Callie endures an unexpected malpractice suit with the help of her father (guest star Hector Elizondo)

By Annie Barrett
November 15, 2013 at 03:49 AM EST
Danny Feld/ABC
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“Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” focused on astronaut, excuse me, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Callie Torres and an unexpected, high-profile malpractice suit. The patient: former Olympic gold-medalist snowboarder and current double amputee Travis Reed, who’d come back to Grey Sloan in search of an experimental new hip. Yang had performed her very first solo valve replacement on Travis when she was a second-year resident. “His heart is my Mona Lisa,” she claimed. Cristina? Proud? Unheard of!

The ortho goddess hesitated to build Travis a new hip — she’d never attempted the Petersen resurfacing hip joint before and had yet to receive the extra research data she’d requested from Germany. But Travis didn’t want to wait — you can’t win a gold with arthritis, and the Olympic trials were coming up. “You’re the first orthopedic surgeon to grow cartilage out of nothing,” he reminded Callie during their initial meeting. “The reason we are who we are is because we’re not scared of firsts.”

The hip part of the surgery went fine (or so she thought), but as Callie and Intern Jo were about to close him up, Travis developed a pulmonary embolus — his oxygen level went down, his heart rate spiked, and he might have had a clot in his lungs. This is about the time, according to Callie’s lawyer, when jury members and possibly recap-readers’ eyes will glaze over. Juries don’t like big words, you see. They only respond well to the things they know, like pantyhose, or wedding rings. Travis’ prosecutor had barely gotten through freshman biology, so naturally they loved him.

Travis had returned to the hospital days later with a nasty infection at the incision site on his hip — an infection the prosecution attributed to a sponge Callie had deliberately left behind — and she’d do it again! — during surgery in an attempt to get Travis sewn back up. It’s so easy to blame the sponge. Everyman Prosecutor had once encountered a sponge, and it was disgusting.

NEXT: A grease fire riddle saves the day Callie made the judgement call to get in there and operate on Travis’ infection, even though she and Jo had noticed a small heart murmur that morning. Yang was furious: She should have operated on his heart first, she yelled at Callie. He can live without a leg; he can’t live without a heart. (Apparently Bailey heard them fighting from down the hallway, but I think this was just a way to get Bailey into the episode and have something else to mention during the trial, because they were not being that loud. Grey’s’ surgical trance-music soundtrack, for example, is usually much louder than this scuffle.)

But Callie argued that day — and on the stand tonight — that this was Travis Reed they were talking about. “I don’t wanna be the doctor who turns an Olympic athlete into a doorstop,” Travis’ wife Whitney overhead Callie telling Yang in the hallway. Ouch. Ouch at the time, and ouch at the trial. (So many different timelines! Help!)

So why did Callie insist on working on Travis’ leg first? Well, his vitals were okay, and his foot was turning gray. She started to explain to the jury how Travis’ heart was throwing out emboli, or clots, or [OTHER SCARY UNFAMILIAR WORDS] — wait. Stop. Regroup. Remembering her lawyer’s valuable advice that juries only respond to terminology they recognize, she tried a different approach: “Do you ever cook?” she asked her suddenly rapt audience of people who — why yes, yes, they’re coming back, around, yes. Some of them have indeed heard of cooking.

If there’s a grease fire in your kitchen and it spreads to your curtains, what do you do? Put out the grease fire or extinguish the curtains? “Which disaster do you tackle first?” Callie wondered aloud as the jury members thought fondly of the beautiful curtains in their own homes, which they certainly wouldn’t want to see on fire. See, if Callie hadn’t treated the emboli when she did, Travis would have lost his leg for sure. She was just picking which disaster to tackle first.

NEXT: Can you sue someone for negligent housekeeping? This cooking analogy was what started to sway the jury toward Callie, and good thing, because Travis’ paraphrase of Callie’s tearful apology to him in the hospital was not doing her any favors. What he said she’d said: “If there’s anyone to blame, it’s me. This never should have happened. If there was any way I could change things, I would.” What Callie actually said, in an effort to get Travis to stop taking his anger and hurt out on Whitney: “You wanna take your crap out on someone, you take it out on me. Blame me. Go on, yell all you want. This should never have happened to you. If there were any way to magically change things, believe me, I would. I wish there was something I could do. I wish I could fix this. I tried so hard. I’m so, so sorry, Travis.”

