Dr. Strange Should Know Better

If you haven’t seen the movie Dr. Strange, you have been warned that this blog post will contain spoilers to the movie.

Dr. Strange, released in 2016 as part of the Marvel Universe, features a stereotypical, obnoxious, arrogant, and rich neurosurgeon. He is greatly skilled, but is known to turn down patients in order to keep his perfect surgical record. Unfortunately for the character, he is in a terrible car accident and both his hands sustain multiple fractures that cause permanent nerve damage and therefore lead to the end of his promising career.

Dr. Strange is like many patients when the medical establishment can’t offer complete healing. He begins to investigate alternative/investigative medicine for treatments. He hears from a physical therapist that a patient with a complete spinal fracture is up and walking around. Dr. Strange responds to this by saying, “Show me his file.”

I’ve said all along in this blog that medical people in films, television, and novels can do bad things. Your job as the writer is to let the reader know that you know that the character is misbehaving in his role. This allows the reader to know you’ve done your research and they can trust you as an author.

Dr. Strange asking for this patient’s chart if flat out a HIPAA violation. He never cared for the patient and he has no right to know what’s in his medical record. There are consequences for HIPAA violations and having the character suffer these is a great way to add tension and conflict to the story.

A second medical violation in the movie is the treatment of Dr. Strange’s chest wound. He suffers a blade wound to the chest and transports himself back to his old hospital to be treated by a colleague. There are a few problems with this scene.

Problem #1: That there is a sterile operating room in the ER. No, this isn’t standard. Can sterile procedures be done in the ER? Yes, but not a sterile operation as in the OR.

Problem #2: Wrong ECG rhythm. Dr. Strange has diagnosed himself with a pericardial tamponade. A cardiac tamponade is where fluid is collecting in the sack around the heart thereby impinging on the heart’s ability to pump blood.

The rescue procedure for this is a pericardiocentisis— or removal of the fluid from around the heart. His love interest confirms the diagnosis by percussing his chest. This is probably the least reliable way of diagnosing this problem. Any well equipped ER should have some sort of bedside ultrasound to aid in the diagnosis. The ECG monitor first shows a rhythm of bradycardia— the heart beating too slowly. This again is one of the least likely rhythms related to this condition.

Problem #3: Wrong placement of the needle. In the movie, the doctor is shown placing the need straight into the chest. It should be at an angle pointed to the left shoulder which this nifty video on You Tube shows.

Problem #4: Shocking asystole: I’ve blogged a lot on this. You cannot shock asystole. It won’t improve the outcome for the patient and is contraindicated. First treatment is high quality CPR and a dose of epinephrine or adrenaline. Also, this is not the correct paddle placement for defibrillation. It should be just to the right of the patient’s sternum and over the apex of the heart or more to the left side. They also cannot be placed over clothing.

Problem #5: OR is next. Most likely a patient like this with penetrating trauma to the chest would likely go to the OR, or at least some follow-up radiology studies. Not just stitched up and sent on his way.

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