"Anyvay, zat's how I lost my medical license."
"Right, first I'll take those teef out for yer, dat should help ease da pain in yer leg. Grokkit, 'and me dat wrench. Now then... Open wide, an' say... AAARGH!"
Surgeries are dangerous and delicate things. There's a reason why "brain surgeon
" is slang for "genius"- they have to spend hours carefully maneuvering minute instruments and a millimeter's error can kill their patient or worse
Naturally, expect this aspect of medicine to be thrown away in the name of comedy
: the nurse will give the surgeon a hammer
and he'll immediately proceed to whack away violently, then an axe
and proceed to hack away, then a drill
, then a chainsaw
, then an eggbeater
If anaesthesia is administered, it's either by a sledgehammer to the head
or copious amounts of booze
. For an extra gag, the booze may turn out to be for the surgeon
Don't expect to see
what's going on with the patient
during the operation, or an explanation
as to why piercing his head is going to help with his Hiccup Hijinks
, but he'll likely step away from the operation room completely healthy and his medical problem will be gone (or at least, he won't be horribly mutilated). However, agonised screaming and blood splattering across the screen
are par for the course.
More rarely, this can
also be Played for Drama
. The trope might be justified if the surgery takes place before the 20th century, for instance, or under field conditions, or both
(see Real Life). Whatever the reason, it's never pretty— pray
they'll go for a Discretion Shot
Common culprits for the comedy version are the Morally Ambiguous Doctor
, Mad Doctor
, or Depraved Dentist
, while the dramatic version will more likely involve The Medic
or the Frontier Doctor
. A Back-Alley Doctor
might be used for either.
Compare with Worst Aid
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- In Afro Samurai, when Jinno is turned into a cyborg. This might qualify as Black Comedy, or the cartoonish nature of the scene might make it worse.
- Batting Female Doctor Saori is about a female doctornote who heals her patients by hitting them. With a baseball bat. Usually across the room. Not only that, she can repair cars, tame panthers and win baseball games with her skill.
- The board game Operation, naturally. The game's implication is made obvious during commercials.
- In Liberty Meadows, Frank tries to be professional, but occasionally falls into this trope, usually helped along by keeping Leslie (who has had no medical training) as his assistant. One notable example is when Frank is performing an operation, but has no anesthesia thanks to budget cuts. When he asks what painkillers they have left, Leslie offers up a six-pack of beer and a copy of James Joyce's Ulysses. When Frank opts to use the latter, Leslie gets several sentences in before everyone (Frank included) falls asleep from boredom. The next comic shows that the patient has begun to wake up mid-surgery, so Leslie is preparing to knock him out with a sledgehammer.
- Another time Ralph the Mad Scientist circus bear and Leslie tried to perform liposuction on Dean (Frank refused to do it). They anesthetized him with a mallet and tried to use an ordinary vacuum for the liposuction, it caved his head in so they tried reversing the flow causing his head to overinflate. Next thing they show Frank has tried to undo the damage they did, resulting in Dean resembling Jabba the Hutt.
- Standard medical practice in Discworld's Ankh-Morpork involves hitting the patient over the head with a hammer to anesthetize them. The only real doctor in the city (Dr. Lawn from Night Watch) is seen as crazy for worrying about things like sanitation, sterilization, and the survival of his patients... until Sam Vimes rewarded him for saving his wife and newborn son by helping him open his own hospital. This is one of the reasons that, prior to Night Watch, the most employed physician in the city was "Doughnut Jimmy" Folsom, a horse vet. The reasoning goes, a good racehorse is expensive and a big earner, so Jimmy could choose between keeping his patients alive or having the last words he hear be something like "Da boss is very unhappy."
- Ankh-Morpork is also the home of the the delightful new form of medicine known as "retrophrenology".
