13 Things That Happen to Chronically Ill Patients on TV but Not in Real Life


It’s no secret among the chronic illness community that movies and TV shows are not typically reliable sources of information on diseases and medical procedures. In fact, it’s pretty rare to find a show that gets every detail right – and there always seem to be the same stereotypes and inaccuracies portrayed over and over again (looking at you, doctor who just diagnosed a patient in under five minutes…).

Since entertainment media often give such misleading information about illnesses (thus affecting how viewers empathize and interact with chronically ill people in their own lives), we wanted to bust the myths and explain what really happens. So we asked our Mighty community to help us list the things that tend to happen to patients on TV shows that don’t usually happen in real life. These are the things that make people want to yell at the TV, “That’s not how this works!” Let us know in the comments if there are any other inaccuracies you’ve noticed on TV or in film that you want to clear up.

1. Patients can always stay in the hospital until they get a diagnosis.

“Patients in ‘House’ just stay in the hospital until they find out what’s wrong with them. Yeah, that’s not how it’s worked for anyone I’ve ever met. Hospitals don’t let you just chill while they devote a team of top doctors to your case and only your case and don’t rest until they diagnose you.” — Shannon

“In the movies, doctors keep you in the hospital until they find out what’s wrong, and then they keep you there until they find a treatment that works. In reality it takes several visits over years.” — Bethany

2. Sick patients are always well enough to go on a series of “bucket list” adventures.

“I’m way too sick for that — to the point where a trip to the nearby store is a giant and exciting feat that leaves me drained for the rest of the day and I usually have to leave before I complete my list. There’s no way I could go to a theme park or foreign country!” — Katie

“Seriously ‘Fault In Our Stars.’ No way Hazel would have felt well enough to go on that trip! She couldn’t even handle going to school anymore.” — Jeanell

3. Medications seem to work instantly.

“In ‘Crossing Lines’ the lead character would open a new morphine patch and the second it touched his skin he would get instant relief. Yeah, no. Not how it works. At all.” — Laura

4. Patients can afford treatment, and insurance doesn’t need to be discussed.

“Every single one of them can magically afford treatment or has family that helps out.” — Stacy

“On TV shows/movies they rarely deal with insurance. Dealing with insurance is a full-time job.” — Nikki

5. Insulin is the only treatment option for diabetes.

“I hate when the media portrays insulin as the only ‘medicine’ to help a person with diabetes who’s experiencing a low blood sugar or hypoglycemic diabetic coma… People with diabetes can and do eat sugar, and often that sugar is their lifesaving ‘medicine!’ I have type 1 diabetes, and I can’t tell you how many times people have shamed me for shoving Skittles down my throat or sucking down a juice box at warp speed because my blood sugar was dangerously low… just trying not to die, that’s all!” — Kaitlin

“My dad keeps candy on hand and usually soda too in case of a sugar drop. He uses an insulin pump and actually went into a diabetic coma because of too much insulin, and unfortunately by the time we found him his sugar was so low the paramedics machine didn’t even register it. I didn’t even realize that could happen with an insulin pump, but you really can have too much insulin, and if your sugar drops before you realize it then you [may] become confused and it can be really life-threatening.” — Alicia

6. Recovery from surgery takes no time at all.

“After having surgery (even brain surgery) the person is up and moving around right away as if nothing has even happened to them. From a lot of experience, that is very unrealistic.” —Heather

7. Patients with narcolepsy always fall asleep instantly, wherever they are.

“Pretty much anytime narcolepsy is shown in TV/movies, they get it wrong. It’s rare to fall asleep so suddenly without any kind of warning that you’d fall into your food. Also, the falling to the ground asleep is actually a bad portrayal of cataplexy where the person loses muscle tone due to emotional triggers, and the person actually remains awake, they’re just unable to move.” — Sloane

In the movie ‘Rat Race,’ narcolepsy is incorrectly portrayed (as usual). The character standing there asleep for hours on end? No way. His legs would’ve collapsed.” — Lisa

8. Doctors provide every type of care to their patients.

“In most TV shows the doctors stay with the patient seemingly for every test and when giving treatment, and clearly that doesn’t happen in real life. Most patients when in hospital see their doc once a day for rounds and then maybe an intern or a resident after that, but not like they portray on TV.” — Amanda

“Seeing doctors doing things like ambulating patients, getting them a pillow or caring for the patient’s comfort… please. That’s what nurses and physios do. You’d be hard-pressed to find a doctor that does any sort of daily cares.” — Caitlin

9. According to commercials, you become perfectly healthy after taking [insert medication].

“I take Lyrica, and according to the commercials I should be happy, riding carnivals rides, and camping with the family, when in reality for me it’s hard to walk to the kitchen and make a cup of coffee.” — Bobbie

“I absolutely detest commercials that depict people with severe diseases like myasthenia gravis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, diabetes, who: A. Lead a life apparently free from pain if you take their pill. B. Show in very small letters ‘actor portrayal.’ [and] C. The medication has more serious side effects than the disease itself.” — Suzanne

10. Migraines can always be “cured” by fixing the “underlying cause.”

“There are really years of tests that come out normal because they aren’t to show migraine exists; they’re to rule out any other possible cause, trial and error treatments because everyone is different in what works/helps. Oh, and it’s a primary disorder, which means there is no other cause. Migraine disease is the cause, and it’s neurological and genetic and there is no cure.” — Selena

11. Shocking a flat-lined (asystole) heart will get it started again.

“It happens in so many movies and TV shows. Shocking can ‘reprogram’ an arrhythmia back into a sinus rhythm… but it can’t reintroduce electrical activity into a heart that has none!” — Caitlin

12. All seizures are tonic clonic (formerly called grand mal), and the person always wakes up immediately afterwards.

“Like there aren’t about 10 other ways to have a seizure. My daughter is epileptic and has partial and complex partial seizures. Had I not previously nannied an epileptic child, I would not have not recognized what was happening as seizures and got her the help she needed.” — Jeanell

“You [may be] unconscious for a little while after the seizure stops, then go into a ‘postictal‘ state, where you’re unresponsive, but you’re performing different simple motor functions, like attempting to stand or even stacking objects randomly. Then you become aware of your surroundings but have some long-term memory loss, so you have no idea what year it is, what your birthday is, different things like that until they slowly start coming back to you.” — Jenni

13. It doesn’t take long to get a diagnosis.

“[It’s unrealistic] how fast they find out what’s wrong with them from just a couple tests and magically get the right and single medication which makes their lives back to what it used to be before being sick, and nowhere along the way anyone ever questions how sick they are.” — Ashley

“Some of us wait years for a diagnosis, and once we get one, there isn’t really a cure, only a treatment that will manage the symptoms and allow us to be semi-functional.” — Patricia

Photo courtesy of Grey’s Anatomy Facebook page


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