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Health A to Z

5 Facts That Hindi Cinema Gets Wrong About The Heart

Dr. Pragnya Rao

Have a look at medical inaccuracies shown in movies that may have a wrong kind of influence on viewers.

Movies and TV serials can impact the lives of people watching them- in various ways. Putting out social messages and increasing awareness of certain medical conditions and their effects in life are important roles that they play in our lives. I must admit, I am a movie-buff myself. I remember how my mother made me watch some of the best movies of her generation- like Anand (1971), where Rajesh Khanna’s character has lymphosarcoma of the intestine and still displays a positive attitude. Dil Ek Mandir (1963) was the classic ‘patient survived, the doctor died’ scenario (sorry for the spoiler). 

My curiosity in medicine was also fuelled by some of the other movies like Koshish (1972), Paa (2007), Taare Zameen Par (2007) and Black (2005)- movies that showcased medical conditions such as deaf-mutism, progeria, dyslexia and blindness respectively. I currently work as a primary physician at MFine and I cannot help but appreciate how, years before the inception of this company, the efficiency of telemedicine for healthcare was excellently illustrated in 3 idiots (2009)- tele delivery in times of drastic situations and in places where physical healthcare might not be accessible. 

However, I have been disappointed too. Paralytic individuals getting better with ‘jadoo ki jhappis’ (Yes Munnabhai, I’m looking at you) and the cliche red light on the OT room when a patient is taken into surgery (I’m yet to see this for real)- these stereotypes kind of leave me with a sense of ‘filmy medicine cringe’. 

While movies in India get a lot of things right about love and heartbreaks, the real matters of the circulatory system sometimes break my heart. Here is a list of things that movies usually get wrong about (which can literally be harmful to the heart):

1. HEART ATTACKS

Heart attacks in movies are often dramatized to such an extent that you can really tell the actors are doing just their job- acting.  A heart attack occurs when arteries supplying blood to the heart muscles are blocked due to fatty deposits. The symptoms typically include chest pain, heaviness in the chest, pain in the left arm and neck, shortness of breath, profuse sweating, etc. This is different from a cardiac arrest, which is a sudden stoppage of electrical signals to the beating heart, thereby causing the patient to collapse. While cardiac arrest can be fatal, a heart attack isn’t always. A heart attack is a medical emergency and must be diagnosed in a hospital using ECG, 2D ECHOs and blood tests, and must be treated at the earliest with medications such as blood thinners and pain relievers. 

HOWEVER, Ashok Kumar’s character from the movie Clerk (1989) disagrees. The man is miraculously healed as soon as he listens to deshbhakti ke gaane. No Chacha, that is not how it works. 

The Takeaway: Heart attacks are meant to be treated by doctors as emergencies. It ain’t a simple ‘Dil me mere hai dard-e-disco’.

2. REVIVING A PATIENT

Bringing someone back to life after a sudden cardiac arrest/collapse or providing resuscitation in such drastic situations is not as easy as the movies show to be. There are various situations where CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) can even go wrong and cause more harm to the patient than good.

The ideal approach when someone suddenly falls unconscious and is pulseless is to immediately reach out to emergency personnel and call an ambulance, informing the state of the patient. Meanwhile, if you have been trained to perform CPR, or if you are being advised to initiate resuscitation, then you must do it right- until help arrives. Lay the person flat on their back, tilt their chin to see if they are breathing. Begin chest compressions at 100 beats per minute. You must provide at least 2-inches deep compression at the centre of the chest 30 times, followed by 2 mouth-to-mouth rescue breaths. Continue until medical staff arrives with ECG/Defibrillators/Oxygen cylinders and other equipment. Even in the hospital, doctors begin with CPR and also provide life-saving drugs via injections while they attempt to rescue the patient. The attempts span up to an hour or more, at times. 

