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Ten Surprisingly Common Causes Of Death In TV Hospitals

Hospital shows: John Stamos and Maura Tierney are only two of the many ER personalities who have tried to keep patients from dying in spectacular ways. NBC hide caption

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Tonight is the end of ER. The end of an era, the end of the machine that made George Clooney famous, and the end of a fifteen-season run that was good for at least seven seasons. The show is presumably dying of pure fatigue, but how do the patients die? Let's take a look at the ways TV-hospital patients die that other people usually don't.

Heroism. Countless television hospital patients die of heroism every year. One minute, they are valiantly trying to save a cat, dog, old person, flower bed, bicycle, or lottery ticket, and the next, they are lying in a hospital bed while the monitors sing their mournful "eeeeeeeep" in the background. Worse yet, heroism often results in a slow expiration one hospital bed over from someone who is unafflicted with heroism — say, a terrible bigot or someone unattractive — who is going to live. These deaths are referred to in the literature as deaths by heroism with ironic complications.

Falling helicopters. As far as we know, there has been one death by falling helicopter in the history of hospital shows, and it took place on ER. But it would seem that, relative to the total number of casualties in ER history, even this likely overrepresents the prevalence of being crushed by a falling helicopter as a cause of death. The greater statistical anomaly, however, is that this happened to Dr. "Rocket" Romano, who had lost an arm to a helicopter blade only a season before he died of having an entire helicopter fall directly on him. You know how some people are unlucky at cards? He was unlucky at helicopters.

A terrible secret. Particularly on House, it is common for patients to die of A Terrible Secret. In many cases, the Terrible Secret is not life-threatening in itself, but the efforts to conceal the Terrible Secret cause the patient to die of something innocuous. For instance, if you conceal your penicillin allergy in the course of concealing the details of the way your penicillin allergy was discovered, you risk dying of A Terrible Secret.

Dying of redemption, after the jump...

Redemption. ER was particularly fond of having patients die of acute redemption. If you are admitted to the hospital as a wretched misanthrope but, during your stay, you meet a perky, freckled moppet who is keeping a sunny outlook on life, and if the moppet convinces you to become a better person, and you finally thank the hospital staff profusely for all they have done for you, you are showing telltale signs that you will soon die of redemption.

Career aspirations/creative differences. If you are a featured performer on a drama taking place in a TV hospital, your health may be endangered by your impending departure from the cast. This is how Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) died of brain cancer on ER, and it is also what has given Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl) metastatic melanoma on Grey's Anatomy. Beware the termination of your contract.

A physician who does not love life. Selecting your physician is an important part of anyone's care, and a TV-hospital patient must be careful not to choose a physician who is unappreciative of some aspect of his or her life, particularly a romantic partner. There is a good chance that you will wind up teaching the TV doctor something about all that he or she has to be grateful for, and you will probably do so by dying. And you will probably die alone, because the lesson is more effective that way.

Announcing what time it is. Many times, a TV-hospital patient is on the operating table, and he's alive (which you can tell by the way everyone is pounding on his chest and/or shocking him with electricity, which they clearly wouldn't do if he were deceased), and then someone says, "Call it," and someone else says, "10:38," and before you know it, you're dead. What's that about? If necessary, have the clocks removed prior to any serious medical procedure.

Old age complicated by quirkiness. The old and colorful live short lives at the TV hospital. Senior citizens admitted thereto must beware of marching to the beats of their own drummers, extolling the virtues of drinking or cigars, or flirting with young doctors. This kind of upbeat attitude combined with years of experience out in the world most often leads to dying peacefully in your sleep.

Fame deficits. Suppose the medical drama begins. You are yourself, and you are not famous, but you are brought in as a result of a terrible accident in which the other person brought into the hospital is, let's say, James Woods. Here, I grab you by the lapels and tell you: You are going to die. There are two of you only so that one of you can die in order to underscore the seriousness of the situation, and it's not going to be James Woods. This is why many safety experts recommend against standing on outdoor scaffolding with celebrities.

Sad montages. TV-hospital patients must learn to advocate for themselves, and should protest if they discover that surgery is to be performed as part of a montage accompanied by a song where the string section is prominently featured or where the only instrument in evidence is the piano.

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