Author Beware: Doctors Cannot Do Everything

I was recently reading a YA novel (that I did really enjoy BTW) when I came across this passage. For a quick background, this young girl has just woken up screaming after being involved in a car accident so it’s presumed she has a head injury.

The passage is as follows from the novel:

The room fills up with people. Two nurses and a doctor appear as quickly as if I’d pushed the little red call button on my bed. 

“Sophie, I’m Dr. Langstaff. You’re in a safe place and I’m here to help you.” The doctor holds a syringe and a container, measuring out a clear liquid. “I’m going to give you some medicine to calm you down and help you sleep.” He inserts the syringe so the medicine flows into my IV. It drains the screams right out of me, like he’s pulled the plug on my lungs.

Interestingly, there are quite a few problems with this small passage.

1. There is a process to giving medications in the hospital. The doctor orders the medication, the pharmacy double checks and approves the dosage, and the nurse draws it up and gives it to the patient. This patient is on a medical surgical floor— this is the process that would take place.

2. Doctors generally don’t have access to sedatives or narcotics. There are only a few areas in the hospital where a doctor would have direct access to these types of medications that they could pull themselves and that would be anesthesia. Narcotics are very tightly controlled. Doctors generally can’t even access narcotics or sedatives via the medication dispensing machines on the floor— even those medications that only they can give (such as perhaps Ketamine for a sedation). This is not the “old” days where a doctor carried around a stock of medications he could dispense. Nowadays, they likely can’t even access them.

3. Sedatives generally aren’t the first choice for a distressed patient.  I think for writers, this idea comes from watching too many bad television hospital dramas, but in real life is rarely done. The first step in handling a patient that first wakes up from a traumatic event is to orient them to where they are and what’s happened. Involve the family in helping them feel safe. If the distress continues, evaluate if there is a medical reason behind it. Is there some undiagnosed medical problem? Does she need a repeat scan of her head? It really is unusual that you can’t calm a person down— even one with a head injury. Patients are generally only given sedation if they become physically harmful to themselves or others. We do use sedation in some of these situations, but not as a first line and not as often as you might think and most likely not in the head injured patient.

What are some other things you’ve seen in books that aren’t accurate as far as a hospital setting goes?

3 thoughts on “Author Beware: Doctors Cannot Do Everything

  1. No idea, as you know more about hospital procedures than I do, though I have seen inaccuracies in other areas I do know about. Really, the author should have known better and done their research – in fact, asked a hospital doctor or nurse to read it to make sure it was correct. There is no excuse for this sloppiness, even if the novel is otherwise good – in fact, especially if it’s otherwise good.

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  2. I came across one that was unbelievable, while critiquing a story for a young writer. She describes a scene where Vikings have killed most of the people in a village, including a pregnant woman. The main character is hiding in the woods. She waits hours during the night until it is safe to come out. The character wants to go and save the baby of the pregnant woman. I had to point out to her that if the mother was dead, the baby was dead, too.

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