What Could Go Wrong – The Drunk Patient

For those of you who are getting to know me, I’ve been in the medical field for over twenty years and have had some interesting experiences.

Medical shows love to use imaging procedures in their episodes, but often times the scenes do not follow a realistic procedure protocol or the drama is escalated in over the top scenarios.

Everything from doctor’s running the MRI machine to using the wrong probes or technology in ultrasound, our television shows get the details wrong more often than right. Good thing most actors are easy on the eyes so we tend to forgive the script errors a bit more.

In an effort to provide positive change and help writers produce accurate material for their storylines, the What Could Go Wrong Series will reveal real-life cases witnessed by personnel in healthcare environments or realistic scenarios that could happen in a medical setting.

Real-Life Case

A man with a high alcohol level came into the x-ray department from the ER for multiple images of his arm and shoulder. He’d been in a bar fight.

Technologist positioned the man’s arm into a painful posture to get diagnostic images. The man cussed the radiographer. With his good arm, he hauled off and hit the healthcare professional, knocking her to the floor. She got back up, dusted herself off and dove back in, calling for help to restrain the patient.  

Unlike most TV shows where a slew of physicians rush in to aid the staff, our doctors remained in their radiology offices or in the ER department tending to other patient cases. If we waited for them to intervene, the attacker could inflict more damage.

In real life, other x-ray team members entered and donned lead shields. They held the man in position while another radiographer took the image from outside the room. Healthcare workers acted in the moment and moved as a team to keep the scenario under control.

If for some reason, a physician had been nearby or in the department, then they might help with the situation. However, most radiologists read from their offices and ER doctors remain in their workspace taking care of other trauma cases.

Real World Facts

Radiographers and other healthcare professionals must deal with verbal patient abuse. When things turn physical, we must stay calm and keep a clear head.

A 2017 study by the National Institute of Health determined that patient to worker assault in the healthcare setting was a serious occupational hazard with frontline staff being at a higher risk for Type II violence. (Arnetz, 2017)

These scenarios impact the employee’s wellbeing, decrease morale, and can cause depressions or even post-traumatic stress long after the incident is over.

New Storyline

Now, imagine a TV character with this storyline. A drunk patient attacks the healthcare worker, a nurse, doctor, technologist, etc. and the emotional and psychological stress impacts every area of their life for several months. Even after the patient sobers, the effects of what he’s done could provide issues in his life and or recovery.

Sounds like an episode or two with loads of drama yet realistic to real world healthcare.


Arnetz, Judith E, et al. “Preventing Patient-to-Worker Violence in Hospitals: Outcome of a Randomized Controlled Intervention.” J Occup Environ Med, Jan. 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5214512/

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