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November 26, 2012 at 12:00 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

TV Medicine vs. Reality

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

I haven't owned a television for several years. I realized that turning on television took me away from more important things, and I just couldn't stand commercials. However, like most Americans, I do love TV, which is probably the root of the problem. When my wife and I are at a restaurant with a TV playing in the background my eyes and attention are inexplicably drawn TVward, and any meaningful conversation is thrust out the window. 

Recently, I discovered that with my trusty DVD player and, more recently, Netflix, I can get the drama and excitement, while simultaneously controlling the advertising beast. In turn, this led me to the popular ABC medical drama, Grey's Anatomy and the many inconsistencies of the program. To get to the heart of the matter, I'd like to dispel some of the myths about medical practices on television versus their counterpart in reality to explore our fascination with the drama of television.

TV Drama vs. Medical Reality 

Looking back on my career in medicine, I can say that there has been no shortage of drama. The intensity of residency and life in a busy hospital could certainly be entertaining when viewed from the outside. However, a television producer could take a few months of this life and distill out all the routine, hum drum, day-to-day stuff and get maybe one episode worth viewing on TV. 

However, I do occasionally see things that are worthy of a Grey's Anatomy plot line. In fact, sometimes things are just so incredible that I could not have made them up in my most imaginative state. I'm sure it's the same for a soldier who trains, eats, sleeps, does his laundry, etc. and then experiences the gridlock of battle or the fireman who lives his life at the fire station with monotony until the alarm sounds. 

Of course, TV shows throw in plenty of human drama and sex to add spice. I will say, though, that in the world of medicine, the intensity of human interaction is what captivates me. People reveal a different side of their personality when their health and well-being (or that of their loved ones) is on the line. I see anger, pain, resiliency, strength, sorrow, hope, and hopelessness regularly. The science of medicine and the dilemma of diagnosis can also be fascinating. For me, medicine is a job but it is a calling on a larger scale; it's a way of life that transcends my time on the clock. 

Separating the Drama from Reality 

I spend my noon hour in our break room when I have time. I enjoy hanging out with my co-workers over lunch. I hear about my coworkers' lives, but I also hear a fair amount about the lives of reality TV characters and other fictional drama on TV. I wonder if these shows offer us an escape from our own reality.

Do we seek thrills without risk vicariously through TV from the comforts of our sofa? Does it provide an escape from the monotony of our lives? Do we just want to turn our own lives off? Or is it merely entertainment to enhance our enjoyment? I believe different people absorb television in different ways.

Like anything enjoyable, too much is not good for our well-being. I worry about the tendencies and directions that will come out of the experiential couch trip that so many are taking with reality TV. An analogy: If you take in a wild animal and give it food consistently, it can lose the ability to hunt for its own food. Will television reduce our enjoyment of our own lives and our ability to engage in relationships?  Will we expect an "episode" each day and become dissatisfied with the real reality of typical monotonous tasks? 

I think the answer is "probably not" but these trends warrant caution with ourselves and our even more impressionable children. Use this medium of entertainment to bring out the positives-- to ask important questions in life, to challenge us to improve and to simply taste the emotions that will play out in our reality.
Television is there to entertain, and the need to be entertained is inherent in our being. Use it as such to enhance your life, and maybe even helping to put your own life in perspective.  Limit your exposure as not to detract from the real episodes of your life that serve to define you. Star in your own show, and give an Emmy-winning performance!

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