- Eric Flint's book 1812: The Rivers of War provides an excellent example of this, which was Truth in Television at the time. The patient denies the issued anaestetic, which is raw Navy rum (he has a bottle of emergency laudanum packed away, which he uses), but he knows that refusing the anaesthetic the surgeon tried to give him would be good for his reputation regardless. Also, a quote:
"Few lumberjacks wielded a saw as vigorously as an Army surgeon after a major battle."
- The Mash surgeons referred to what they were doing as "meatball surgery" — doing quick (but hopefully not too dirty) surgery, keeping the patient alive but leaving follow-ups to the better-equipped Evac hospitals. Naturally, many of the plots involved the protagonists trying to avert or subvert this trope, but it still arose from time to time.
Hawkeye: Our general attitude around here is that we want to play par surgery on this course. Par is a live patient. We're not sweet swingers, and if we've gotta kick it in with our knees to get a par that's how we do it.
- This trope is zig-zagged in the Temeraire series. Human medical treatment is standard for the Napoleonic Wars, however the tools used by dragon surgeons could easily pass for melee weapons... but then given the scale of their patients most of the injuries that can be treated by human physicians are relatively superficial.
- Touched upon in the Tom Clancy novel Without Remorse, whose protagonist has some rather ugly scars from "meatball surgery" of the sort touched upon in the entry for M*A*S*H above.
Live Action TV
- This type was used quite a bit in Monty Python's Flying Circus.
- In The Muppet Show, Rowlf occasionally gets to begin such an operation in the "Veterinarian's Hospital" sketches.
- Comes up in Sharpe once or twice, set as it is in the Napoleonic Wars. Sharpe himself removes a man's shattered arm with a sword (it's easier to stop the bleeding from one large wound than lots of little ones) and Harper pulls out one of his own teeth with pliers.
- The events of one episode of Stargate Atlantis forced Dr. Keller perform brain surgery on McKay with a power drill in a dank cave.
- One Stargate SG-1 episode involved Colonel Mitchell (who is NOT a doctor) performing surgery on a severely injured Carter while hiding out from bad guys.
- Surgery in Mash is not as bad as this trope but the various characters regard it that way since it is a lot rougher than it would be in a proper hospital. The general term used in the show is "Meatball Surgery". Of course, being a frontline hospital unit, their jobs are to simply to save the patient and make sure they stay alive long enough to get sent to a rear area hospital for proper treatment.
- Helena from Orphan Black actually does this on herself to remove a piece of rebar from her liver. No discretion shot for you.
- Calvin and Hobbes makes carving a pumpkin sound like this:
Calvin: OK, JACK, TIME FOR YOUR LOBOTOMY!! Hand me a big spoon, will you, Hobbes?
Hobbes: Ugh! No anesthetic even.
- This trope is used in Warhammer 40,000 by Ork doctors, the painboyz (also known as Doks, or Mad Doks), whose idea of "anesthesia" is giving the patient a violent concussion, for one. Some don't even bother to use anesthetic at all, preferring to have their patient squirming and kicking so they know he's still alive. Orks are so inhumanly tough that they not only survive, but usually fully recover very quickly.
Now this is gonna 'urt a lot
but you'll be bettah, you'll see!...
- Magic: The Gathering has the Goblin Chirurgeon ("Chirurgeon" is a middle English term for surgeon), who kills live goblins to make sure other creatures can live. One art has one sawing away at a goblin's leg to give to another goblin who has lost theirs. The goblin getting his leg hacked off is awake at the time.
- Also implied by another Goblin in Goblin Medics, specifically in its flavor text, a perversion of the Hippocratic Oath: "First, do some harm."
- A skit frequently used at summer camps is all about this, with everyone standing behind a sheet so only the shadows can be seen. There are several variations depending on who is performing it and where, but some include:
- The doctors (a normal stethoscope/lab coat doctor and a tribal witch-doctor) initially stated that neither had performed surgery before. It was clear that they had no idea what they were doing.
- The patient was knocked out by being hit over the head with a sledgehammer and woken up by being hit again.
