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Comically Inept Healing

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"HMOs: We like saving lives, but we don't get all freaky about it!"

The human body is a delicate thing, and when a person is injured or sick it's vital to give them proper care to aid healing. Or, you could just stick some leeches on their arm and hope for the best.

This trope occurs when someone attempts to perform medicine despite not having the faintest idea what they're doing, and only succeeds in making things worse. They often have rather... creative ideas about what constitutes medical aid. If you find yourself in the care of one of these people, run away quickly and don't look back.

Need not be an actual doctor: any obviously terrible attempt at healing counts.


May overlap with Snake Oil Salesman, Phony Degree and I Have No Idea What I'm Doing.



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     Anime and Manga  

  • One Piece
    • Dr. Hirluk is a well-intentioned quack who tries to heal people with frog livers.
    • When Nami is sick, Luffy suggests giving her all of the medicine they have to heal her.
    • Luffy also tries to help Zoro heal by pouring booze on his face, the idea being that Zoro likes booze and therefore can heal from it.
    • When Zoro's fighting the Humandrills, one of them gets slashed across the chest and tries to treat the wound by putting spittle over it. Even Zoro points out how useless this is.
    • Brook, being a skeleton, is under the impression that drinking milk makes him instantly healthy. At first, there's no reason to disbelieve him, since One Piece is full of crazy nonsense like that, but he's pretty clearly still in pain afterwards, despite what he tells himself.
  • Gamaran: While returning from his battle against the Tengen Ryuu Gama notices the gravity of the wound inflicted on his left arm and wonders if he can heal it with his saliva and proceeds to lick the wound. At this point Shimon Kudo steps him by telling him that he should visit a doctor instead.
  • Sailor Moon R episode 78 is focused on this trope. Minako is the only Senshi that avoids the flu it seems, so she goes to the other girls to help them. The trope is most significant when she visits Rei. She feeds her rice porridge with way too much salt, then spilled it on her, blasted her with unintentionally loud music and finally blows the boom box trying to stop it. This earned her a loud Get Out!. But at the end, karma bites back. Minako does get sick and now has to endure Usagi's turn at this trope.
  • Arcueid does this to herself in the Tsukihime manga. Since she didn't finish regenerating after Shiki cut her to pieces, she closed her wounds with packing tape and staples. Since her pain threshold is so high, she didn't even notice any real difference until Shiki cleaned her and patched her up with actual medical supplies.


  • The Far Side
    • One strip had a husband trying to practice home surgery on his wife using a Time-Life book and complaining that she's thrashing around too much.
    • The retrospective book The Prehistory of The Far Side had a bunch of comic sketches that were never submitted to newspapers for whatever reason. One of these had a bunch of doctors performing surgery. The head surgeon stops and says "Wow, halfway through the procedure and suddenly I'm drawing a complete blank. In fact, I think I'm an ice cream man."
  • Asterix in Switzerland: The Roman consul needs to get rid of a tax collector he poisoned, so he summons his personal doctors, which he claims are deadlier than a legion when united. When the doctors are first removed from their drunken orgy, then spend time arguing about who's the best suited for the operation, then suggest multiple contradictory treatments (one of which has "if the patient survives..." in the middle), you get his point. Thankfully the collector is "kept hostage" by the Gauls until Asterix comes back with the cure.
    • A similar situation happens in Asterix in India, where a group of the Sultan's doctors get together to cure Cacofonix, who's lost his voice (whch would in any other story be a blessing, but in this case they need him to sing). Their suggestions range from ineptly well-meaning to outright fatal (such as cutting his throat), before settling on soaking him overnight in a mix of elephant milk, stool and hair. It does nothing to cure him. Near the end, Asterix gives him some of the magic potion so he can help fight off the villains, and it clears up his voice right away.
  • The now-defunct Norwegian comic strip Riskhospitalet (a pun on the real-life 'Rikshospitalet', the National Hospital of Norway) was about nothing but this: The cast were all a series of idiots and anyone sent there was in serious risk of a medical mishap of some sort.