Jump-starting the heart isn’t as easy as dramatically using a defibrillator to shock the heart without following due process. What is even worse, is the delicate, wrong compressions and rescue breaths that supposedly ‘revive’ the hero within seconds. Slow claps, worst aid.

The Takeaway: Trust healthcare professionals to take care of your heart, Dil Se. Also, do sign up for actual CPR training- it can save lives. 

3. HEART TRANSPLANTS

Heart transplants are complex surgeries that are reserved for patients whose heart is failing, despite various medications and corrective surgeries in the past. Cardiomyopathy, congenital heart defects, heart valve diseases, etc are many reasons why this is done. A heart transplant involves using a donor’s organ, and the procedure is extensive. However, with proper post-operative care and rehabilitation over many months, one can lead a healthy life. When a heart transplant is about to happen, cardiothoracic surgeons, cardiologists, anesthesiologists, physicians and other multidisciplinary professionals come together to ensure that this major surgery happens smoothly. Procuring a healthy donor heart is also no easy feat. 

But hey, a heart transplant is a great subject for a romantic movie plot. Ask Arbaaz Khan’s character in Hello Brother (1999), who falls in love with the girl his donor loved and also has hallucinations of his ghost. Well hello brother, if only it were that easy, spirit exchange would have become a real thing now.

The Takeaway: It takes a lot of effort, luck, medical expertise to have a successful transplant done. Also, if ‘dil de diya hai’, then ‘jaan bhi dena hi padega’.

4. BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS & IV LINES

Notice how action heroes are knocked out unconscious, they wake up in the hospital and what is the first thing they do? RIP THE IV LINE LIKE THERE IS NO TOMORROW! This is outrageous because this can be handled better by well, developing some patience and calling the nurse!

An IV line has to be discontinued properly. Improperly secured IV lines, first of all, can cause problems such as air embolism. Discontinuing an IV infusion requires clamping of the drip, using sterile cotton over the puncture site before pulling off the needle slowly. The arm also needs to be raised so it is above the level of the heart. Ripping off an IV line can only result in massive blood loss, and subsequent anaemia, and can prove even more detrimental to the heart of the patient is on anticoagulants. Oh, and not to forget the way blood donation is portrayed. Transfusion of blood involves cross-matching blood groups, checking, double-checking the donor and recipient blood for any diseases that could be transmitted through the process. Amar, Akbar and Anthony may not believe you, although I must say- great pinch of motherly symbolism (1977), but sorry sir, you need a crash course on transfusion lessons.

The Takeaway: IV lines and blood donation cannot be played around with. By the way, dil deke dekho (figuratively), and khoon – please do donate, but to a blood bank.

5. SMOKING & ALCOHOL ABUSE

This is the most important point I have to make. Getting drunk and smoking packs of cigarettes does not make you a badass. While movies might show that someone ‘looks cool’ while smoking, but no- it is a path you willingly take to sabotage your heart and lungs. We often see the titular character picking up alcohol bottles and smoking, especially after a tough heartbreak. This is the most unhealthy way of coping up with a break-up. Sincerely, there are better ways to do so.

Cigarette smoking, alcohol abuse can impact your health heavily and can even cause heart attacks, lung cancer, etc. The toxic buildup of plaque and other undesirable chemicals in the body can only do more harm than good.  So next time, someone says ‘aaj tera bhai pilayega’, say NO.

The Takeaway: Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are harmful for your health. Reiterating this for those who skip these warnings that are displayed at the beginning of the movies. Reach out to mental health professionals online if your dil hai ki maanta nahin, that is if you have difficulty quitting.

The field of medicine has become quite advanced and heart-related disorders are at the forefront of being actively treated in the present times, where lifestyle disorders are on the rise. This World Heart Day, it would be wise to pay attention to your heart because it is no longer dil ki baat dil hi jaane. You can be the change your heart needs you to be. Stay informed, stay safe and in case you are facing any symptoms, reach out to doctors online on MFine the minute you need to. 

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