TV Doctor! Paging TV Doctor!

On a recent episode of a TV show, a doctor in 19th century New York had a man arrive on his doorstep who was obviously in some sort of distress.  The doctor had no way of knowing, but the man had lost quite a few of his toes after an interlude with a rather sadistic shoe salesman.  The diagnosis didn’t matter as the doctor knew just what to do.

The man of medicine turned to his wife and yelled,  Get me plenty of clean towels and hot water!”

"We don't have much time!  Get in your AMC Gremlin and drive to the laundramat - I've got a load of whites in  the dryer - they should be done by now!"  (Image from museum dot tv)
“We don’t have much time, Sally! Get in your AMC Gremlin and drive to the laundromat – I’ve got a load of whites in the dryer – they should be done by now!” (Image from museum dot tv)

Viewers like myself were amazed that despite the patient’s having no outward sign of having endured a nasty bunch of amputations, the doctor inherently knew the treatment would require clean towels and hot water.  Viewers unlike myself probably didn’t notice and just wished they could enjoy the show without my constant piping up and taking issue with the dialogue and continuity.

There’s an interesting fact: TV doctors only have one of two choices when it comes to addressing any medical emergency.  The first and most popular choice is the old standby of clean towels and hot water, or as it’s also known, the shave-and-a-haircut treatment option.  Even the worst doctor would not treat a patient with dirty laundry and cold water, (there were exceptions made during the Tide epidemic of the late 1950’s).

The second treatment choice for TV doctors is a more recent development.  TV physicians turn to whoever is helping them and urgently ask for something really technical, including a couple of medical abbreviations to jazz it up.  Any modern TV doctor worth his salt will assess a situation and quickly demand something along the lines of “100 cc’s of epi and a goniometer, stat!”.  Viewers will instantly recognize the authenticity of the dialogue because it was filled with stuff they don’t understand.

"You!  Get me a doo-hickey and a whatsis, stat!  Also, you got to stop letting your family tell you how to live your laff - you're a grown woman and it's tamm to stop bein pushed around by these people to satisfahh their own twisted ideas!"   (Image from
“You! Get me a doo-hickey and a whatsis, stat! Also, you got to stop lettin your family tell you how to live your laff – you’re a grown woman and it’s tamm to stop bein pushed around by these people to satisfahh their own twisted ideas!” (Image from dr-phil-blog dot newsok dot com)

The last mandatory ingredient for successful treatment in TV medical emergencies then, is the third person.  When clean towels and hot water are all that’s needed, the third party can be almost anyone, even a child or a well trained collie.  In the case of more technical orders, the third person needs to have enough medical training to know what the doctor’s talking about, but not enough expertise to question he’s going to do with two speculums, an enema bag and a syringe full of morphine when the patient appears to be suffering from nothing more than a really bad hair day.

If no third party is available, the patient will most certainly die.  Lacking clean towels and hot water, the doctor’s only choice is to reach out and gently close the eyelids of the deceased.  In the event of a closed-eye death, he or she can pull a sheet over the face.  In either case, it’s then time to say something really meaningful.

Roll credits.

28 thoughts on “TV Doctor! Paging TV Doctor!

  1. That old cure-all of hot water and clean towels always makes me laugh.

    Modern-day tv doctors also seem to have the fortitude to set aside their own struggles with personal demons just long enough to save the day, often with a cc or two of endearing quirkiness for extra measure.

    1. My wife and I can’t watch medical dramas on TV because one of us is yelling at the screen or rolling our eyes too loudly at any given moment – such is life for healthcare professionals looking for entertainment.

      From a struggling writer/blogger standpoint, I couldn’t stomach “The Big C” once Oliver Pratt’s character wrote a blog and became a wildly successful motivational speaker from it.

      I’m just gonna cancel my cable and turn my TV into a planter. Lord knows what I’ll write about then.

      1. Planters can be inspirational. I wrote and took down the post before we knew each other (in the blog-ical sense) wherein I took my houseplant Beatrice hostage, complete with photos. When I went back and looked at it later, I realized I had very much jumped the shark.

        So, never mind what I said about planters being inspirational. Carry on!

  2. Every time I walk into a doctor’s office I wonder “Is this the one that is going to be like Dr. House?” Only on TV do you get clean towels, hot water, a clear diagnosis and cure. Oh, and have you noticed they never show the follow-up episode when the patient is recovering at home at get the BILL. Now there’s a show!

  3. Hypochondriacs must have a love/hate relationship with medical dramas. They love it when they think they have the same disease as their favorite television star and hate it when their doctors aren’t as cute as their favorite television star.

        1. A physician I know told me that he has patients ask him to prescribe drugs they’ve seen in commercials, but they have no idea what illness they’re prescribed for. These people should stick with hot water and clean towels.

  4. The Tide Epidemic of the late 1950s was a mistaken reaction due to the paranoia that was still prevalent in the United States in the wake of Senator McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities. This caused The Communist Control Act of 1954 to be used against a severe bloom of Karenia brevis, a tiny marine organism which caused the infamous Red Tide off the coast of Texas in 1958.

  5. Agree 100%. After M*A*S*H, TV medicine went down the crapper.

    Televised surgery in particular lacks rigor. If you plan to operate, you need to know a few terms other than “Clamp!”

    And there’s WAY too much defibrillation on TV.

    There should be a TV medical degree for actors, writers and directors. It’d be boring, but no worse than some of those hospital dramas.

    1. Most medical dramas have medical consultants for the sake of realism. Most medical professionals got into the profession to work with the sick and injured – You’ve got to figure the ones who opt to work advising TV writers are pretty shaky as clinicians.

  6. Do TV doctors ever actually use the clean towels and hot water? Or are they just trying to get the third person out of the way (“Okay, I’m going to sew this guy’s foot back on — while I’m doing that, why don’t you do a load of laundry?”).

    Oh, and apparently I watch more TV than you, because there’s a third option: if the patient can’t breathe, the doctor will ask for a ball-point pen so he can do an emergency tracheostomy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s