Isaiah Washington on the 'Grey's Anatomy' cliffhanger

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Isaiah's character, the steadfast surgeon Dr. Burke, finds himself in a vulnerable position as the patient on the operating table. "I'm a little macho at times, so it's a horrible perspective to be lying on your back that way, looking up, and then playing this strong doctor," Isaiah says.

While Dr. Burke's hospitalization shocked fans, it also struck a personal chord with Isaiah. He says the finale reminded him of his own mother's real-life battle with sarcoidosis, a lung disease that took her life. "At one point, watching her make her 'transition' in a hospital—I swore that I would never walk into another hospital again," Isaiah says.

Luckily for viewers, Isaiah did step into a hospital again in what has been an empowering role for the actor. "I love Dr. Burke," he says. "Dr. Burke is my hero."