Reality vs. Fiction
By Cait Collins
Hospital scenes on television and in the movies are nothing like reality. I have yet to see one doctor pat a nurse’s backside. Nor have I noticed doctors and nurses sneak into a supply closet for a quickie. In fact the hospital routine is pretty boring.
My niece recently had day surgery. Before the staff took her to the OR, the nurse anesthetist came in to meet with the patient. She verified my niece’s name matched the information on the bracelet. She confirmed the doctor and the procedure, and explained the process—sedative; anesthesia; intubation, and then she made way for the surgical nurse. Same procedure. The two ladies had different personalities. The anesthesiology nurse was pleasant but straight forward. The surgical nurse was professional but more personable. She assured us everything was under control. Then the doctor came in to mark the surgical field. Again, very nice, but totally professional.
It’s no wonder writers exaggerate the setting. The trick is maintaining enough reality to keep the reader or television/movie viewer from sitting up and saying, “No way.” The long-running TV series ER is an excellent example of both good and bad writing. I truly loved this series, but I was also aware of the flaws. One can only go so far before the action is unbelievable.
One episode that rang true centered on misdiagnosed toxemia. The mother presented with an infection, but as treatment progressed, it became apparent Mom and baby were in jeopardy. A botched C Section and inability to control bleeding lead to the mother’s death. Dr. Green’s attempts to come to terms with his mistakes were so believable the viewer could feel his pain and self-doubt.
Not so believable was the disappearance of ER doctors from their shifts without having secured coverage for the department. Such action would result in the doctor’s dismissal from the hospital and possible suspension or loss of his license to practice. The quarantine episodes and the helicopter accident that deprived a surgeon of his arm were just too contrived to be good drama.
One story line that was well written and beautifully performed was Dr. Green’s death from brain cancer. I lost my husband to brain cancer. Watching the deterioration of a vibrant character hit too close to home. I watched the episode once. I will never watch it again. It hurts too much.
The ability to suspend disbelief, to make one believe the impossible is an art. It takes research, observation, and practice. But when done correctly and well, the reader or viewer is totally engrossed and satisfied with the work. The writer needs to develop good research techniques and professional sources so that his writing is believable. I challenge all of us to make the audience believe and accept exaggerations of reality.