By Tessa Roy
If you turn on your TV today and scan the channels you won’t have to search for long before stumbling upon a medical show. Whether it’s a dramatic hospital scene in your favorite daytime soap opera or a thrilling medical emergency on “House” or “Grey’s Anatomy,” the medical field has a growing presence in Hollywood.
Unfortunately, portraying things realistically isn’t always as exciting as show runners want it to be. This means that scenarios played out on television are far more dramatic and far less accurate than the scenarios that play out in real ambulances and hospitals around the country every day. When Hollywood inaccurately portrays the big things, the life and death things, it can come back to haunt real doctors, nurses and EMTs. Two big areas where Hollywood stretches the truth, and science, are CPR and the use of defibrillators.
Hollywood makes it seem like CPR is successful far more often than it is. Unless the show wants the patient to die in order to drive the plot, they tend to make a full recovery after CPR. The statistics for real life CPR aren’t nearly as impressive as the statistics for Hollywood CPR. As of 2016, out of hospital cardiac arrests had a 12 percent survival rate, while an in hospital cardiac arrest was double that, at 24 percent. Meanwhile on television shows CPR is successful about 67 percent of the time.
Hollywood also takes some creative liberties when it comes to portraying the use of defibrillators. Defibrillators are used to correct confused electrical signals in the heart. There are two shockable rhythms, the first is ventricular fibrillation, which is when the ventricles, the two lower chambers of the heart, quiver erratically. The second shockable rhythm is ventricular tachycardia, which is when the ventricles beat so quickly they can’t refill with enough blood to adequately supply the body. Hollywood prefers to show patients in asystole, those without any sort of electrical activity in the heart, being shocked back to life with an AED. The human heart isn’t like a car battery and shocking it won’t make it start again. While the sound of a flatline may spur the doctors and nurses on TV to grab their paddles, in real life it signals the need for CPR and medications.
Why does it matter what Hollywood is showing on TV? Medical dramas draw large numbers of viewers and some of those viewers may believe that what these shows portray is medically accurate. When people see defibrillators used on flatlines, and when they see CPR with successful outcomes the majority of the time, they believe that it is an accurate representation of what happens in the real world. So, when they have a loved one who undergoes CPR or defibrillation they may not understand why it doesn’t turn out like it does on television. They’ll be upset that their loved one died, or came back with complications, and they may blame the medical providers.
While a 12 percent survival rate for out of hospital cardiac arrests may seem low, please don’t let it discourage you from signing up for CPR classes. Patients are more likely to survive a cardiac arrest if CPR begins quickly and is performed properly. It never hurts to sign up for a class and learn the skills that may help you save a life one day.
As always if you’re interested in joining Essex Rescue please contact Colleen Nesto at 878-4859 ext. 4.
“To the Rescue” is a monthly column provided by members of Essex Rescue.