Liver giver: Just as Meredith and Derek were settling into married life (sort of), Meredith was shocked when Lexie brought in their father, Thatcher, who had a failing liver as a result of years of alcoholism. He was desperately in need of a transplant and didn't qualify for a donor liver because he hadn't been sober long enough. Only a personal donation would suffice, and — wouldn't you know it — only Meredith was a match.
Because her relationship with her father has been so fraught (remember, he brutally blamed her for the death of her stepmother), Meredith was hesitant to sacrifice her liver for him. Lexie, on the other hand, adored her father and begged Meredith to save Thatcher for her sake. Meredith agreed, but Thatcher initially declined, insisting he couldn't put her in that position. But Meredith told Thatcher that she wanted him to survive for Lexie, not for herself, and he relented — leaving Meredith to a long period of recovery that will coincide nicely with Ellen Pompeo's maternity leave.
Desperate measures: Izzie has been unsteady on her feet since returning to work as a doctor living with cancer, but Owen let her help out with a patient who had recurrent abdominal tumors. Her personal experience was of significant comfort to him, but during the surgery, Owen discovered that his body was just too damaged. Izzie begged Owen to continue trying, arguing that people continued trying to save her, and he agreed. Unfortunately, the patient then died on the table during surgery, leaving Owen to lament the final months of life that the patient lost and to tell Izzie that she can't make her work as a doctor all about her experiences as a patient.
Young at heart: Ralph Waite (dad John of "The Waltons") showed up as an 82-year-old man with erectile dysfunction who was looking for a surgical implant to solve the problem. Mark was reluctant to help him out, but ultimately agreed — only to see the man's unsupportive family conclude that this was a sign that he was becoming irrational in his old age. They threatened to force him to move back in with them if he went ahead with what they considered a foolish operation. Mark gave them a talking-to about what's important in life and got them to back off, realizing at the same time that he's pretty happy with Lexie.
When it came time for the penile-impant surgery, Cristina blundered right into it before she even knew what kind of shaving job the pre-op process would involve. The patient came through surgery with flying colors, and his family even met his girlfriend. Cristina, frustrated, confronted the Chief about her lack of work. Reeling from that confrontation, the Chief recommitted himself to rebuilding the hospital and invited Callie back as an attending.
Linda Holmes is a writer in Washington.