Medicine in television and why I love to hate it

Patrick and I had an interesting conversation last night.

I was post-call and still sleepy and cranky and irritated that I was to be on-call yet again today (this is somewhat key).

He was telling me about this new TV show he watched Thursday night called Do No Harm.  He loved it.  The premise is kind of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  The story of a gifted neurosurgeon who happens to have an alter ego that comes out at night.  He had had this beast controlled for a while, but now it is rearing its ugly head.

Sounds kind of intriguing and crazy all at the same time.

The thing is that while Patrick is telling me about this show I became more and more enraged.

Actually, maybe it is more plausible than I gave it credit for (I am basing this on that I get kind of crazy after a night of no sleep).

But not really.

Patrick says that is the beauty in the show.  It is ridiculous, just like all of the vampire shows with the human loving vampires and such.

Fair enough.

The thing that blew my mind was that yet again, here is another show about a doctor.  A doctor who apparently does not work after like 8:00 at night or before 8 in the morning because his crazy alter ego would probably off things.  And did I mention the whole neurosurgeon thing?

Do you know how many neurosurgeons there are?

Not that many.

And yet I can think of at least three shows where they have been featured (Everwood, Grey’s Anatomy, and now Do No Harm).  And they are always “gifted.”  Never your average neurosurgeon.

In fact, when I think about medical TV shows… They are almost always about surgeons or surgical-related specialties.

This got me more ticked off at Patrick’s show (because clearly I would have been at all bothered if it was about a GP or an Internist… Not quite).

He explained to me that this is because people think surgery is interesting.  This from the man who has to look away during most surgical scenes.

Of course, this rotted me even more.

Surgery is cool, I get it.  But other things are cool too.

I started posing questions about loopholes.

For instance how did this guy get through four years of med school, five years of residency and then likely another couple years of fellowship being that crazy (actually, I am sure it is possible)?  And then how does one swing a job with no nights in a hospital (again, possible, but usually only when you are older and more powerful)?

The whole thing blows my mind.

He told me sometimes you just have to enjoy the plot as is and understand that some of the loopholes may not have been explained away yet.

I struggle with that.   But  understand that he is fine with it.  Good for him.

So, I told him about my idea to make a realistic medical TV show.  Not reality TV… Just realistic.  Where people say words properly… Or when they don’t it is a known error.  Where a CT scan actually is a CT scan, not an MRI.

Maybe about med students and how much they study and then study some more.  About how they lose touch with people they care about because of the time they spend wrapped up in their own worlds.  And how some of them party harder than college undergrads because that is an escape.  And that almost none of them have any money except for student loans and a line of credit.

Maybe about residents who get dropped into all sorts of situations they don’t feel the least bit prepared for and how sometimes someone else bails them out and sometimes stuff just goes wrong.  Looking again at how they spend more time with each other sometimes than their own spouses.  Pointing out that the majority do not sleep with their attendings or their peers or anyone at all for that matter.  In fact, it is tough to find time to date your own spouse let alone someone else.  Looking at how they create lives outside of the hospital from time to time just to get sucked into work again.  Looking at how they still have to study and write exams and all that good stuff.  The reality that people can indeed fail and not get taken back.

Or it could be about physicians.

Maybe a whole department.

But, nothing shiny and glossy like surgery (not that surgery is at all shiny and glossy).  The ER is good, but it has been done.  Public hospitals… None of this pretty rich American hospital stuff.  A place where people come because they don’t want to be out on the street anymore.  Where it is hard to get some people to leave.  Where there are language barriers and rich people and poor people all in the same room.

And not a profession that everyone thinks is epic.  Maybe one that is more common… What about an Internist?  Like House, but normal because normal places don’t have diagnosticians.  Or a Pediatrician?  Or less common but not “cool”… Gasps… An Oncologist or a Geriatrician?  Would that be too depressing… Too close to home for people to swallow.  Not pretty enough for TV?

So I am sure I won’t have broadcasters breathing down my neck for my ideas.  Plus, I know the real stuff is not always the things they want to necessarily know about the people who take care of them.  And it can be pretty boring sometimes.  And I get that people prefer funny and dramatic and action-filled.  But real life has that stuff too.

Heck, I am not sure if I would want to watch a realistic show about someone living life like me (okay, maybe I would).

I have written about it before, but I have to say again, it bothers me how TV treats different professions, particularly medicine.  And law (although I like that HIMYM actually has Marshall go through crap to get through school and get a job and such… a bit more real).  I am sure cops get ticked at the fallacies during some of their televised air time too.

