What TV and the Movies Get Wrong: Paramedics

Dwayne Clayden profile

I was a paramedic for most of my forty years in emergency services. When I watch medical dramas or other shows with paramedics in the scene I pay particular attention. I loved being a paramedic and I want paramedics portrayed accurately.

Let's play a little, "What TV and the Movies Got Wrong", with the following scenarios.

What TV Got Wrong:

In a recent episode of Designated Survivor, an ambassador from another country was attending a reception. Suddenly he fell to the floor. The first person to the ambassador checked for a pulse, found none, and that was it. No CPR. No one called 9-1-1. None of the multitude of Secret Service came to assist. And, no one thought to get the Automated Electronic Defibrillator (AED), which is found in all high-end hotels, and certainly anywhere high ranking American government officials are gathered. In a room full of Alpha politicians surely someone would step forward.

In Reality:

In the real world, someone would know CPR and take charge. 9-1-1 would have been called. The most likely scenario for that event is the paramedics were on standby so that they would arrive in the ballroom very quickly. The Fire Department would be dispatched to assist EMS. CPR would be continued, and the paramedics would administer oxygen and medications for at least 20 minutes. Then, and only after the paramedics had done everything they could, would the patient be pronounced dead.

What TV Got Wrong:

In an episode in the first season of Third Watch, a paramedic took a blood pressure over a down jacket! In forty years I never did that; because you can’t! I worked in a cold winter climate. If it had been possible to do that, we would. Heck, taking a blood pressure over a long sleeved shirt is questionable.
I like the show and the characters are realistic. The interactions of the cast are spot on. Even well-written TV shows slip up.

In Reality:

The paramedic profession is exciting. Not all the time, but there some real heart pounding situations. In those situations, you are fighting against the clock to save a life or administer a needed medication. You learn to do the stuff that is important and do them quickly. When I see paramedics in the background doing useless things like smoothing the blanket over and over or playing with the oxygen mask, I cringe. There is so much that the paramedics could be doing – even if it is in the background.
It’s not only TV shows with medical or paramedic procedures that get it wrong.

What TV Got Wrong:

In a recent episode of Grace and Frankie, Grace is recovering from knee surgery.
Her daughters come over to help her. In one scene a daughter is patting a small gauze pad up and down the incision. There is no bleeding, nothing is oozing, so I wonder what the point was.

In Reality:

More realistic would be placing gauze over the incision, and wrapping it with roller gauze (called kling in areas).
In work and life, it’s often the little things that matter. Perhaps I'm too critical or nitpicking, but I think TV viewers deserve better - that the little things are accurate.

Dwayne Clayden

More 'What TV and the Movies Get Wrong':

Fox 911 Worst Example of Emergency Services!

British Screenwriters Dial Down the Sensationalism in British Cop Shows


About Dwayne Clayden

Dwayne Clayden has served in many roles over his 40 years in Emergency Services including as a police officer, a paramedic, an educator, and as an EMS Chief. Dwayne is a respected writing instructor teaching authors the craft of writing and storytelling. Dwayne previously published four paramedic textbooks and has spoken internationally at EMS conferences over the last twenty years. He also speaks to fiction writers Associations (ARWA), Calgary Crime Writers, and Writer Conferences like When Words Collide (WWC). Dwayne also uses his knowledge of EMS in his crime thrillers. His first novel, Crisis Point, was a finalist for the 2015 Crime Writers of Canada, Unhanged Arthur. Dwayne is the author of “What TV and Movies Get Wrong” series. He is also the writer behind ‘First Aid for Writers” which helps fiction writers incorporate accurate medical and police procedures in their writing scenes.

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