All I Know I Learned From Telly: Medicine

Jacki Badger shares her knowledge of emergency medicine, which she learned through hours of watching ER, Grey’s Anatomy and House….

It’s a very, very good thing that I’ve never been in a situation where someone has called out for a doctor. Because while I have absolutely no medical training whatsoever (unless you count biology GCSE, which you really shouldn’t), I have watched so much ER over the years that I’ve been known to harbour the extremely dangerous delusion that I have as much medical knowledge as your average junior doctor.

This is clearly not the case.

Still, if we ignore the fact that my TV obsession has led to my becoming more than a little detached from reality, then it is possible to pick up some helpful medical information from fictional hospitals. Honestly.

Do not give honey to babies


Because I’m apparently using this entire series of articles to make a point about not having wasted large chunks of my life, let’s kick off with something that has actually come in handy; the knowledge that you should not give honey to babies under the age of one. It can have botulism spores in that makes them super ill, apparently. I know this because it happened on ER once, and I was so horrified that something so seemingly innocuous and definitely tasty could cause such trouble that is has remained with me for years.

So I felt super-smug when this whole babies/honey potential catastrophe was mentioned in our NCT classes. Because I knew it! It was about all I knew, but still! I knew it!

Being a doctor is always INCREDIBLY DRAMATIC (apparently)


From speaking to doctor friends I was led to believe that the life of a healer involves quite a lot of waiting around for test results, and dealing with people who have gone to A&E when they really should not have gone to A&E. But according to all medical dramas, which are clearly the font of all knowledge on these things, their experiences are all wrong. Being a doctor is non-stop crazy times. People have insane accidents and contract baffling diseases constantly. Clearly my friends are just looking the wrong way.

And according to Grey’s Anatomy, something really super dramatic will happen approximately twice per year – y’know, like your standard ferry catastrophe, or bomb scare, or shooter on the loose. Helpfully, these things often happen shortly before mid- and end-of-season breaks. Should make it a bit easier to get staffing levels right.

It takes a properly long time to be a fully-qualified doctor


Like, a PROPERLY long time. I thought that the whole reason that doctors had to go to university for so long was so they’d come out as Proper Doctors, but no. They have to keep on training for the rest of time. Or so it seems.

Unfortunately for every doctor I’ve ever met in a social setting though, my viewing habits mean I’m only familiar with American medical hierarchies. And so I have spent many a conversation saying “so, does that mean you’re like a resident?” to exasperated-looking people.

Look, it’s not my fault that Scrubs is much funnier than Casualty, ok?

It can be easy to miss the fact that you’re terribly, life-threatening ill


Got a load of random unexplained bruises? Could be leukemia. Bad headache? Brain tumour. Loss of appetite? That could be a terrible digestive disease, or maybe some clinical depression.

Or you could’ve just had a bit much to drink the previous night, fallen over a few times, and pickled your digestive system in gin. One or the other.

When you hear hooves, think horses, not zebras


This is a sentence that apparently by law must be included in all medical dramas at some point or another. It’s usually spoken by a wise older doctor to a bright young whippersnapper who’s got a bit overzealous with their diagnostic skills. For those of you wondering what the hell any hooved animals are doing in a hospital, the saying translates thus: the simplest explanation is usually the right one.

Except in House, of course. There, the simplest explanation is always, always wrong. As are the three explanations after that, one of which is probably lupus. It’s basically never lupus. Lupus is too horse-shaped, as illnesses go. And Gregory House does not deal in horse-shaped illnesses.

But yeah, if you’re not in Princeton Plainsboro hospital then it’s probably one of those horsey things.

Or a hangover. Let’s be honest here. It’s probably a hangover.


Updated: Jun 11, 2018

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