10 March 2011

Sick in style in the soapies

How do you know you are watching a soapie? There's always someone in hospital - and they look extremely glamorous.

Watch any soapie, and before long someone will be in hospital. Accidents, comas, amnesia, dread diseases: they always manage to look well-groomed and elegant though. Not like in real life.

The way in which medical matters are dealt with in soapies, really pushes your 'willing suspension of disbelief' to the limit:

All medical staff are good-looking. Anyone would think a model agency did the screening for prospective medical students. All the doctors look as if they could moonlight as models – a far cry from real life I am afraid.

All patients have their own rooms. Endless gnashing of teeth by loved ones at someone's bedside is never interrupted by someone in the next bed asking them to pipe down – he wants to sleep.

Staff involvement. Nursing staff and doctors have the time to get emotionally involved with the patients. In a real hospital, doctors have such heavy case loads, they cannot hover endlessly around family members to reassure them. Or spend days helping one patient do special exercises.

Amnesia is a very common condition. In soapies every third character suffers from amnesia and is unable to remember who they are, who they are in love with and who their families are. This is of course a way for tired scriptwriters to squeeze a lot more mileage out of a tired character.

Facial disfiguration is common. When someone has facial injuries and is lying in hospital with a bandaged face, rest assured that another actor or actress is about to take over the role. Despite the advanced plastic surgery methods available to day, there is usually little facial resemblance between the new and the old actor – but strangely none of the other actors ever seem to notice.

No one gets yuckie diseases. No one ever gets hospitalised with persistent diarrhoea, projectile vomiting or some grim sexually transmitted disease. The diseases allow them to languish in bed, indulging in endless emotional discussions with an army of relatives and lovers. No enemas, no bedpans, no injections in the backside, no throwing up when recovering from anaesthetic, no shaving of delicate areas.

Death happens on cue. When people get called to the deathbed, rest assured the occupant's number is up. No languishing for weeks while the relatives rush to and fro from hospital – in real life it often happens that someone just dies unexpectedly at 4am when no one is around.

No operation ever goes smoothly. There is always some complication involving heart failure or blood pressure or some such thing, making viewers think that maybe this is the end of this particular character. But rest assured, they always pull through – the more popular they are, the more indispensable they are. Unless of course they have resigned from the cast and are heading off to the Bahamas. Then they're definitely no longer for this world.

Strangers lurk around in hospitals unnoticed. Sometimes they manage to do this for weeks. But all they end up doing is sabotaging one patient – no one ever asks them to change someone else's bedpan or inject another patient. It seems alarmingly easy to lurk about doing no work at all and to switch blood vials and test results.

Recovery is often remarkably quick. Near-death experiences on Monday don't stop the characters from being back in the swing of things by Thursday. The only things that seem to linger endlessly are bruises, which can sometimes be seen for weeks at a time.

Heads seldom get shaved for brain operations. Glossy manes never get shaved off in order to perform tricky brain operations. Somehow these surgeons manage to work their way around this one. Not so in real life.

Perfect makeup. Characters emerge from the operating theatres perfectly made up. If a normal person were rushed to the theatre with a head injury, lipstick would be the last thing on their mind.

Childbirth is either dead easy or totally traumatic. Either it is accompanied by endless yelling and staff rushing about, or the baby pops out in no time at all. There doesn't ever seem to be a normal birth, or Caesareans, or epidurals.

Advanced medical science. People are plucked from the brink of death by a doctor who has developed some miracle cancer cure, or who has discovered a sudden panacea for another type of terminal disease. Truth is, there are diseases out there, that can at best be managed, but are not curable in most cases.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated March 2011)


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