The jury couldn’t possibly know the rest of the context, either — that part of the reason Callie got emotional was because she’d been through the same thing after her wife [JURY WAKES BACK UP: A word they know!] lost her leg. She explained herself very well, eventually dissolving into another concept juries understand: tears. “Of course I was sorry,” she choked up, on the stand. “But that makes me human. That does not make me negligent.” If they wanna sue her for feeling her feelings, that’s their problem. Trials every week for the rest of the series!

While waiting for the verdict, Callie just so happened to finally look behind her bookshelf, where a letter was peeking out. Surprise: It’s the data she requested from a clinical trial of the Petersen hip, postmarked three weeks before Travis’ surgery. Callie shuddered as she realized Travis’ infection wasn’t the left-behind sponge’s fault after all. The joint itself contains bacteria that caused five other instances of infection. If she’d known this ahead of time, she might not have done the hip surgery at all.

Meredith (oh, hey!) encouraged Callie to just move on with her career. She can’t bring the guy’s legs back. An “act of God” caused the letter to fall behind the bookshelf. I was incredibly uneasy during all of this. Sure, the hospital doesn’t want to go bankrupt and Callie shouldn’t have to give up her career just because she doesn’t ever clean her house. But how upsetting was this lost piece of mail?! Shouldn’t Travis and his family know about it? Every which way you look at it, it’s a disaster. Anyway, Callie listened to Mer and threw out that pesky data. The verdict: NOT GUILTY. Works for her. Accidents happen.

NEXT: Callie and Arizona wanted to have a baby Doctors, and people, all screw up. “They blow it. They’re sorry.” But does being sorry really matter? Callie’s still not convinced, as the rest of the Grey Sloan posse (except Yang) cheers wildly at the verdict while Callie — the only one in focus — pensively stares ahead. Can mistakes be forgiven? Should she accept Arizona back into her life?

Callie’s dad (guest star Hector Elizondo) thinks so. He’d stopped by to support his daughter in her trial — he’s been sued so many times — and convince her she’s not pathetic. It’s been a rocky road for the very religious Carlos re: Callie’s love life. When “that O’Malley kid” cheated on her, he was ready to knock his teeth out! At first, he couldn’t accept her homosexuality (“It’s an abomination. It’s an eternity in hell.”), but he eventually came around once he determined Arizona was awesome (and not a vegetarian) and once they got married. Now, he wants to set his daughter on the path to forgiveness. “You chose to break up your family?” he angrily scolded her. “Did you even try to work things out?”

Carlos himself had cheated on Callie’s mom, back when he was young and stupid. Callie herself would never have existed if her mom hadn’t found it in her heart to believe they were stronger than that one mistake. Things between Callie and Arizona might not work out in the end, that’s true, Carlos said. “But how will you know if you never try?”

The episode closed with Callie knocking on Arizona’s hotel room door just as her wife was getting it on with that silly Intern Murphy. (Callie didn’t see her, or the bra Travis Reed had signed for her way back when… now that would have been nuts.) Ignoring Arizona’s sex-flushed cheeks, Callie bravely invited her to come back home.

We also learned Callie and Arizona decided to have a baby — and then lost it — post-plane crash, around the time that Meredith was very, very pregnant and had sausages for toes. So back when Arizona said “You didn’t lose anything” and we assumed she’d been referring to her leg…. she was probably talking about the baby. And maybe it was her grief over that, combined with pre-existing rage about her leg, that caused her to cheat.

Line of the night goes to Yang: “There’s a margarita-decorating station… Limes!” during a flashback to Mer’s baby shower. (I like the limes part. Wouldn’t turn down a fresh marg, either.)

The episode was certainly… different. Is different good, like at Arby’s? What did you think?

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Meredith. Alex. Bailey. The doctors are definitely in on Shonda Rhimes' hospital melodrama.
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