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A Doctor’s Reaction To Medical Practices Depicted In Pop Culture

Dr. Nikhit Mahale

Imagination & fiction make up more than three-quarters of our real life.

The world of movies and shows are all about gripping drama and fast-paced action. Realism is often suspended in pursuit of generating rave reactions from the audience. This holds true for most depictions of medicines and doctors on movies and TV shows. The medical inaccuracies shown is quite blatant.

It is not often that you see patients in thrilling medical dramas filing paperwork for insurance, struggling with bills or NOT responding to defibrillators or CPR. But this is often the grim and mundane reality of everyday medicine. I’ve decided to make a list of some medical inaccuracies shown in TV shows and movies. Let me know in the comments if I’ve missed anything.

Defibrillator

Plot: The atmosphere in the operating theater is growing tenser by the second as the patient’s life begins to dangle by a weak thread. The hands of the surgeons move swiftly yet methodically as they cut and sew life back together for the body lying on the table. Suddenly, the room is filled with the haunting echo of the heart flatlining. “Get the defibrillator” shouts one of the surgeons!

Reaction: Your grandma’s stories are truer than this. Want to hear the truth? You cannot use a defibrillator on a flatlining patient. Surprised, right? Very contrary to what they show on TV, defibrillators are useless when dealing with a flatline. You see, when someone is flatlining, there is no electrical activity in the heart for the device to reset.

CPR

Plot: On a pleasant sunny day, when everyone is supposed to enjoy the warm sands and soothing waters of the ocean, a crowd is seen huddled over a body on the beach. Ongoing closer, it is revealed that someone has dragged a drowning body back from the ocean. “Relax! I know CPR, it’s going to be okay,” shouts this certain someone.

Reaction: Oh he is not out of the waters yet! Yes CPR is the best course of action in these situations. You need to ensure that blood reaches the brain and the vital organs in order to maximize the chances of survival. But, less than 40% of the patients survive CPR. Added to this, CPR needs to be given within 2 minutes or else it can cause brain damage. The force necessary to perform CPR often results in cracked ribs.

Water breaking

Plot: A beaming woman with the presence of life in her belly walks along the aisles of a grocery mart with her husband. The sweet couple is engaged in a happy conversation as they walk along with their trolley. She was saying something to her husband with an air of mild and mischievous annoyance, when the world around her suddenly sank into the background and she kneeled on the ground and blurted, “My water just broke.” His wide-eyed expression said it all. “Oh God! Oh God! It’s happening today! I am gonna be a father”, he shouts as he dials for an ambulance while helping his wife.

Reaction: There are various factors that determine when the baby is ready to come out. It isn’t as easy as just the water breaking, which is the tearing of the amniotic sac. If the water breaks and the baby is still premature, then doctors ensure that the childbirth is delayed. On the other hand, doctors can induce labor when it’s safe for the baby to come out. Added to this, different women have different experiences of labor. The time can vary greatly. Also, often the “water” doesn’t “break” on its own and doctors at the hospital rupture the amniotic sac manually. 

My take on all of this

I understand that there is a need for drama and emotion on the big screen. Doctors need to appear superhumanly smart and capable and the procedures need to look engaging. Medicine is a vast field with a plethora of specialties. In reality, each field is incredibly specific and doctors do not know everything about health. Every doctor’s specialty is catered towards understanding and treating a category of conditions.

So, if you are expecting a Dr. House as your doctor or expecting exciting and dramatic events to unfold at a hospital every day, then you would be disappointed. As I said, medicine is a vast field and treating patients for specific conditions requires doctors to not only focus on certain specialties but also require them to work and coordinate with other doctors, lab technicians, nurses and administrative staff. Doctors are experts in their own field who also have to do a lot of “boring” paperwork and administrative tasks and hospitals are tightly run professional spaces where the opportunity for drama seldom arises.  

A French philosopher has rightly said, “Imagination and fiction make up more than three-quarters of our real life.

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