Medical Miracles in TV or Film?
October 30, 2012 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Can you share examples of unrealistic health care "miracles" in media?

My mother is doing a major integrative project for her CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) and is writing a paper on how media portrayals, both fiction and non-fiction, creates unrealistic expectations of medical abilities. Her argument is this helps us make poor or uniformed end of life decisions.

Can you think of some tv or movie examples of medical miracles (waking from comas, chest compressions that bring patients easily back to life, etc.) that would contribute to misperceptions about medicine's ability to heal?

Thank you!!
posted by meta x zen to Education (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is maybe not what you are looking for but Pedro Almodovar's movie Talk to Her includes people who strike up an unlikely friendship while at a hospital visiting girlfriends in long-term comas. One of them becomes impregnated while in a coma and this ... wakes her up and she goes on to suffer no ill effects and has a perfectly healthy baby. The movie is mostly played straight but there are a few magical realism angles that may make it seem more metaphorical than medical.
posted by jessamyn at 9:33 AM on October 30, 2012

And to flesh this out a little you may want to browse through TV Tropes' "Artistic License - Medicine" category which has a lot of examples of this sort of thing.
posted by jessamyn at 9:37 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

TVTropes is great for stuff like this.
posted by theodolite at 9:38 AM on October 30, 2012

The near total absence of nurses and non-doctor hospital staff on TV medical shows. While an actual patient might see their doctor twice a day in rounds for about five minutes, on TV, the doctor is changing lines and doing a lot of nursing care.

Nearly everything related to IVF - the miracle success stories are what make it to the papers and TV, and it's presented as a relatively straightforward process where 1-2 rounds equals a healthy infant, when IVF is just one of a range of fertility treatments, often spread over several years and due to older mothers and risks, there are often complications such as premature babies. And the huge focus on female fertility, with male fertility issues barely acknowledged, when male infertility is just as likely to be the issue.

Oh and homebirths - such a tiny percentage of overall births, yet they have this enormous media presence.

Near total silence on hospital infections. I can only think of a single Scrubs episode that specifically dealt with that, when hospital infections are relatively common and dangerous. Yet there's this massively shared idea that a hospital is much more sterile and safe than a home could be for someone ill.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:00 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

You could write a whole essay on media (and I mean factual rather than fictional) reporting of upcoming or tentative "cures" for cancer, be they natural or pharmaceutical. One sees little meaningful analysis of what early v late stage treatments mean, and the timelines and failure rates involved in R&D.

Apart from the false hope it generates, the whole tenor of these pieces typically misleads people as to what cancer is, how it works, how hard it is to treat, and specifically that "cancer" isn't a single, treatable thing but a term used to cover a broad range of unregulated cell growth and mutation.

As a tangent to your question, shows like CSI have hugely changed public perceptions of how crimes are "solved" and overplayed the miraculous ability to forensics to determine with absolute certainty the when, where, who, how and even why of crimes. It even has a name: The CSI Effect.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:00 AM on October 30, 2012

The House episode Son of a Coma Guy has John Laroquette waking up from a multi-year coma and, instead of needing months of physical therapy so that his coma weakened muscles can work, he hops out of bed and goes on a road trip.

Actually, you could probably pick an episode of House at random and find an example.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:19 AM on October 30, 2012

No miracles at the end of these two, but the false portrayal of people living comfortably and looking healthy and beautiful with terminal illness until they die is misleading.

Autumn in New York
Sweet November
posted by cecic at 11:18 AM on October 30, 2012

The movie The Bucket List: "Two terminally ill men escape from a cancer ward and head off on a road trip with a wish list of to-dos before they die." Oh really? When you're terminally ill with cancer, the only thing you can hope to do with the bucket is grab it and puke your guts out in it. Fun road trips are rarely involved. The very real limitations of illness are not acknowledged. "If you can dream it, you can do it." Bullshit.
posted by Corvid at 5:17 PM on October 30, 2012

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