Scott Hollifield: When the boob tube leads us astray

A new study suggests television medical dramas like “Grey’s Anatomy” may misrepresent what actually goes on in a hospital, leading real-life patients to have unrealistic expectations about their care and recovery.

Also, I have my doubts “The Flintstones” was an accurate representation of the Stone Age, but I don’t have any studies to back that up. Yet.

The journal “Trauma Surgery & Acute Care” on Feb. 19 highlighted a study in which two trauma doctors and a nurse practitioner watched 269 episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” instead of saving lives.

In retrospect, that last statement is unfair. There is no indication they watched episodes while anyone choked to death on a hot dog and I apologize for any inference that such a terrible tragedy happened.

Anyway, these medical professionals watched a lot of “Grey’s Anatomy.”

“The purpose of this study was to compare trauma outcomes on television dramas versus reality,” the study’s abstract states. “Trauma patients as depicted on television dramas typically go from ED to OR, and survivors usually return home. Television portrayal of rapid functional recovery after major injury may cultivate false expectations among patients and their families.”

As the interim chief medical/senior entertainment correspondent for this award-winning publication, a title I made up while not watching a single episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” I understand that it can be difficult for some people to distinguish fact from fiction on TV.

The following is a Q&A to help clear up some common TV-related misconceptions.

Q. I was watching a series of nature documentaries on the TV the other day while waiting for the mailman to bring my Publishers Clearinghouse check and each of these films depicted a persistent yet inept coyote chasing a fleet-footed bird with a rather distinct call – a sort of “beep beep,” if memory serves.

Ultimately, this coyote met with misfortune after misfortune in each of his encounters, often due to the shoddy performance of products manufactured by a company called Acme. In one of the more thrilling encounters, the coyote plunged over a cliff, pulled the ripcord on his parachute and out popped an anvil which flattened him on impact. But, after what appeared to be a few short moments, the coyote was again chasing the bedeviling bird.

How could any animal recover from an anvil flattening so rapidly?

A. You are likely referring to the fictional Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner from the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series. These were cartoons, not actual representations of how animals behave in the wild, just as “Grey’s Anatomy” is not an actual representation of medicine. Coyotes don’t use explosives to capture prey and no one is completely cured of severe head trauma in an hour.

Q. Uh-huh. And what about this company Acme? Why don’t federal regulators come down hard on these guys for bogus advertisements, malfunctioning catapults, tainted bird seed and a plethora of products that at best underperform and at worst carry the potential to kill and maim the consumer when used as directed?

A. Again, this is a series of cartoons that don’t accurately reflect the behavior of the animals depicted or the performance of products manufactured by Acme, which doesn’t really make dehydrated boulders, rocket-powered roller skates or giant rubber bands.

Q. Turning to another documentary I saw on TV, cars in the Stone Age were more or less powered by the feet of cavemen, many of whom worked for Mr. Slate at the quarry.

When did the gasoline engine become so dominant that the foot-powered automobile ceased mass production?

A. As the interim chief medical/senior entertainment/transportation history correspondent for this award-winning publication, I will have to wait for the results of a study to definitively answer that one.

Scott Hollifield is editor/GM of The McDowell News in Marion, N.C. and a humor columnist. Contact him at

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