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In Which Medical Facts Can Save Your Character’s Life


Sometimes I read novels or watch tv and I wonder about some medical details that scream at me: “Damn! this is too perfect!”. So, being the curious littleMädchen that I am, I checked some of them out. Some are as textbook as it can get, some are as false and incoherent as it shouldn’t get. Below is my top 10 of medical facts that should be known when writing a scene that involves a medical intervention. It basically could save your character’s life.

  • Surgeries leave scars: It sounds logical, then why do some authors never address the issue? Yes, it’s not pretty-yummy. Yes, perfect characters are just more in our comfort zone but the truth is: surgeries inflict trauma (call it stress if you will) onto one’s body. It leaves psychological and physical scars. Let me tell you one thing: when you look down at your belly after having a c-section, you should/have every right to be complexed. Surgeries on lungs and heart can leave you breathless whenever you will go up the steps in the future. Depending on where the wound is, repercussions will be A or B or C. It can add drama so please, don’t leave those issues out anymore.
  • Electrocuted characters should be a smelly sight: it is disgusting but when you are electrocuted, you basically evacuate everything that should have been evacuated later on down the toilet. This is romanced in movies mostly, but it should be as funny as it is smelly. (Not so funny after all, heh?) Thus, the protagonist will either smell bad or smell bad and die.
  • About the pain of breastfeeding: I write pain as in physical pain (no metaphor was intended). I know this isn’t what most women want to hear but breastfeeding even though it is perfectly normal, it’s hard on the nipples. Imagine having one patch of your skin moist about all the time and you will get an idea about how dry and aching nipples can get. That’s only if the infant has good reflexes. It can be even more painful if he/she doesn’t. Yes, I know romancing the whole maternity thing is almost a reflex. We want it to be as cute as the newborn infant but a realistic character would be going through pain; just thought you may want to know.
  • Elevators as murderers: Elevators usually have a minimum of four strong operating cables, as well as an inbuilt braking system and a backup braking system in the shaft which forces a wedge into the shaft to prevent a too rapid drop. In other words, one snapped cable isn’t enough to cause it to fall. If your character is the unluckiest man/woman in the fictional world and all four cables were to snap, the cars braking system would detect the free fall and automatically apply. If that also fails, the shaft’s braking system takes over. Simply put, your character would have to one hell of an unlucky kid to get killed in a falling elevator.
  • The infamous resuscitation technique: this is often left out and it makes me roll my eyes while my boyfriend throws a tantrum about fiction and everything it implies. The thing is as you compress someone’s chest, you will break the ribs. It’s a simple physic fact: apply pressure, a force, and eventually something will snap. The break is normal, it gives better access to the heart.
  • The second infamous resuscitation technique (CPR): More often than not patients vomit during chest compression or/and when CPR is performed. The problem is: it complicates the effort of the rescuer to free the patient’s airways. This is why CPR is now performed with a mask.
  • The Super-Adrenaline symptom: I only have one sentence prepare for this hormone: it does not last forever. I’m used to seeing characters with adrenaline pumping down their system and becoming this new-aged Superman for the length of a magical never-ending battle. However, in reality, it lasts as long as its production does and that’s one or two minutes tops. This is the required amount of time for the fight-or-flight response. That is because in large amount adrenaline is toxic to the human organism.
  • Antidepressants and the unicorn myth: I have read only one story with a depressed character and the medication was just wrong. There are side-effects to antidepressants, yes, but the thing is, you don’t get better instantly. It takes 3 to 6 weeks for change in mood to manifest. There is also the fact that as it is often reported that before your character sees unicorns, the “black cloud” gets thicker. Antidepressants affect the balance of serotonin in synapses so it will affect the mood, just not the way your character will hope at first.
  • Heart condition: Defibrillation is for patients (and characters) in “ventricular fibrillation”. In simple terms, the electrical activity in the heart is irregular and shocking can reset this activity. That is something, medical personnel will see with a monitor. So attempting reanimation with a crash cart just upon seeing a patient is a big stretch. This being said, if there is a flat-line (also called asystole) on the monitor, defibrillation is not the way to go. In fact, it will do more harm than good and decrease anyone’s rate of survival.
  • Hmm, let’s suck that venomous bite: I know: it’s the perfect romantic and demonstration of selflessness scenario, but it’s also the worst idea ever. The tongue is in fact highly vascular which means, attempting to suck venom out of a snake/scorpion/lizards bite will result in your character dying. In fact, the venom will reach his bloodstream in matter of seconds. So: no antidote= death.

Reprinted from The Writer’s Corner


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