Far too many of us believe the things we see in TV shows and movies. Sometimes, the things we watch alter how we look at history or how we live our lives moving forward.
Many fictional stories are so engrossing that we buy into their mythology — it becomes our new truth.
Unfortunately, just because it’s dramatic and holds our attention tightly doesn’t mean it’s true. Rarely, however, do we go back and fact check the medical myths perpetuated by movies.
So, let’s do a little truth seeking.
The beginning of frostbitten hands.
Rubbing cold injuries to keep them warm
We’ve all heard stories of people heading into frigid environments and developing cold-related injuries during to their excursions.
No, we’re not talking about that “cold” that gave you the sniffles; we’re talking about human tissue damaged from exposure to freezing temperatures. Frostbite, as it’s known, has been the cause of many lost fingers, toes, ears, and cheeks among adventurous outdoorsmen. In the brutal cold, the body limits the flow of warm blood to comparatively frivolous areas in order to keep your vital organs up and running. As a result, the distal areas don’t the oxygen they need to sustain living tissue, and they start to die off.
In many movies, you’ll see characters rub these areas together to keep them warm — bad idea. On the inside of the near-frozen human tissue usually lay small icicle-like formations that can act as teeny-tiny razors, cutting the neighboring tissue when smashed together.
The best way to treat cold-related injuries is by covering the affected area with clean cloth and adding a warm compress.
Holding a person’s tongue during a seizure
People with epilepsy are prone to experiencing seizures. We’ve seen them occur time and time again in movies. During the frantic episodes, we invariably hear a character instruct someone to put something in the seizing character’s mouth to prohibit the patient from swallowing their tongue.
The truth is, however, that putting something in their mouth may obstruct the airway, causing further, greater damage. The correct way to treat an epileptic seizure is by clearing the nearby area of any potentially harmful objects, laying the patient on their side, loosening any clothing that may be caught around their neck, and waiting that sucker out.
Tilting your head back during a bloody nose
We’ve seen this awful way of treating a simple nose bleed in several TV shows. Yes, tilting your head back does prevent blood from pouring out of one’s nose. However, the blood doesn’t just disappear. When you tilt your head back during a bloody nose, three things can happen:
- The blood enters the oral cavity and the patient spits it out.
- The blood enters the oral cavity and the patient swallows it. Yuck.
- The blood passes into the windpipe and the patient chokes on it.
Patting a choking victim on the back
Choking happens when an object blocks the trachea or windpipe. This life-threatening emergency needs to be handled quickly and in the right way as you only have few minutes before permanent damage occurs.
Patting someone on the back is one of the worst things you can do. Tapping on a choking person’s back can cause the object to move further down the person’s throat — and that’s really, really bad.
The Heimlich maneuver is the best thing you can do — if you do it properly. Here’s a primer:
Injecting medicine directly into the heart
Please, never take medical advice from an action movie. We’ve watched both Vincent Vega (as played by John Travolta) in Pulp Fiction and Stanley Goodspeed (as played by Nicolas Cage) in The Rock administer medication via a long-ass needle directly into a heart.
This is a bad, bad idea. You could puncture your lung, collapse it, or, straight-up stab the heart muscle, causing terrible internal bleeding.