By: Ariel Fixler
Why do the medical television shows get it so wrong? And I mean SO SO WRONG.
Here are some decent reasons to be aware of distancing yourself from the false reality of medical shows. DO NOT go and visit a patient or enter a hospital under the guise of med-u-cating (medically educating yourself) through the medium of television or film.
1. Hospitals aren’t filled with besties and drama that they engage the patient in. If they do they should be reprimanded. If it’s a good hospital you won’t hear people yapping about their love lives, the latest episode of the Bachelor, Housewives or any sort of drama. They will be rolling over patients, going over charts, briefing and de-briefing, changing and inter-changing staff from different shifts.
2. Medical teams do not delegate their entire medical staff to find miracle cures for one patient. It’s not realistic to source your staff from different departments every time a rare case comes in. Do you know how many critical patients would go untreated? Patients would die and go untreated and neglected to save ONE PATIENT. Does that make sense? Make all the OBAMACARE jokes you want, but even he would admit that seems like a failing policy of managed care. That kind of neglect would “crash and burn the medical system as a whole”.
There are committees and meetings held for certain patients among different medical sub-sectors and divisions, but they do not happen every time a rare patient case rolls into the ER….. TRUST ME. A terminal sentence is just that a lot of the times. There are no miracles in under a 60 minute episodic arc. There is no House M.D to be paged. There are NO Dr. Shepard’s to do a once and a lifetime surgery for you. There are second and third opinions, which will most likely confirm the first opinion. So don’t wait for Hugh Laurie, George Clooney, John Stamos, McDreamy or McSteamy to saunter into the hospital in a blaze of miraculous glory.
3. Hospitals are not all private room and board suites. You usually have roommate. The roommate is not your best friend or buddy to chat with. Let them be. A good roommate lets you sleep and is polite and quiet with their guests. The roommate is usually not your age and same diagnosis.
90% of my roommates were the elderly and most of them were Spanish speaking. I am not being racist (check yourself). We live in a heavily diverse metropolis called Nueva York. So it makes sense and you should take that into account.
Hospital rooms are noisy and chaotic. You may not have wireless to live tweet and post all your play by-play timelines. The lighting doesn’t make for good attention grabbing selfies. You also probably shouldn’t do that to begin with……. just saying. If you want attention that badly you probably should see a shrink not an a busy ER physician.
Hospitals are loud and over-crowded. You usually spend a lot of time laying in a gurney or in the ER only separated by just a curtain. You may be waiting hours, if not days, for a room where you share a space with other patients. You have to remind the staff you are waiting on results, state your case over and over again to shift changing physicians and their designated teams during rounds. You may need to be more aware of your dietary needs than the hospitality staff is (aka accidentally giving you solid food before or after a procedure when you have NPO aka NO FOOD BY MOUTH clearly written on your chart). Did I make it obvious that happened to me and my surgery had to be rescheduled as a result? Gee, I didn’t mean to sound bitter (insert sarcasm here).
The staff do not always come to you or actively cater to you. It’s also not their job to do so. You need to be your own patient advocate. You want a nurse page them. If that doesn’t work, if you can walk get up and walk to the station or send a friend or family member to do so. DO NOT SHOUT AT YOUR STAFF! They are not your slaves! It’s a no tell motel people because of HIPPA laws…. not the Ritz people.
4. There is no HOUSE M.D who will diagnose your mystery ailment in the nick of time. There are specialists and you need to advocate for them to see you because they only work certain days and aren’t usually around. Advocate for follow ups with these specialists while you are in the hospital and ask the staff to schedule it. Why you ask? Well because they can usually circumvent the specialists packed schedules if you are inpatient. Just a tip I learned.