     Fan Works 
  • Played for Drama in Sick Little Ponies (And A Dragon). When Fluttershy gets sick, her mark magic causes all of her animal friends to try and treat her. In whatever way they'd tend to a member of their own species. All at the same time.
  • Played for Laughs in For Those We Cherish. Apothecary Memnon has no idea how to treat non-Astartes. When JNPR comes to him for help after Jaune gets injured, they spend most of their time telling him "No, Jaune does not have any of those organs you're talking about" and him working down his tools until he disregards his Narthecium entirely and eventually goes for an anesthetic needle that is as long as a human forearm and carries a dose for a Space Marine.
  • A truly terrifying example in The Dragon King's Temple. Over the course of the first several chapters, Zuko is getting progressively sicker and sicker from elemental deprivation. Toph and Zuko both know that the only thing that can save him is some time outside under Sun, but the SGC repeatedly refuse to understand that "let us see sunlight" is not a metaphor for feeling confined and refuse to allow Toph and Zuko outside. What truly pushes it over into this trope is that one of the reasons they are so adamant about not letting Zuko go outside is precisely because he's suffering from elemental deprivation and they don't want to risk exposing him to Terran diseases with a weakened immune system.
  • All Guardsmen Party: Due to the abnormal anatomy and physiology of Space Marines and the side-effects of Tyranid venom, Doc and Tink's attempts to administer first aid to Sergeant Gravis quickly devolves into this.

  • In Houseguest, Sinbad's character is posing as a man known as a top-notch dentist. At one point, some other dentists ask him to demonstrate his technique on a tooth extraction. He starts off by accidentally washing his hands with Novocaine, and things just go downhill from there. He does somehow manage to get the tooth out, though.


  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Gilderoy Lockheart attempts to heal Harry's broken arm with a spell but accidentally removes all of the bones in his arm instead.
  • In The Happy Return (the first Horatio Hornblower book), the ship's only surgeon is an unqualified and panicky assistant. Given that this is already 1803, this is bad news for wounded sailors. Lady Barbara takes over care of the wounded herself and is much more competent, providing better care and helpful suggestions.
  • The Guild of Barber-Surgeons in Discworld seem to mostly be this, at least until former Back-Alley Doctor Dr Lawn rises high enough in the profession to make some changes. In Feet of Clay, when Colon suggests calling a doctor in for Lord Vetinari, Vimes replies "Are you mad? We want him to live!" (which is why they call a veterinarian instead, more competent because the local mafia gets very angry when a racehorse dies).
    • Tolliver Groat of the Post Office sits somewhere between here and Worst Aid, all of it self-administered. Having a combination of hypochondria, a total lack of actual medical knowledge by even the lax standards of the Disc, and a total distrust of actual medical professionals, he does stuff like smear goose grease and bread pudding on his vest in ever-increasing layers and fill his trousers with two of the three ingredients for gunpowder. When he's eventually forced to see a real doctor, it's voiced that he's probably indestructible, given the sheer amount of medical malpractice/nonpractice he keeps applying to himself.
  • A serious example in the Collegium Chronicles. At this point in Valdemar's history first aid training is discouraged by many Healers, and as a result Amily's broken leg isn't properly immobilized by her rescuers. By the time a Healer sees her, the bones have knit back together the wrong way, leaving her lame.
  • Harry Harrison's Bill the Galactic Hero loses a couple of limbs in battle and the replacements aren't particularly satisfactory as they are scavenged pretty much at random from the voluminous piles of body parts left lying around. In particular, his left arm was shot off and they replaced it with a right arm.

