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Carol Hathaway
Make of Two Hearts.png
Key information
Gender Female
Hair Color Black
Occupation Nurse Manager (1994-2000), Transplant Coordinator (2009)
Family Helen Hathaway (mother)
Spouse Doug Ross
Children Tess Ross (From Doug)
Kate Ross (From Doug)
Behind the scenes
Portrayer: Julianna Margulies
Episode 135 (134 regular, 1 guest)
First episode "24 Hours"
Last episode "Old Times"

Nurse Carol Ross (née Hathaway) is a fictional character on the popular television show ER, portrayed by Julianna Margulies from 1994 to 2000 and in a single episode in 2009. Julianna Margulies' removal from the main cast opening credits was in the final episode of season 6.

Career

Carol Hathaway is a registered nurse and is the nurse manager in the emergency room of Chicago's County General Hospital. In season two, it is revealed that she has a master's degree in nursing when she completes a performance evaluation for physician assistant Jeanie. Throughout the series, Carol is referred to as both the nurse manager and the charge nurse/head nurse.

Carol is portrayed as a highly qualified trauma nurse. In the eighth episode of season one, she reveals herself to be certified to perform forensic exams and in season two, she rides along with paramedics in order to renew her MICN (mobile intensive care nurse) certification.

Carol is tough and sensitive towards the lack of recognition the ER nurses experience. She takes her role in the ER seriously and, in one episode, is said by Dr. Weaver to be “the best nurse” they have on staff at County General. However, she doesn’t like to take orders and is sometimes hostile to the physician assistants, as well as the interns. She once told surgeon Peter Benton in Season One, "Haleh, [a staff nurse], may not be able to cross clamp an aorta, but she has over 20 years experience in emergency medicine and if you would step off your pedestal maybe you would realize it's the nurses that make this place run and not you."

Carol’s high level of skill and knowledge mean that she is often teaching the med students and interns how to start IVs or do pelvic exams. However, she often feels like her abilities — and the abilities of the other nurses — go unappreciated, leading her to appear insecure, bitter, and even jealous at times. Carol knows this about herself, telling Doug that she hates to take orders. “You’re a very competitive person,” he tells her.

In Season Three, Carol attends pre-med classes at a local community college and takes the MCAT exam. When she scores well on the exam, Dr. Kerri Weaver teaches Carol to intubate a patient, which she does expertly. However, by the end of the day, Carol decides against becoming a doctor after realizing that her job as a nurse is worthwhile.

In Season Four, Carol decides to open a clinic in the ER. She obtains funding through the foundation of Dr. John Carter's grandmother, Millicent Carter. Carol's clinic provides care for thousands for free.

In Season Five, Carol lets Dr. Doug Ross use a pain management machine from her clinic to assist a mother with a dying child. Things go awry with the family, and it is decided that Carol's clinic should be closed. Desperate to keep the clinic open, Carol agrees to no longer oversee her clinic. She asks the nurse practitioner that she'd hired to help run the clinic, Lynette, to take over, so that the clinic can continue running without Carol's involvement. After the incident, Carol says that she is allowed to keep her job in the ER, but that she is out of management. However, in season six, she can still be seen completing managerial tasks, including signing time cards for the nurses and preparing them for her maternity leave.

In Season Fifteen, she is revealed to be working as a transplant coordinator at a hospital in Seattle.

Actress Julianna Margulies told The Los Angeles Times in 1994, “[Hathaway] is strong and controlling and that’s why she’s good at her job. She has a dry sense of humor and a very dark side to her that she doesn’t wear on her sleeve. She’s very compassionate, even if she’s dealing with her own demons."

Personal life

Shortly after her character is introduced on the show, she is rushed into the Hospital after an overdose of barbiturates in a failed suicide attempt. While the staff is working on her, someone mentions that "even her fiance didn't know about it" indicating she hadn't shared her suicide plans with anyone. Earlier in the episode, the fiance in question is referred to by Benton as an orthopedic physician, implying that this is Dr. John Taglieri. At the time, Carol was also living with a roommate, who is shown during the pilot, but never referenced again.

Carol’s suicide attempt is serious, with the staff at times speaking of her in the past tense, as they don’t expect her to survive. Both Dr. Greene and Dr. Lewis order aggressive medical care, which results in her miraculously surviving after being comatose for several hours. The next time she is seen is when Doug goes to visit her; Carol’s mother has temporarily moved in with her to help her recover.

Although she later denies it, the staff suspect that her suicide attempt was brought about by her failed romance with Doug, a womanizing pediatrician also working in the ER. Carol explains in the show's third episode, Going Home, that the attempt was actually caused by “things piling up” and feeling trapped. In season four, episode 12, she tells paramedic Greg, "I thought of everybody but me when I tried to kill myself. I just got wrapped up in everybody else's expectations of me and forgot who I was."