5. Your doctors aren’t on a line up from Patti Stanger and her matchmaking series (there are no hidden cameras). They aren’t all single and ready to mingle. Don’t actively hit on the staff, try to set them up and make them feel uncomfortable. They are overworked, understaffed and sometimes underpaid. They need rest and they miss their loved ones. So don’t assume there is some gossip girl type antics going on behind the scenes. Don’t pimp them out and ask if they are single. Don’t try to set them up because in your mind they fit a lovely stereotype your mom once told you to go for.
6. You have to self-advocate. Don’t stay quiet and make yourself a silent victim. You have to remind the staff you are still waiting. They won’t do it for you. The most realistic show I have seen (scripted) is probably ER that got it semi right. Waiting rooms are filled with people who are sharing germs, miserable, overlooked, overcrowded and people waiting for hours. They are human petri dishes. The luxury hospital shows aka your private hospitals (Grey’s Anatomy, House M.D, Scrubs, Nurse Jackie, Chicago Hope etc) are very unrealistic. I could take a survey now and tell you most people will never see a waiting room, a hospital room or recovery suite that nice EVER.
7. Don’t even get me started on the ridiculous Red Band Society (basically profiting off of the success of the Fault and Our Stars) and teen illness. The Fault in Ours is actually a decent film about teen illness. I actually was surprised how much I liked it. Mainly because the dialogue about their terminal diagnosis was so real, honest and raw. The support group dialogue was spot on. I quoted the author of the book, John Green, in an earlier post. I am shocked I am saying a teen drama got it right but it was very well done. If you are a patient of any kind it will resonate in some way.
But back to Red Band Society NO hospital looks like that. That is a Hollywood TV set on the WB lot. There are no classes, no homework, and no witty banter echoing the halls. There isn’t a hospital that specializes in teen angst and emotional roller coaster therapy. They would never ever have kids suffering from terminal cancer, mingle with Cystic Fibrosis patients (let alone allow CF patients make out and hook up which is DEADLY). You can’t just roam around visiting people and saunter out of your room hooked up to your monitors. That would set off the alarm on your IV pole and monitors that are plugged in. You can’t just unplug and go to a prom. Half of them were transplant patients in and out of the ICU and they were able to leave the hospital on field trips? SAY WHAT NOW? Also their hospital rooms were huge and luxurious, ummmm rooms do not look like that.
They would never have a dying liver patient sign away their heart to someone who didn’t even make the donor list to begin with….. because you know “they’re teens in love”. They would also not have the kids awaiting transplants with low immune systems hang with the cancer patients and patients with eating disorders. They would resent the shit out of each other, people choosing to starve themselves hanging with people wishing they could eat and survive are a recipe for disaster. Also that kind of angst is rather unfunny and unscripted and well UGLY. They would never let people walk in and out of the hospital like it was a revolving door. Having day trips out and about and then returning with food and shopping trips from the outside world. Acting as if they had a day trip at Camp Cancer. Do you know how restricted hospital dietary codes are? How much they change from day to day depending on procedures and cell counts?
Every television show is treating liver failure as if it is medically trendy. It makes me irritated and sad to put a terminal crisis up for grabs for a ratings geared storyline. Or to make an unsympathetic character much more lovable and sympathetic. These are shows I love and respect. I just feel they don’t have to go this route to gain viewership, ratings and awards. They feel they need to tug at your heartstrings. Even worse I like Shameless and Nashville despite these unrealistic medical story lines this season and last season regarding liver failure. I get Shameless is a dark comedy, but even for them it was hard to watch the storyline . If there was a medical consultant for Shameless it was HOUSE M.D when he high on perks and oxycontin.
This season and last season, Shameless had the main character dying of liver failure (because of his rampant alcoholism). He then somehow (despite rigid UNOS transplant methods) got a liver transplant after trying to buy one on the black market. His body rejected the black market liver. Then he got a UNOS liver. He literally died and came back to life. After the transplant, he barely took his ant-rejection liver drugs, continued to drink, created his own specialty beer that is 100 proof and was completely reckless all together.
