Set in and based on the whirlwind pace of an actual hospital E.R., where a constant influx of problems and patients flow regular as an ocean tide and a new emergency can roll through the doors any minute, ER the show was just as rapid in its television timing. But just as there's an eye of a storm, the periods of quiet and calm — sometimes across the entire ward, sometimes found in break rooms and halls - were what defined the show. ER occasionally took a deep breath, and in that time, produced some of TV's more memorable speeches. Here are the 13 best ER monologues ever, that slowed things down during the show's usual frenetic pacing.
On the show, dialogue often took the form of snappy jokes or tense exchanges as doctors and nurses wheeled patients to and from trauma rooms. So when the lengthier musings came, they were memorable. Some were intense, dramatic points, like Luka Kovač reflecting on the cyclical horror of war. Other times they were earnest entreaties between characters to respect themselves and what they do, especially the nurses. And occasionally they were just fun excuses for characters to go off on each other. Here are the very best:
1Having Feelings Means They Can Hurt
Dr. Greene: Don't ever say you're sorry. See, there's two kinds of doctors: there's the kind that gets rid of their feelings, and the kind that keeps them. If you're gonna keep your feelings, you're gonna get sick from time to time. That's just how it works. (Keep your head down.) People come in here and they're sick and dying and bleeding, and they need our help. Helping them is more important than how we feel. But it's still a pain the ass sometimes.
"24 Hours" Season 1, Ep 24
2Don't Underestimate The Nurses
Nurse Haleh: [to Abby] I've been doing this job for 17 years, honey. Doctors come and go, but nurses make this place run. We don't get much credit or pay. We see a lot of misery, a lot of dying, but we come back every day. I've given up being appreciated, but I sure as hell won't let any of us be taken for granted.
"One Can Only Hope" Season 9, Ep. 6
3Dr. Greene's Reign Of Terror
Dr Ross: What can I say about Mark Greene that hasn't already been said? I think everybody knows how he overcame adversity as a child of Quakers, his years in exile, his political writings and limericks, his mod period with the turtlenecks, his blue period and of course, his ruthless march to power and the silencing of his rivals.
"Do One, Teach One, Kill One" Season 2, Ep. 3
4Don't Seek Approval You Won't Get
Dr. Hicks: When I was a resident, I was always worried about getting people's approval. The attendings', the patients', maybe because I was a woman, a black woman. Life was a lot easier once I got over it. Don't let the patients get to you, Dr. Lewis. We treat them as soon as we can and there's no need to apologize for how long it takes. We are a busy hospital, not a restaurant.
"Happy New Year" Season 1, Ep. 12
5Welcome To Hell
Dr. Melvoin [to the interns]: You are wedges. The wedge is the most primitive tool known to man. That is you. You think you know what you're doing? Believe me, you don't. Breakfast with your senior surgical resident, Dr. Benton, begins in 15 minutes. Dr. Benton is an intern's worst nightmare. He's smarter than you, he never eats, never sleeps, and he reads every medical journal no matter how obscure. He is the Antichrist, Beelzebub, Lucifer, a devourer of wedges. You'll go to sleep at night wishing plague and pestilence on his unborn children, and you will wake up every morning praying for his approval. You won't get it. Welcome to hell, ladies and gentlemen.
"Dr. Carter I Presume" Season 3, Ep. 1
6It's About The Work
Dr. Greene: Carter, you come here every day. Sometimes you're really cooking, and sometimes you're not. But you're here every day doing your work. And one day you'll look up and maybe 10 years will have passed. It'll be the sum total of what you've done that counts. Not the passion.
"Think Warm Thoughts" Season 4, Ep. 11
7Come On, Doug
Carol [to Doug]: I've spent years, years of my life, changing to fit your needs, working around your schedule, your insecurities, your inability to commit. Well, you know what, Doug? It's not all about you! I know that may come as a shock, but a relationship is give and take; two people as equals, and right now I need something! So you can grow up and accept it or you can go on being the same selfish, self-centered bastard you've always been and refuse to give me the one thing, the one thing I've ever asked you for!