In a 2021 interview on The Skimm podcast, actress Julianna Margulies recalled her character's first episode. She said, "Whenever my character was at the medicine cabinet getting meds for her patients, she was putting some in her pocket for herself [for her eventual suicide attempt]. Not that they ever paid attention to that. If you re-watch the pilot, you can probably see her pocketing some medication."

Carol returns to work eight weeks after her suicide attempt. As she prepares for the day, she is clearly anxious and unsure. A few get-well-soon greeting cards can be seen on the mantle and shelf in her bedroom as she lays out her nursing uniform. When she arrives at work, she is haunted by images of herself being brought into the ER on a gurney. She tries to make jokes to lighten the mood of her arrival.

She tells Dr. Greene that her therapist suggested she consider working in a doctor's office instead of the high stress environment of the ER, but she couldn't imagine doing that. She wonders if she's returned to work too quickly, but expertly runs a trauma with Dr. Greene that boosts her confidence. She also meets a patient who reminds her that life is a gift, which she vows to take to heart herself.

During her first day back, it also becomes obvious that while she is still attracted to Doug, she harbours some animosity towards him. She recognizes that Doug feels guilty about her attempt and tells him, "there were actually more depressing things going on in my life than you."

Meanwhile, Doug continues to try to win Carol back and although their friendship is slightly rekindled, Carol keeps Doug at a distance in both professional and private matters. After Carol's recovery, Taglieri and Carol still plan a wedding. However, when the wedding ultimately doesn't happen, Carol says to Doug Ross, "I just want to be happy and I'm so afraid I never will be." The ER staff attempts to cheer her up and help her feel better at the wedding reception, with food, drinks, and music. Carol makes a speech thanking them and acknowledging her gratitude at being alive at all.

In a 1996 interview with US Magazine, actress Margulies expressed her disappointment that the show didn't dive deeper into Carol's mental health struggles. She said, "[Executive Producer] John Wells says Hathaway’s ratings go up when she’s lighter, and I know they think the show is dark enough. But I think they missed the boat."

Instead, the reasons for Carol's suicide attempt are sprinkled throughout the series. She often uses her experience to connect with others. After Jeanie's HIV status is revealed to the staff, Carol privately tells her that she once tried to kill herself, and so she knows what it's like to come back to work and have everyone treat you differently. The two were once competitive rivals, but now, she suggests they be friends. Jeanie ends up working in Carol's free ER clinic. In many other episodes, Carol tells her patients and colleagues, when they are in distress, that they "have to deal with" their feelings and that "keeping things inside makes things worse."

Later in season one, Carol attempts to foster adopt an abandoned Russian girl named Tatiana, who is suffering from AIDS and was left in the ER. She passes the home visit, but a background check showing her attempted suicide only months earlier causes her application to be denied. She was still with Tag at the time, and he also wasn't supportive. Carol is devastated at being denied the chance to foster Tatiana. She looks to Doug for comfort. Carol shares with him that she is still in therapy, and has been in therapy for nine months at that point.

In the episode, Long Days Journey, Carol helps work to save a woman who does die by suicide in the ER. After the experience, Haleh tells Carol that she knows that must have been hard for her to relive. Haleh asks if Carol wrote a suicide note like the woman they had worked on. Carol replies, “No. I didn’t know what to say.”

Carol grew up on the West Side of Chicago. Her father died when she was barely old enough to remember him. The show hints in season 4 that he, like Carol, suffered from depression and that it may have contributed to his death. Actress Margulies has said that, when playing Carol, she developed a backstory in her mind that her father's death is the reason that Carol became a nurse.

Carol has mentioned that she is the youngest child in her family (as she told Dr Anna Del Amico that she is the youngest of two sisters, but we never meet them in the show). Actress Julianna Margulies said in a 2012 Times Talk interview that she spent six years playing Carol as an only child and was blindsided to see her written as having sisters. She told the interviewer, Bill Carter, "I had actually done research on being an only child." Carol (like Margulies) is also left-handed.

Carol begins Season Two by purchasing a run-down, rickety house. As the seasons progress, the house slowly transforms into a vibrant living space, mirroring Carol's work to rebuild her life.

In season 2, episode 8, Carol cares for another patient who has attempted suicide. While working on the girl, she comments to Mark that she “hates this” and is clearly affected by the patient, to whom she later shares the story of her own attempt a year before. After caring for the patient, Shep comments - unaware of Carol’s history - that anyone who takes a bunch of pills just wants attention and doesn’t really mean it. Annoyed, Carol replied, “I really meant it,” shocking him and leading him to try to apologize to her several times. Later, he told her that he was glad that her suicide attempt had failed. Carol answered, “Me too.”

