Books, TV series, and movies are our subconscious sources of information for things we generally don’t encounter in our day-to-day lives. Unsurprisingly, they are not always correct in their portrayal.
The following are some of the most widespread misconceptions and medical myths:
A sewing needle and thread can be used to stitch up the human body
The above two pictures clearly show that the size, shape, and material of a surgical needle and suturing thread are all different from that of a sewing needle and thread.
Surgical needles are designed to be held with instruments and come in a variety of different types based on their function, diameter, and thread material.
In this clip from the movie Babel, you’ll see that the man is stitching up a patient, and the needle you see is clearly a sewing needle attached to a sewing thread. Obviously, this would make for a difficult job and poor results.
Suturing is essentially sewing
There are different methods to suture a wound or incision based on the site, size, and damage to the surrounding structures. Although some stitches are similar to sewing, if improperly done, the sutures will fail to hold and can cut through, causing additional damage.
While writing this article I came across this video about how to give yourself stitches. As you can see, that looks extremely painful and difficult. So, if you want to avoid a trip to the ER, let me offer you a less-complicated alternative: a liquid adhesive. They are affordable, easy to use, and can be quickly bought on Amazon. Simply apply it onto the cut, keep the cut closed and wait for it to heal.
Using a defibrillator on a flatlined patient
A common scene: A patient at a hospital flatlines, and the nearby doctor grabs a defibrillator. “Clear!” they yell. Although it makes for an interesting and dramatic movie, the medicine is completely false. Interestingly, an entire film, called Flatliners was made based around this misconception.
The heart needs electrical activity to keep beating. Cardiac arrest happens when the heart either completely stops beating (flatline) due to the absence of electrical activity or starts to beat erratically (arrhythmias) when the electrical activity is irregular.
A defibrillator changes irregular electrical activity to regular electrical activity by shocking the heart. A defibrillator cannot spontaneously generate electrical activity. Therefore, using a defibrillator on a flatlined (aka asystole) patient is not recommended. It is recommended to continue with chest compressions.
Immediate CPR will bring back a patient
Continuing the above scenario, after multiple rounds of defibrillation, every patient miraculously comes back to life with all brain functions intact. If only this happened in real life.
Various studies show that the general public believes CPR success rates to be around 72-75%. This is unfortunately not true. In reality, less than 10% of all CPR are successful and only 8% of those patients have minimal or no cognitive disability following CPR.
Tourniquet a snake bite
Applying a tourniquet to snake bites was previously recommended to prevent the venom from spreading. But, this had a side effect of causing tissue damage to the limb due to the lack of adequate blood flow. CDC has since changed the guidelines due to instances of limb ischemia.
The current first aid procedure is to wash the area with soap and water, apply a dry dressing to the wound and remove any jewelry.
Tilt your head back if you have a nose bleed
Seen here, this is probably the most prevalent myth. While it may seem harmless to tilt your head back when you have a nosebleed, it can potentially cause death. The nasal cavity is contiguous with the trachea. When you tilt your head back, blood may enter your throat and block the airway.
The correct thing to do is to pinch your nose and tilt your head forward.
Tilt your head back after putting in eye drops
This is fairly a harmless misconception. If you visit an ophthalmologist, the nurse would have put in some eye drops before doing some tests. She would have tilted your head back to administer them. Patients generally continue to remain in that position even after, which is unnecessary. You’re not required to stay in that position, you can sit comfortably with your eyes closed.
If you’re administering eye drops yourself, instead of tilting your head back, make a pocket by pulling down your lower eyelid for the drops to fall. This also prevents infection and injury, as you are less likely to touch your eye with the dispenser.
Put something in an individual’s mouth to keep them from biting their tongue during an episode of seizure
This is an extremely dangerous myth prevalent across the globe. Since patients foam at the mouth or have a tongue bite, the act of putting a piece of cloth, cardboard, or wood in the patient’s mouth became prevalent. This can lead to potentially fatal choking.
An episode of seizure is self-resolving. During this, it is advised to turn the individual on his side, fold his top leg and tilt his head back. Similarly, tying the patient down or forcing the patient to hold a metal object in his hand can lead to injuries.
Pull out the weapon if you are stabbed
Often in films, after an individual is stabbed, if there’s a sword or knife left in them, the first thing they do is remove the weapon. In this video clip (at about the 2 minute mark), we see how dangerous this misconception is: once the knife is pulled out, the blood gushes out and the patient dies.
The object is the only thing maintaining hemodynamic stability. Similar to a leaking pipe, once a weapon is pulled out, blood will pour out of the body with force. In case of a stabbing, do not pull the object out. It is recommended that you do not touch the individual at all. Let surgeons remove the object in an OR after imaging.
Don’t sleep if you have a concussion
A concussion is also known as a mild traumatic brain injury. In these cases, the brain CT is normal. A slow bleed or minimal ischemia may not be immediately visible on imaging. Hence, patients are put under observation for any sensory loss, paralysis, visual disturbances, seizures, etc.
This is where the myth comes from; the danger is that when you are asleep, these indications of serious brain damage are less likely to be noticed. Sleeping in itself cannot cause problems after a concussion.
Some of these misconceptions may seem insignificant, but they may occasionally lead to severe complications. It is important to understand that while medicine is vast, it is also constantly evolving and there are limitations to our knowledge.