Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Medical Media Madness

Jack prepares to do CPR on Charlie as Kate looks on in "Lost"
Have you heard about the recent arguments surrounding the death of an 87 year old woman in an independent care facility? Even though "she had chosen to live in a facility without medical staff and wanted to pass away without life-prolonging intervention" there has been public outcry and talks of doing some big investigation into why the staff member refused to obey the pleadings of the 911 dispatcher. Interestingly enough, instead of recognizing the dying woman's wishes (including her family's), the media and much of the public seem to paint this whole situation as a big problem, when in reality it really isn't that bad. Note the tone of the CNN clip below . . . 

In this amazing podcast from WNYC's RadioLab some astonishing statistics are given about life-prolonging intervention, which may cause you to think differently about this situation at the care center. Check it out.

So apparently, most people when asked if they were dying would gladly welcome life-prolonging procedures such as CPR, breathing tubes, etc. On the flip side, the majority of folks when asked how they want to die say things like, "peacefully in my sleep" or "at home near my family." These two scenarios actually don't go well together. According to this story, only 8% of all people who are given CPR actually live at least a month afterwards, and a whopping 3% survive without any major repercussions or serious side effects for a substantial period of time. With these facts in mind, it seems that the 87 year old woman who died without CPR may have been wiser than the media is letting on. 

As a matter of fact, in this same RadioLab story, the majority of doctors say they would never receive any kind of life-prolonging treatment. Painkillers are the only substance doctors say they would request if they were in a life or death situation.

But what about in Lost when Jack revives Charlie by whacking him on the chest (See the header image on this post)? What about all those episodes of ER where people are miraculously saved? Or this slightly awkward clip from Jurassic Park when a boy is electrocuted and then brought back through some chest thumping and quick breaths? Surely Hollywood wouldn't lie!?

Well, researchers who watched loads of TV shows and movies (I wouldn't mind that research job!) found that 75% of the time, characters were revived through CPR, defibrillation and so forth during their stretch of media consumption. But remember,  the actually number is 3% of all people who receive such treatments survive in real life!

We all knew that we shouldn't go to Hollywood to tell us how to live or attend to our health needs. But what we may not have been aware of is what we have learned from years of media influence regarding what can or can't be done medically. The CNN story above vilifies the worker who refused to perform CPR on a dying woman. Yes, I admit that at first glance it seems terrible. But in the end, if an aged woman wants to die when her time comes - it isn't our place to tell her "no! you must keep living - even if it means living an unhealthy and unsatisfying life." 

Careful critique and deconstruction of media messages is not only important in education, but can obviously be good for our health! What other parts of life are influenced by the media that we may not be aware of? Love, the ideal man and woman, and much much more. What do you think? 

Screen shot from "Disaster: Day of Crisis" for Wii courtesy of Buttonmasher.co.nz

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