How many times have you paused, shook your head at some random situation at work, and said, “I can’t believe this is happening.” And that’s real life.
We thought you might need a laugh at moments like this, so we dug through clips from TV shows spanning more than a half century to find these 23 unbelievable hospital scenes. Some are so crazy we can’t imagine how the actors kept a straight face.
Medical Dramas of the 1950s and ’60s
If anyone believed that the doctors in Ben Casey represented real doctors, hopefully they wouldn’t have believed the same thing about the nurses. The only nurse we see regularly is Ms. Wills, and she’s never referred to by her first name throughout the entire series. She never takes off her uniform, even when hanging out with other staff members (in street clothes) off-duty. In this episode of Ben Casey from the early ’60s, nurses are portrayed as very distractable (around minute 4:00 in the clip) or very befuddled and easily confused (around 5:15). Perhaps studios didn’t have research assistants in those days.
Medical Dramas of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s
From 1969 to 1976, many households tuned in to Marcus Welby, MD, about a kind, fatherly doctor who solved problems wherever he went, usually with his handsome younger sidekick. Teen star David Cassidy starred in one episode where he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Now, how’s the following clip for an unbelievable scene (go to 3:19). Very kind of the young sidekick to take the time to do the diabetic teaching. While you’re at it, check out what the nurse is doing in the background: nothing really.
Trapper John, MD, a spin-off of the comedy M*A*S*H, began in 1979 and ran until 1986. Check out the doctor pushing the stretcher (at 3:43), moving patients:
Have you ever seen that? And then go a bit farther along to 4:46, where Nurse Brancusi is accused of being too distracting for the interns.
In the early ’80s, a new style of medical drama came to the screen. One of the first of the new breed was St. Elsewhere. Of course, much of the show was unbelievable, but it was entertaining. A never-to-forget hospital scene occurred in a 1982 episode when Shirley Daniels, a nurse who worked in the ER, fatally shot resident Peter White in the groin. Dr. White had been discovered as a serial rapist in the hospital.
Remember Chicago Hope? That was the medical show that was up against the longer-lasting ER. Both began in 1994. Mandy Patinkin was the brooding heart surgeon who didn’t have a lot of luck in life. It all came full circle when he was performing a heart transplant—and a nurse dropped the heart, which then got kicked behind a refrigerator.
And who could forget ER’s famous scene in which Dr. Robert Romano got his hand cut off while he was up on the helicopter pad receiving a patient? Later on, he died after being crushed by a downed helicopter.
But it wasn’t all high drama and blood and gore. What about the following hospital scene from Doogie Howser, MD, when the doctor does a science experiment with a patient? Not on a patient—with a patient. And notice how there happens to be baking soda and vinegar handy—and how he whips out two pairs of protective goggles as needed!
Medical Dramas of the 2000s
The medical dramas of the new century have far outdone Marcus Welby and the shows of the last few decades. The antics of St. Elsewhere and ER have nothing on Grey’s Anatomy and House, just to name a couple.
Grey’s Anatomy comes under a lot of fire for its portrayal (or non-portrayal) of nurses, but check out what this patient says at around minute 2:55. Is that a slap in the face of nurses, or what?
House, MD, seems to be the worst of all culprits. Just the following one-minute promo shows you more “scenes you’d never see in a hospital” than you could ever imagine, from waking a patient by slamming his cane on the bedside table (0:10) to showing a cleaver to a patient who was told just needed surgery (0:34) to playing video games and having lunch in a comatose patient’s room (0:41) to ogling a female doctor and making crude comments. One has to wonder if anyone like Dr. House actually exists.
Maybe it was the result of the outcries from nurses and nursing groups over the misrepresentation of nurses in entertainment that made the TV establishment decide to try this nurse show.
In Nurse Jackie, we have the title character doing drugs and one of the doctors Twittering (1:22) during an emergency.
In the 1960s, Diahann Carroll’s character, Julia, broke down some color barriers in nursing—so much so that there was a Julia Barbie doll for girls to have for their very own, nursing cap and all. However, as much as she made inroads in how minorities may have been seen on TV, she sure didn’t make any inroads against the “pretty nurse” mentality. Here’s a clip from a 1968 episode with Lloyd Nolan:
The most famous TV medical comedy, of course, is M*A*S*H. The series took place during the Korean war and followed the lives of the people in the 4077 Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. It was the first irreverent look at medicine and it hit America’s funny bone. The army life definitely differs from civilian life, but would anyone have tolerated this type of behavior?
Scrubs, a comedy that started in 2001, had many unbelievable moments, such as this one where a gospel choir performs in the emergency room. In the following clip, you need to look fast (3:17). You’ll see a doctor who boogies to music with a patient on the OR table in the background.
Nurses have also been a good foil for comedians—particularly if the nurses are sexy and wearing high heels. Wouldn’t it be interesting if all the nurses had intro music when they entered a room? Check out Bob Hope’s show, with Danny Thomas as guest:
Have you ever wanted to pull a “dead person” practical joke on anyone? In the next clip, 1980s TV star Malcolm-Jamal Warner (The Cosby Show) was pranked with just that in mind. This is definitely an unbelievable hospital moment!
What are your favorite unbelievable TV hospital moments?