She later becomes involved with paramedic Ray "Shep" Shepard (Ron Eldard), who moves in with her and helps her renovate her house. Despite a promising start, their relationship is severely strained after Shep goes through a drastic personality change after the death of his work partner. Shep and his partner had decided to enter a burning building to save children who were trapped by the fire. Shep's partner was badly burned and later died in the ICU. Shep becomes abrasive, and despite Carol's attempts to get him professional help to deal with his anger, he refuses. Although Carol loves Shep, she decides that she can't watch him self-destruct and ends their relationship. She tells him that she finally has her life together and doesn't feel like she can be with him if he isn't in therapy.

In Season Three, Carol suffers severe financial problems. She takes out a second mortgage. Things get even worse when a labor dispute arises concerning the re-assignment of her nurses. As nurse manager for the ER, Carol is privy to management decisions and she finds herself torn between her friends and the hospital administration.

During a nurse sickout, while she is busy telling the substitute nurses where to find supplies and explaining how to use the equipment during a trauma, she forgets to check the label of the blood being given to the patient. After the trauma, when she is cleaning up and taking inventory with Dr. Weaver, she realizes that she accidentally transfused the wrong blood into the patient. Although it is unclear whether it was the blood or his other injuries that cause his death, Carol blames herself. She visits the grave of the patient with flowers. The administration initially does not punish Carol for this incident and uses it to cast the sickout in a bad light, but she resents the administration's actions and believes she is not being punished sufficiently for her error. She talks to the press and gets suspended.

During her suspension, Carol is held hostage at gun point during an armed robbery at her local grocery store. She treats several injured people and performs advanced procedures, including a tracheotomy and a chest tube, using only the supplies in the store. She manages to escape the incident, shaken but unharmed. Shortly after this experience, she is released from her suspension.

Carol is shown taking pre-med classes at a local college, and later takes the MCAT with Doug's encouragement. She assumes that she failed when in fact she did very well. She scores in the 85th percentile, impressing the hospital and leading Kerry to take her under her wing. However, she opts not to pursue medical school, having only taken the test to prove she was capable.

During the last few episodes of Season Three, Carol and Doug become closer and eventually rekindle their relationship. In season three, episode 11, she tells Doug that she "didn't think much of herself" when they dated before her suicide attempt, but now she "feels good." She explained, "I used to think I couldn't do things. Now, I'm taking a pre-med course. I guess it's about being in control."

Still, their relationship is held up by Carol's insecurities, but soon they make it work. They are trying to have a baby when Doug leaves Chicago in the middle of Season 5. He is strongly advised to relocate after allegedly teaching a mother how to bypass an automatic pain-medication release device -- borrowed from Carol's clinic -- to deliver a lethal dose to her terminally-ill child. Unbeknownst to Doug, Carol is pregnant.

Carol has a difficult pregnancy. She becomes dizzy and nearly passes out in at least two episodes. Her labor is equally difficult, with Carol collapsing on the staircase of the El train and then suffering from dangerous bleeding during delivery. Despite the problems, she delivers twin girls Tess and Kate on Thanksgiving in Season 6. When Doug learns of his twin daughters' birth, he invites them to come to live with him in Seattle, but Carol cannot decide if it is the right thing to do and attempts to raise their daughters alone. She briefly dates Luka Kovač, but appears to struggle with her feelings.

Treating a woman dying of end-stage ovarian cancer and helping her family say goodbye moves Carol to reunite her own family, and she abruptly leaves work and flies to Seattle that day to reunite with Doug in the second-to-last episode of Season 6. It is later revealed that Carol sent for her twin daughters the next day and stays with Doug. This is the last time you see her until the final season, where she is shown to be a transplant coordinator. Doug is an attending physician at the same Washington hospital. While it isn't expressly stated that the two are married, there is a wedding ring on Doug's hand. The two also briefly discuss their now school age twin girls, who Carol says spent the morning complaing about a spelling test.

Season 1

Carol's recovery from her suicide attempt and her work to rebuild her life is a major part of season one. She and orthopedic surgeon Dr. John "Tag" Taglieri (Rick Rossovich) plan their wedding, despite Carol seeming to have misgivings. At one point, she tells Tag that she wants to make sure that she's ready after all that has happened. Doug tries to dissuade her from marrying Tag, but Carol decides to go through with the wedding planning. Carol also tries to foster adopt an abandoned Russian girl named Tatiana, who has AIDS, but a background check that showed her attempted suicide only months earlier causes her application to be denied. She is devastated and leans on Doug for comfort.

