’re performing.”
Balance is a concept that Boockvar stresses, especially in terms of juggling his personal and work life.
“I teach my residents that efficiency is everything,” he said. “I have four kids, am a camp doctor in the summer and want to publish more than 10 papers per year. This involves making sure you’re highly efficient, and I’ve always been that way.”
The significance of family is not lost on either Boockvar or Langer. Boockvar is a fourth-generation physician and Langer a third. In the series, both note how their fathers’ deaths drove their careers.
Judaism has also been an influence, said Boockvar: “The values associated with Jewish family traditions have been a guiding force for me throughout my life.”
That’s carried over into his work.
“Our deep Jewish family traditions are very important to me,” he said. “These values emphasize taking care of one another, staying educated and really trying to help others.”
These values were especially important when the coronavirus hit. In the heart of Manhattan, Lenox Hill Hospital was turned upside down due to COVID-19. The hospital transformed drastically, with all staff taking on uncharted roles.
“The field of neurosurgery shut down, and we had to pivot and become intensive care specialists, ER doctors, general practitioners, learning how to treat COVID patients,” Boockvar said. “That was surely challenging but really rewarding.”
Boockvar ran the hospital’s clinical trial program for COVID-19.
“I learned a tremendous amount; I am continuing to learn from that experience,” he said.
The first eight episodes of “Lenox Hill” were filmed between spring 2018 and fall 2019. However, the hospital was hit so heavily by the coronavirus that producers later filmed an additional episode titled “Pandemic.”
Of the filming of the documentary, Boockvar said, “It was a beautiful experience and to have chronicled that portion of our lives particularly leading into COVID, it’s invaluable. I am so happy that we have that forever.”