Thursday, 12 January 2012

It's worse than that, he's dead Jim! - lazy TV medical matters

I'm a big fan of zombies. Not entirely sure why, but I am. I'm well aware that they're very overused nowadays, and everyone else is starting to get sick of them, but I was a fan of them before everyone and his mother got into them, therefore I'm allowed to continue liking them (unfortunate typo on my first pass at that sentence - licking them. I'm not that keen on them, honest) long after everyone else is bored with them.

(I think I like them because the stories that they appear in are often the stories about ordinary people, forced into extraordinary circumstances. That's possibly because zombies are the z-listers of the undead ranks. I reckon I could take on a zombie. Frankenstein's monster would tear me limb from limb, and I wouldn't last five seconds against a vampire (except one of those Twilight vampires. I could probably take one of them, too. I don't want to join the general Twilight-knocking that geeks often indulge in, because a lot of people seem to enjoy it, and I'm well aware I'm not Twilight's target audience, because I'm not a teenage girl. What I will say is that when I was growing up, vampires didn't go sparkly when exposed to sunlight. They exploded.))

A consequence of this zombophilia (I nearly wrote necrophilia, but I think wisely stopped myself) is that I do enjoy AMC's zombie-apocalyptic themed show, 'The Walking Dead' (unlike Kerry, who refuses to watch it no matter how many times I try and tell her it's a comedy. Instead she's got hooked on Game of Thrones instead - so imagine my glee when a zombie turned up in it :) )  (and I'll spare you my boring lecture about how I was already a fan of the comic book that it's based on, as if that somehow makes me a more worthy fan. Just bear in mind that it does, okay?) - that is, I usually enjoy it. Until Rick(heroic and slightly dull sheriff, for those who don't watch it)'s son accidentally got shot early on in season two.

Rick pops his recently punctured son along to a conveniently local doctor, who takes a look at the wound. And this is where I start to get irritated. (Not, incidentally, because the 'doctor' turns out to be a vet. I'm all for vets cropping up in popular culture in unexpected places to big up the profession! Most surprising place so far - Terminator 3).

The doc (okay, vet, but Rick doesn't know that at the time) looks Rick deep in the eyes with his wise, sad and serious eyes, and tells him that those damn bullets have got to come out right now.


More than likely, the problem is with me, than the show. I'm quite happy to accept the possibilty of corpses wandering round desperate to eat flesh, but something like this brings the whole reality of the show crashing down around me, and diffuses all the tension that I should be feeling watching the show. Probably if I was a policeman I would already have been annoyed by the flagrant disregard of firearms law, but I'm a vet, and it's the medical errors that get to me. How many times have you seen a film or show where someone grits their teeth, pulls out a penknife and a metal bowl, and heroically fishes out a great slug of lead from their arm/leg/ear, which then clangs satisfyingly into the bowl?

Why has the bullet got to come out right away? What is it going to do, explode?

By the time a bullet has made it a significant way into your body, it's already done quite a lot of damage. Poking it back out again with a blunt knife is unlikely to do wonders for the already traumatised tissue. What you want to be doing is dealing the the damage the bullet has already done, not doing your best to cause more with your self-induced knife injury. Your biggest problem at this point is probably going to be bleeding - a condition not generally helped by a spot of DIY surgery.

Don't get me wrong, there are times - quite a few of them - when you do need to get the bullet out - there's a list of a few of them here, if you're interested. But initial gunshot wound first aid does not generally involve removing bullets unless they are very easy to get to.

So why do they do it every time on TV shows? Because it's cinematic, and it looks exciting having someone bite down on a wooden spoon whilst a flustered guy in a white coat pokes about in his back with a scary-looking pair of forceps.

It irritates me because it's lazy - only a modicum of medical knowledge is required to understand this, but still we're served it all the time. When I see something like this, it puts me in mind of the Mitchell and Webb sketch with the two scriptwriters who can't be arsed to do any research, and by disbelief, until that point happily suspended, comes crashing to the ground.

Defibrillators are the other overused medical item that usually have me frothing at the mouth. Defibrillator. Say it. Defibrillator. There's a clue in the name. It defibrillates - that is, it is ONLY useful when your heart is in fibrillation. Fibrillation is a technical term which basically means that your heart has gone mental. I've seen a heart in fibrillation, and rather than the smooth lub-dup beating that we're all familiar with, it looked bizarrely like a clump of worms, all twisting and writhing and squidging together. When your heart is doing that, it's about as efficient at pumping blood as the Daily Mail is at spreading calm and tranquility. Your cardiac output drops to zero, and without very prompt treatment you're going to die.

A defibrillator stops your heart, and you hope that when it starts up again the problem will have sorted itself out. It turns out even our bodies work on the 'turn it off and on again' principle beloved of IT technicians. The point being - this only works during fibrillation. Zapping a heart that had already stopped will do absolutely nothing other than a bit of burn damage.

So why am I repeatedly subjected to the sight, on TV, of people flatlining (zero electrical activity in the heart. Not fibrillation), to the glee of the attending doctor, who breaks out the paddles, rubs then together dramatically, and slaps them on the dead person's chest, shouting 'clear!'. The first time never works, either, but after (usually) three attempts, the casualty gives an immense gasp, and sits up.


I could go on - in fact, I did go on in an earlier blog about a similar issue with intravenous injections. But I suppose that is missing the point. The problem, as I said, is more with me than with the shows. I know it's supposed to be drama, not real life,'s lazy drama, and if a show does that to me, it makes me think they've got everything else wrong as well. And that reminds me that I'm watching a work of fiction, it never happened, and...and all my interest in the show fizzles away.

There's two solutions to my plight.

1 - Only ever watch shows that are meticulously, painstaking researched and so deeply invested with verisimilitude that I'll never be brought out of it again. But as they're not going to make any more episodes of The Wire I'm stuck with the second option, which is...

2 - Remain deeply ignorant in as many areas of knowledge as possible, so that I can't tell if the script writers got something wrong.

So, just remember, if you're talking to me, and I don't know something - that's deliberate, so I can sit back and watch The Walking Dead in blissful, uninformed insensibility.

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