While caring for Tatiana, it is revealed that Carol is half-Russian and able to speak the Russian language to a certain extent. She says that her mother is Ukranian and that she tried to teach her Russian, but she didn't cooperate with it. Carol's Ukranian heritage arises at other points throughout the series, as well.

In the season finale, on the day of Carol and Tag's wedding, Tag tells Carol that he knows she could never love him the way he loves her. Carol finally admits that this is true. He decides that he can't go through with the wedding. However, the guests still hold the reception. Carol makes a short speech at the reception saying that she doesn't know what the future holds, but she is just grateful to still be alive.

Season 2

Carol starts a new relationship with a paramedic named Ray "Shep" Shepard. She also buys a rundown old house which Shep helps her fix up and then moves in with her. After Shep's partner, Raul Melendez dies in a fire trying to rescue children from a burning building, Shep's personality changes which causes Carol and Shep's relationship to strain.

Shep starts becomes abrasive, and despite Carol's attempts to get him professional help to deal with his anger, he refuses to which forces Carol to end their relationship. She is insistent that, as she's trying to rebuild her life and stay emotionally healthy, she can't be with him if he isn't in therapy.

In the season finale, Carol quits the ER in disgust at the hospital's insurance practices, but she later returns without explanation. The next time she's upset, Haleh simply jokes to her, "you could always quit again."

Season 3

Carol goes through financial problems. Her car is repossessed because she's three payments behind and wants to sell her house, but the real estate agent tells her that no one will buy it. Things get even worse when a labor dispute arises concerning the re-assignment of her nurses.

As the nurse manager for the ER, Carol is privy to the management decisions and she finds herself torn between her friends and the hospital administration. During a nurse sickout, while she is busy telling the substitute nurses where to find supplies during a trauma, she forgets to check the label of the blood being given to the patient. After the trauma, when she is cleaning up and taking inventory with Dr. Weaver, she realizes that she accidentally transfused the wrong blood into the patient. Although it is unclear whether it was the blood or his other injuries that cause his death, Carol blames herself. She visits the grave of the patient with flowers. The administration initially does not punish Carol for this incident and uses it to cast the sickout in a bad light, but she resents the administration's actions and believes she is not being punished sufficiently for her error. She talks to the press and gets suspended.

During her suspension, Carol is held hostage at gun point during an armed robbery at her local grocery store. She treats several injured people and performs advanced procedures, including a tracheotomy and a chest tube, using only the supplies in the store. She manages to escape the incident, shaken but unharmed. Shortly after this experience, she is released from her suspension.

Carol is shown taking pre-med classes at a local college, and later takes the MCAT with Doug's encouragement. She assumes that she failed when in fact she did very well. She scores in the 85th percentile, impressing the hospital and leading Kerry to take her under her wing. However, she opts not to pursue medical school, having only taken the test to prove she was capable.

During the last few episodes of Season Three, Carol and Doug become closer and eventually rekindle their relationship.

Season 4

Professionally, Carol starts a free clinic in the ER with the help of Carter's grandmother's foundation. She staffs the clinic with a nurse practicioner and it is extremely successful.

Personally, Doug and Carol's relationship starts to get more serious. Doug later proposes to Carol in front of the ER staff which she accepts. However, Doug notes that she "is waiting for the other shoe to drop." She explains that she's already done the wedding thing and just wants to take things slow. Later on, during a conversation with paramedic Greg Powell, he tells her about his mother's suicide and she opens up about her own attempt. They end up kissing. Afterwards, Carol takes a long walk alone "to think." When she arrives home, she tells Doug about what happened. He becomes angry and leaves. Later, when the two are working at the hospital, they have a heated conversation where Carol asks Doug for time and space. He forgives her for kissing Greg and tells her that he'll wait until Carol is ready to get married.

Near the end of the season, Doug gets Carol involved in a case where he uses ultra-rapid detox on a drug-addicted baby without the mother's permission which gets Doug in hot water.

Season 5

Carol and Doug's relationship is still strong and they even try to get pregnant. Carol gives Doug a PCA machine from her clinic to help Ricky Abbott, an 8-year-old terminally ill boy with ALS, and his mother, Joi. After Doug gives Joi the code to Ricky's PCA machine, which was used to deliver a fatal dose of dilaudid to Ricky and causes his death, Doug's career at County is put into jeporardy. Doug later decides to leave Chicago for Seattle.

