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!”
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.
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.