- The chainsaw-as-surgical-instrument subtrope made an appearance.
- The doctors accidentally removed the patient's heart, which bounced around for a few seconds and then exploded.
- Despite the doctors making a huge mess and accomplishing nothing, the patient exclaimed, "I feel much better now!" at the end.
- The flash game Amateur Surgeon is based all around this since the main character is a Back-Alley Doctor with a talent for improvising. Why use a scalpel when you have a pizza cutter? Lighters can cauterize pretty well, can't they? Surely a Chainsaw would make for a perfect bonesaw, right?
- The Team Fortress 2 video Meet the Medic. Roughly half the video involves the RED Medic performing surgery on the Heavy, in a procedure involving a device (which, as it turns out, enables the ‹bercharge in-game) getting shoved onto Heavy's still-beating heart, said heart exploding and being replaced with a "Mega Baboon" heart, and Medic pushing the organ into the Heavy's chest cavity so hard he breaks off a rib. All while the Heavy is awake, mind you.
- Not to mention he allows his pet doves to roam the room during operations. Archimedes, pictured above, even likes to hang out inside patients' ribcages. The only thing the Medic finds objectionable about this is that "It's filthy in there!".
- Mind you, the Medic's nigh-magical Medigun, plus the Cartoon Physics of the Team Fortress 2 universe pretty much allows him to throw caution out the window.
- Even the opening Noodle Incident qualifies:
Medic: When the patient woke up, his skeleton was missing, and the doctor was never heard from again! [laughs] Anyway, that's how I lost my medical license.
- The Medic's idea of "proper surgical garb" is whatever he happens to be wearing at the time. In Meet The Medic, "surgical garb" is a sweater vest and shirt. Oddly enough, he only puts on a labcoat and gloves when he's preparing for battle.
- A non-comedic example occurs in FEAR 2: Project Origin, while Michael Beckett is undergoing surgery to awaken his Harbinger powers, he has a hallucination in which demonic creatures in surgical uniforms claw and hack at his flesh.
- Doctor Zed in Borderlands 2 asks the protagonists (crazy gun-toting badasses) to assist in an operation to mend a captured Hyperion engineer's lungs; asking the player to carefully make a small incision below the sternum. Pressing the button to "Perform surgery" causes you to stab the man in the chest with a pickaxe or punch his chest open.
Zed: Eh, close enough.
- He wasn't any better in the first game. The first time players see him, Zed's giving a malevolent look to a fellow how is either not long for the world or already expired...and his introduction pauses juuust as he's about to violently swing a buzz axe (a buzz saw cross bred with a fire axe, and the main weapon of the game's Psycho enemies) and carve his victim like an ugly, graying turkey. It's heavily implied that Zed's idea of general medical care isn't any better and outright explicit that he's not even a doctor, especially after he sends players out on a Fetch Quest to repair the medical vending machine.
Zed: Who needs a real doctor when you got my machines and their scary needles?
- The freeware Flash Dark Cut series features this trope as a deliberate Darker and Edgier version of Trauma Center. Pretty much every operation is a medieval, battlefield, or otherwise non-standard surgery center Played for Drama with lots of grit and blood and creepiness.
- The game Surgeon Simulator 2013 can be described as "QWOP gets his medical license". And it is just as darkly hilarious as it sounds.
- Fallout 3: When Vault 101's Mr. Handy is assigned to be the vault's doctor, he ends up amputating a patient's leg instead of treating their sprained big toe, killing her. In Point Lookout, the Lone Wanderer undergoes a lobotomy at the hands of a Back-Alley Doctor while under the influence of psychedelics.
- While helping Argyll, the Boomers' doctor in Fallout: New Vegas, a low-Intelligence character has the option to "CHOP CHOP CHOP" a patient, which saves them through "dumb luck".