Doug asks Carol to come with him, but Carol turns him down. She explains that Chicago is her hometown, with her job, family, and friends all in the city. She wants him to stay for her, and emotionally tells him she doesn't want to wake up without him. However, Doug ends up leaving Chicago alone.

After Doug has left, Carol begins experiencing headaches and insomnia that she at first blames on stress. She soon realizes that she is actually pregnant. She struggles with the emotions of being pregnant without Doug, even though she tells him not to return to Chicago when she informs him of her pregnancy. She also struggles with the risks of being pregnant while working as a trauma nurse. She is kicked in the stomach by a child, faced with the need to care for a woman who has an infection that is dangerous to pregnant women, and accidently exposed to an x-ray. Physically, she is often exhausted and, in season 5, episode 18, has a near fainting spell when she goes to stand up while talking to her mom. She tells Elizabeth that she is suffering from morning sickness and exhaustion. She confides in her that she doesn't want to be a single mother.

Later, when an OB appointment is suddenly cancelled, Carol tries to perform an ultrasound on herself. Mark and Elizabeth catch her and offer to help. They all learn that she is actually having twins.

Season 6/Departure

By the beginning of this season, Carol is now heavily pregnant. She also starts a good friendship with newcomer Dr. Luka Kovač. On Thanksgiving Day, Carol goes into labor on the L. Apparently, she manages to get off at the next stop. Luckily, Luka sees Carol there having contractions and helps get her to the hospital. Halfway there, Carol loses consciousness and Luka carries Carol to the hospital.

Concerned about her vitals and the fact that she passed out, Dr. Weaver wants to examine Carol in the ER before sending her up to OB. It turns out that Carol is too close to delivery and will have to give birth to her first twin in the ER, despite her protests. She gives birth to twin daughter, Tess, before being taken to OB. Dr. Mark Greene arrives and is by her side. Her nurse is Abby Lockhart, who she will eventually end up working with in the ER. When Carol goes into labor again, there are problems that cause her to have a c-section. Carol delivers her second twin daughter, Kate (named after Mark's mother's middle name), but she suffers complications from the c-section, which Carol later recovers from.

After the birth of the twins, Carol struggles to balance child-rearing, her postpartum emotions, and her return to work. She also tells Mark that she knows the girls deserve a father. Mark then says that Doug has been seeing them, implying plane visits off-screen. Carol tells Luka that her daughters' last names are Ross, not Hathaway. Carol and Luka appear to start a relationship with each other, but Carol is still focused on Doug and seems to send him mixed signals. Doug wants Carol and their daughters to come live with him in Seattle.

Carol cannot decide whether it's the right thing to do, telling Luka that her pride kept her from going with him. "I wanted him to stay for me," she said. "I thought I should be at least that important to him."

However, in season six, episode twenty-one, Carol treats a woman with a do-not-resucitate order who is dying of end-stage ovarian cancer. She helps her family say goodbye, despite the choice going against Dr. Weaver's demands. Carol is moved by the family and has an epiphany. She decides to reunite her own family and abruptly leaves work, telling Mark to tell Kerri that she won't be in the next day. She stops to tell Luka how sorry she is and that she is still in love with Doug. She tells him that she's been in love with Doug since she was 23 and that he is her soul mate. She tells him that he'll find someone, too.

Carol flies out to Seattle that day to reunite with Doug and move there. It is later revealed that Carol sends for her daughters, who she left with her mother in Chicago, the next day.

Season 11

In the episode, “The Show Must Go On,” Carol’s voice telling him to hurry up is one of the voices that Carter hears in his head as he leaves the hospital.

Season 14

In the Season 14 episode, "Status Quo", Jeanie Boulet mentions Doug and Carol when she returns to the ER. Nurse Haleh Adams states that they are still loving Seattle and that their twin daughters are now in third grade. Jeanie says that she keeps meaning to visit.

Season 15

In the season 15 episode The Book of Abby, long-serving nurse Haleh Adams shows the departing Abby Lockhart a closet wall where all the past doctors and employees have put their locker name tags. Amongst them, the tag "Hathaway" can be seen.

Carol Hathaway appears again in Season 15. She and Doug are now married and practice at the University of Washington Medical Center where Carol is a transplant coordinator.

During the episode, Carol and Doug help a grieving grandmother (Susan Sarandon) donate her grandson's organs. One of the organs, a kidney, is given to "some doctor", unbeknownst to both Doug and Carol that it is their former co-worker and friend John Carter. While on the job she met the two current employees at Cook County General Hospital Neela Rasgotra & Sam Taggart.

While it isn't expressly stated that the two are married, there is a wedding ring on Doug's hand. The two also briefly discuss their now school age twin girls, who Carol says spent the morning complaing about a spelling test.


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