The television show Nashville, is going the same dramatic storyline route this season. The main male character has Liver Cancer and contracted it due to alcoholism and drug use. Oh yea and once again, the storyline tears at the heart-strings (and is broadened in scope and size with the songs he writes and the tear jerking musical soundtrack). Is Liver failure now trendy? Did I miss the memo?
Lastly as mentioned above on Red Band Society, one of the patients is dying from liver failure. The failure came as a side effect of experimental drugs treatments for his Cancer diagnosis. At least I “got that one”. It is very similar “to the medical storyline” of yours truly. However spoiler alert, he dies and his organ donation of his heart somehow bypassed the rigid transplant list. He made his own choice and created a medical waiver that bypassed the UNOS system. SERIOUSLY?? He signed off on giving his healthy heart to his girlfriend (who is not even on the list). Yes, he too, got to bypass all standard rules and regulations. Also it is very rare someone with multiple failing organs would not only have a more than healthy heart, but also be able to be an organ donor. Did I mention these two organ failure friends were friends with benefits? Yes, during all their tribulations and near code reds they had sex all over the hospital like bunnies. A girl with a failing heart and a guy with a corroding liver can just do that (insert eye roll here). Just saying people who the F are the medical consultants on these shows?
So when you enter a hospital or go to visit someone don’t expect it to look like it does on TV. Don’t get your knowledge from any scripted dramas or Dr. OZ. All of these shows are pushing an agenda, trying to get high ratings or sometimes they are even pushing a product. As I said, the most realistic “look” at hospital living and waiting is “ER’. Why? It is a WAITING GAME , most realistically documented in “ER” (1994-2009).
My second choice or a tie for a realistic depiction is ABC FAMILY’S show “Chasing Life”. The scripted drama does a pretty decent job at showing a young woman going through her own Cancer battle. Though her hospital is way too nice, sorry ABC FAMILY. It shows how youth and Cancer are a tough mix. It’s a fine display of the confusion and turmoil of a patient. It shows the struggle of a post collegiate Bostonian woman in a Cancer crisis. She is having trouble navigating the murky professional and personal waters pre and post treatment.
A few episodes have really stuck with me. One particular recent episode in season 2 where April, the protagonist, forces herself to go out and be social and reconcile her fatigue with her social and business responsibilities. She become frustrated and angry (rather openly) about how chemotherapy, radiation and drug therapy treatments drained her of energy. She felt she was missing out on her social life. She becomes blindsided and realizes she constantly needs to power through any social, familial or professional obligation with energy drinks and power naps. “Regular” social norms now take effort which befuddles her. She is only 24 and in her peak right? WRONG.
She is also a journalist so I identify with that as well. A particular cringe worthy moment struck me when her new boss tells her to write something Oprah-esque inspiring for the newspaper she works for. He instructs her to quote write something “to make people cry and drive people to the newspaper website with her Cancer stories”. He wants his wife to cry next time she writes a piece. That’s his barometer for success. It’s also a show with one of the more realistic displays of chemo hair (thought it’s not real post chemo fuzz growth it’s a wig). However it is a decent wig so they get somewhat of a free pass.
She also has moments where she thinks she is finally in remission but is bleeding from her nose and gums again causing concern and doubt.
For a reality show, I would look up NY ER, NY MED, Boston MED or the Hopkins docuseries. But those shows are rough to watch and just go visit the real thing. Do not over prepare or over WEB MD or Wikipedia everything under the sun. Stay away from all those TLC shows and stories from the ER. You will be filling your noggin with false hope, false info and may give the patient a false sense of self.
So please try to stay away from the Cancer “shows”. Remember they are scripted fair. Don’t med-u-cate (medically educate beforehand and study up for your visit like it is an AP BIOLOGY quiz).
So if you want a distraction and an unrealistic one watch a medical show. Sure… OK…. But, don’t and I mean don’t, take any of them seriously or as an outlet to learn how to support and educate yourself for your very own patient zero.