     Live Action Television  

  • Our Miss Brooks: In "First Air Course", Miss Brooks purposely invokes this trope to avoid teaching the eponymous program.
  • The "Historical Paramedics" sketches on Horrible Histories feature 'paramedics' from different historical eras applying period remedies to modern day patients, and usually leaving the patients in a worse condition than when they started, to the horror of the patient and onlookers. Similar ideas are used in the "Historical Hospital" and "Historical Dentist" sketches.
  • Saturday Night Live had several sketches about "Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber'' (played by Steve Martin). He would order his patients to undergo bloodletting or some other medieval quackery, usually resulting in their disability or death.
  • In The Beverly Hillbillies Granny brings her mountain doctorin' with her to Beverly Hills. She dislikes the drugstore because it has no drugs in it, "they should call it a what-not shop." Her "rumatiz medicine" is just bootleg whiskey. She has an old mountain cure for the common cold which a drug conglomerate wants to buy until they find out it's just grain alcohol and the prescription is to drink it daily, get plenty of bed rest and additional fluids, and your cold will be "miraculously" cured in about a week.
  • Dr. Leo Spaceman from 30 Rock. Granted he generally is only used to write prescriptions anyway.
    Jack Donaghy: [wanting to wake a patient from a coma] Couldn't you just inject something directly into his heart?
    Dr. Spaceman: I'd love to, but we have no way of knowing where the heart is.
    • Liz briefly dated a doctor who was so handsome that everyone was nice to him and gave him a free pass. This meant he was painfully dumb and utterly incompetent at everything he attempted, but believed he was highly skilled and talented. His abilities as a doctor were never really demonstrated, but the fact he couldn't perform the Heimlich maneuver wasn't a good sign.
  • In Scrubs Doug is the worst intern ever, in fact he is so bad he makes the perfect coroner because he knows all the ways that a Doctor can screw up and kill someone.
    Doug: (examining a corpse) I'm betting he took a paracentesis needle to the aorta.
    Coroner: Have you seen this before?!
    Doug: Seen it? Upstairs they call that a 'Doug'!
  • Kids in the Hall Dave Foley's Bad Doctor admits to coasting on charm and referrals, and in another sketch removes Mark Mc Kinney's appendix and leaves him with a scar in the shape of a swastika, then orders the nurse to give him heroin.
    "It all started when I was a very bad science student"
    "How far can you coast on charm? Pretty far, actually."
    "I've just been named chief of surgery. Apparently I've logged more hours in the operating room than any other doctor at this hospital. What they failed to notice is that it's all been with the same patient."
    "I have to go tell the family the patient didn't make it. It's the hardest part about being a doctor (chuckles) I think!!

     Tabletop Games  

  • Warhammer40000:
    • The closest thing Orks have to doctors are mad-docs, who frequently experiment on their patients. These range from having weapons grafted on to having your brain swapped with a squig's. Orks are so tough that it's really all they need; they can even recover from decapitation if somebody staples their head back on within a few hours.
    • In Dark Heresy, your own character can be this, if you attempt a Medicae check and roll poorly. You'll suffer an additional penalty for working on Xenos, unless they are Orks. With Orks you get a bonus, because they are so tough you can't possibly make the injury worse.... Orks, expecting a mad-doc, will only seek medical treatment when they have no other choice.


  • The Medic in Team Fortress 2 was a licensed doctor... before he does a malpractice in which his patient's skeleton went missing. Fortunately, he still is ridiculously effective at it regardless, most likely thanks to his healing beam medigun. Other media plays this in an odd way: he is actually a stunningly competent physician, but he's also a Mad Scientist. He could use standard methods, but he'd rather start grafting animal parts into the patient's body and see what happens.
  • Implied in the Mystery Case Files title Escape From Ravenhearst, in which an animatronic figure representing a Mad Doctor spouts off disturbing statements while acting out the part of surgeon in a creepy hospital diorama. One of his lines is "I should have gone to medical school...".
  • In RimWorld, survivors have a Medic stat that determines how effective they are at treating one another's injuries. Poorly-treated wounds may produce permanent scars, impairing a character's abilities and making the affected body part more vulnerable to future damage.
  • Surgeon Simulator 2013 is built on this trope. In this game you perform surgery with intentionally awkward and clumsy controls, lots of inappropriate tools and very vague instructions about what you are actually supposed to do. The win conditions are also rather lax: A heart transplant counts as successful the moment the new heart is placed somewhere in the chest cavity even though the patients other vital organs are laying on the ground and the patient is seconds before bleeding out.
  • In Card Hunter, there is a low level healing spell called "Misguided Heal" the spell does two damage to your adventurer before healing the character for four gaining a net heal of 2. Useful if combined with armor. With the mail armor in game you can get four health instead of two due to the two initial damage being preventable with armor. Since the damage is applied first (and the healing isn't applied if the target dies) you can also use it as an improvised 2-damage attack.
  • Deliberately implemented in Dwarf Fortress when a dorf's Diagnostic skill is ridiculously low. The now-iconic example from the forums involved an infected cut being misdiagnosed as rotting lungs, and the "afflicted" organs duly amputated. Tragically, the patient didn't survive.

