10 Completely Unrealistic Moments in Television ERs

Seizure Treatment
A real doctor would not stick a tongue depressor in a seizing patient’s mouth, but it happens on TV all the time. © joeygil/iStockphoto

In the name of science, researchers at Dalhousie University watched every episode of "Grey's Anatomy," "House," "Private Practice" and the final five seasons of "ER" — and they found that in those 327 episodes, 59 patients experienced a seizure. In those 59 cases, doctors and nurses incorrectly performed first aid treatments to seizing patients 46 percent of the time (including putting an object, such as a tongue depressor, in the seizing patient's mouth). A quarter of the episodes couldn't be accurately evaluated, and the remaining 29 percent did realistically portray seizure care [sources: Devlin, Landau].

It's surprising more patients in TV emergency rooms don't die while being treated for a seizure.

Seizures are caused by surges of electrical activity in the brain, and as many as one out of 10 of us will experience at least one seizure during our lifetime, accounting for as many as one in 100 visits to emergency departments across the U.S. [source: Epilepsy Foundation, Martindale et al.]. In reality, there's one more important directive when caring for a person having a seizure: Prevent injuries. For instance, loosen clothing, and never restrain or put anything in a seizing person's mouth while convulsions are happening. Once any convulsions have stopped, turn the person onto his or her side — a small but important step to help prevent choking. Some seizures, such as those lasting longer than five minutes, need immediate care. Emergency treatment may include benzodiazepines and anticonvulsants, in addition to a consultation with a neurologist.