- The Stroggification process in Quake IV includes the victim's legs being amputated with a giant buzzsaw, needles thrust into them from a full meter away and riveting of the new body parts not unlike what's seen at a car factory. The most vaguely hygienic part of it is the cauterization of these wounds. Nonetheless, it leaves Matthew Kane 40% faster and 25% tougher than when he came in, as well as capable of understanding the Wingdinglish that is the Strogg language.
- In Leisure Suit Larry 5, Passionate Patti gets this treatment with a drill during a Tracking Device implantation.
- Doctor Lollipop performs surgery on the raptor by having a woodsman perform the incision with an axe, and then kicking the raptor's Talking Animal filled belly.
- When Tavros in Homestuck gets bionic legs, the first step is removing his old ones. His friend Kanaya Maryam takes care of this. With her chainsaw.
- Used in Cow and Chicken for plastic surgery during a plastic surgery contest.
- Also used for amateur plastic surgery in the Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode "Super Model".
- Futurama — Professor Farnsworth decides the best way to carry out Bender's delicate gender reassignment is with a sledgehammer. Yeah, he's a robot, but a sledgehammer.
- This is also what happens when you see Zoidberg for treatment. Although it's shown that he's actually a very good doctor when it comes to Bizarre Alien Biology, it's just that, unfortunately, human anatomy is something he doesn't have nailed down just yet.
- He is however somewhat capable at reattaching severed limbs. Even if he was the one who severed them in the first place.
- Wilbur in The Rescuers Down Under is threatened with this by a group of mice, before he decides he feels fine and decides to check out early.
- Dr. Nick Riviera is basically the living avatar of this trope. He was once brought before a malpractice committee for over 100 heinous charges, including performing surgery with a knife and fork from a seafood restaurant ("But I cleaned them with my napkin!")
- Moe is also revealed to be an unlicensed and unhygienic surgeon in one episode.
- Kenny gets one of these in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, after his attempt to set his fart on fire literally backfires. They end up replacing his heart with a baked potato.
- Brain surgery involves drilling a hole in someone's head. The drill is pretty much the same as the one you use at home, just a little more fancy, and a lot more expensive. At least it looks and acts mostly the same.
- Amputating limbs is done with electric saw. It also looks and acts a lot like a regular hand tool.
- There's a reason why in times past, one common nickname for a doctor was "sawbones"
- A few prehistoric skulls have been found with trepanations, or holes cut through the skull. This was of course done with primitive implements, yet the bones show signs of long-term healing, which means the patient survived the surgery.
- Battlefield surgery until surprisingly recently could be like this. They would amputate with a saw and cauterize with a branding iron with no anesthetic other than rum and opium. Which wasn't always given.
- This is a popular myth, but not exactly based in historical fact. Ether was available as early as The American Civil War, and the use of forceps to tie off the blood vessels and arteries (invented, among other places, in Ancient Egypt) had been rediscovered in the 1600s - not that, of course, without the sterilisation of medical instruments being a given, it helped survival rates much. Battlefield surgery wasn't pretty, but it wasn't "biting the bullet" either. It was the recovery process in the hospitals that was more likely to kill you, actually, as you waited around to see if you got gangrene or not and tried not to catch anything from the sick and wounded people all around you.
- The removal of wisdom teeth involves a tool that looks very much like a stainless-steel chisel.
- Orthopedic surgery (in layman's terms, skeletal surgery) can appear this way, with the use of power tools, hand tools, and hardware similar to those seen in a workshop (although sterile and much more expensive), as well as the use of what appears to be strenuous amounts of physical pulling and tugging by surgical staff (to ensure proper alignment of joints and bones, etc.). For this reason, it is said that an orthopedic surgeon must be as strong as an ox, and TWICE as smart!
- Several appendectomies were performed on board US submarines during World War II by pharmacist's mates with improvised tools and textbooks.
- Self-appendectomies have also been performed in isolated places and with improvised tools, for example by a Russian doctor in Antarctica and an Australian soldier in the Philippines during WWII.