"Carter's Choice" Season 5, Ep. 13
Dr. Kovač [to Carter]: In the beginning there's always a lot of talk of national pride and patriotic speeches, but after a few weeks it becomes this; nothing but death and sadness. These people just want what everyone else wants: their kids to have something to eat; to see them grow up, laughing, happy. They don't care where the border is or who gets to call themselves president. They just want this to stop.
"Kisangani" Season 9, Ep. 22
9Life Still Surprises
Dr. Carter: I reached a point about five years ago, where I started to feel that every day was the same thing, and I'd had enough. But I've been through a lot of stuff since then. And now, I try to embrace the idea that everything that happens has never happened before. Like, the saying that you can't stand in the same river twice, because by the time that you come back, it's not the same river, and you're not the same man. Anyway... I look around at this place now and can't imagine ever finding it boring, because right at the moment that you think you've seen it all, something happens that you never could've expected.
"What We Do" Season 15, Ep. 18
10The Difficulty Of The E.R.
Dr. Kovač: Just show up. That's all I've been doing: showing up. Time goes by faster at work. Shift work. Treat and street a few lost souls. You're with them when they're most vulnerable, when they're naked, weak, hurt. You touch them, look at their bodies, see them more closely than their families, their lovers. But it's mechanical, you know, temporary. You fix them up or you watch them die. Either way, it ends and you move on. No next time, no strings, no real connection. Maybe that's why I stay.
"The Advocate" Season 9, Ep. 17
11A Rose From Dirt
Dr. Moretti: Emergency medicine is actually the result of centuries of warfare. It's a field that was defined by doctors and nurses, in bombed out buildings, trying to take care of patients on dirty canvas stretchers. And performing procedures in tent hospitals that were literally hundreds of feet away from where the battles raged. And these people, our predecessors, they had a simple primary focus: survival. And down in the bunkers they dug in deep, to try to save their patients lives and to try to save their own lives. And they ended up giving life to this whole new art form. This great collaborative enterprise, that we still carry on today. That's why we're here.
"The War Comes Home" Season 14, Ep. 1
12Dr. Greene's Farewell
Dr. Greene: Dear ER gang, So here I am out on the beach at 5:30 in the evening. Elizabeth is sitting with me drinking juice, but I'm all about the Mai Tais. The sun is going down. Rachel is dipping Ella's toes in the ocean as they head off on a quest for the perfect seashell. Weirdly enough, I find myself thinking, you know what would make this moment complete? Some jogger dropping to the sand short of breath so I can swoop in with a piece of bamboo to perform a nice clean intubation, fix the guy up, and send him off with a good, simple dispo. Which I guess is my way of saying that I miss you all and that dingy place. Lots of times I thought I should've chosen a different career or gone into private practice. Something easier, less grinding, more lucrative, but since I've been gone, I realize that outside of what I'm doing right now, sitting on this beach with my family, staying at County all those years, doing what we do on a daily basis, was the best choice I ever made. I know what you're thinking, but trust me, it's not so hard to appreciate once it's over. As much as part of me would like to believe that the ER can't go on without me, the smarter part realizes that you are an incredible group of doctors and nurses who approach every day with such skill, passion, and thoroughness that when it comes to patient care, I know my absence will hardly be felt.As for friendship and camaraderie, well, that's another matter.
"On The Beach" Season 15, Ep. 21
13Fight Another Day
Dr. Carter [to Lucy]: Some patients get to you more than others, I know. But when you do everything that you can, sometimes even more than you thought you could, you've got to walk away knowing you fought the good fight. You fought the good fight, Lucy. Tomorrow you'll fight another one.
"The Good Fight" Season 5, Ep. 8
Though life and death often drop in a snap, these speeches offered the breather pauses that lets ER resonate with fans to this day.