It is fine to make a show with an obviously fictional element (which sounds like it is going to flop… Sorry Patrick).  But, it drives me crazy when people just presume that is your life.  Or that aside the obvious fiction it is realistic.

Patrick knows the truth.  He just loves alternate reality/timeline/personality stuff.  And he tends to pick shows at least 50% of the time that crash and burn in the first season.

He also tends to tell me about them.  And this time it was when I was tired and the reality of life was getting me down.  At least it led to an entertaining conversation about his TV habits and my future television series.

And yes, I watch lots of medical TV shows.  I weep regularly at Grey’s.  I tried to solve the puzzles on House.  Everwood  was a staple until it ended a few years back.

Just because they make me crazy doesn’t mean I don’t like them.

So, to each their own with their television viewing.  We all have our guilty pleasures and our secret dreams.  One of mine happens to be bashing medical TV, but then watching it all the while contemplating reality.  Patrick’s happens to be a bit different than mine.  At least we have some shows in common (almost entirely non-medical and non-science fiction-ish in nature).

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8 thoughts on “Medicine in television and why I love to hate it

  1. My husband and I (he is a nurse on a med-surg floor- I am a veterinarian) have also had these same conversations regarding medical TV shows. I remember once being bothered by a scene of a patient on a gurney in full cardiac arrest (can’t remember if it was ER or Chicago Hope). The ER doctor was atop the patient straddling their body doing vigorous CPR, but casually asking the nurse who was running along side the fast moving gurney where she was going to have dinner…. or something along those lines. I asked my husband if he truly believed that any ER doctor could be thinking those kinds of thoughts while trying to save a dying patient??? These shows irritate me too. I supposed they feature mostly surgeons because for some reason, they think people just love blood and gore (look at how many crime and murder shows are on TV). This is why I guess I don’t ever watch TV because that’s all that’s on. I get so tired of the blood and guts and murders…. and I’m by no means squeamish. By the way, I can’t stand to watch House, because I get so irritated by his rudeness and meaness. When I do watch it, I too get caught up in trying to solve the puzzle and diagnose too. But I could NOT work with someone like him… I’m afraid I would have to kill him! LOL

    • I am so glad I am not alone on this one!

      It is funny, I know sometimes being in the hospital a lot, I can be nonchalant in some situations that people might find surprising… But in the throes of CPR… Never.

      I think you are on to something with the blood and guts. They are a draw for people.

      And yes, I don’t think I could work with House either. Killing him would be a possibility. I would love to say there is no way someone could be that ridiculous and get by in a hospital, but unfortunately I have worked with some House-like people. Not quite that extreme, but close enough I wanted to shoot dagger eyes at them when they turned around.

  2. Amen. The TV shows are there to elicit gasps from the audience as the daring “neurosurgeon” saves yet another life. It is about the epic life and death scenarios, but not about the tragedy of dealing with the slowly dying lung cancer patient whose hand you are holding as she takes her final breaths. At times, no matter what training or expertise, even physicians are impotent, especially near end of life. We can relieve pain, suffering, but it is that moment of hand-holding, that shared sympathy that people truly need and remember. Perhaps it’s not TV-worthy, but it’s that shared humanism and compassion that define the best of health care professionals and sometimes all it takes is a smile and a sympathetic ear to make a world of difference in a person’s life.

    • Everyone loves the epic life or death. Everyone ignores the 9 times out of ten that procedure would actually end in death thing. And they almost always avoid the whole eventually everyone dies thing. There has to be someone there to juggle the pieces while it happens.

  3. Thanks for stopping in at The Life Unexpected! I LOVE to find new med blogs! I regularly cry while watching greys as well, but my husband gets annoyed when I am constantly correcting words/meds/procedures out loud. He asks me why I didn’t go to med school rather than become an RT. I couldn’t handle the strain though haha.
    We should start our own studio and make up a medical show thats true to life. Hell, come to my little hospital, it’s crazy around here, I’m sure people would eat it up!

    • Thanks for stopping by At Least We Made It This Far too!
      I love finding new med blogs as well.
      I am glad I am not alone! I actually considered becoming an RT when I was in high school… I have a terrible mucous aversion (seriously, I die inside whenever someone has a trach suctioned), so it totally wouldn’t be for me.
      One of these days we should do the whole medical show thing. If our real careers don’t pan out, we can produce a delightful realistic medical show!

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