     Web Animation  

  • Ultra Fast Pony: In "Reading to Rainbow", Rainbow Dash is hospitalized for a broken wing. The doctor who treats her is so inept that the rest of the cast has to ask him if he's sure he's actually a doctor.
    Doctor: [examining an x-ray print] I'm afraid it doesn't look good. I tried connecting the dots, but they're not numbered. And without numbers, it's just chaos. Total chaos. I'm sorry, Rainbow Dash, but we're going to have to amputate your flappy things.
  • Red vs. Blue has Doc, who has endorsed CPR as a valid treatment for a bullet to the head, treated a shot foot by rubbing his neck with some aloe vera.
  • In The Grossery Gang webseries arc "Get Well Spewn", the cures that Rocky, Meathead, and Fingers try and use to help a cold-affected Pizza Face are this. These include a dunking in molten hot sauce, a slushie-and-sour-milk concoction poured through his nostrils, and attempting to roll him up to squeeze all his snot out.

     Web Comics  

  • Navaan in Oglaf claims to be a doctor, but her healing methods include such questionable practices as putting an acorn in the stump of an amputated limb and stuffing it with dirt, which she thinks will grow a new limb.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal provides the page image, along with a number of other "fake doctor" and "bad doctor" strips.
  • In The Order of the Stick Elan is called to heal an injured crewmember of an airship. The process of healing looks like hilarious quackery. Subverted in that Elan is a D&D bard and thus has some actual healing powers, if of lower potency than those of a cleric.
  • Isabella from Paranatural notices a cut on teammate Issac's face and tackles him to the ground so that she can "help" him. She succeeds in wrapping his entire head in bandages like a mummy.
  • Discussed concerning Mikkel in Stand Still, Stay Silent. After having the latest work of the team's self-taught runic magic practitioner spontaneously catch fire in his pocket, shortly followed by the practioner in question going into trance along with the team's official mage, Emil turns to fellow Flat-Earth Atheist Mikkel for a little support in his currently shaken belief that magic is not real. Mikkel turns out to actually be in the same place as Emil ever since he worked alongside a Norwegian healing-oriented mage and noticed that her patients recovered as fast as his own. They both realize that the alternate explanation to magic being real is that Mikkel is actually lousy as a medic, which would be an uncomfortable truth as well.
  • In Rusty and Co., the gnoll cleric, who favors operating with construction tools.
  • Nearly everything about the Awful least for human beings.

     Western Animation  

  • Dr. Zoidberg of Futurama is supposedly an expert in alien medicine. Unfortunately, most of his patients are human, and he has repeatedly been shown to have virtually no working knowledge of human biology. Several years of "healing" the crew later and we get a line stating his doctorate is in art history. One episode shows that his name has become a byword in the medical community for absolute mind-boggling malpractice.
    • One notable example comes from "The Tip of the Zoidberg", where he spectacularly fails to heal the crew's ailments before they go to an "actual doctor" that successfully cures them.
    Zoidberg: Now open your mouth and lets have a look at that brain. No, no the other mouth.
    Fry: I only have one.
    Zoidberg: Really?
  • The Simpsons:
    • Dr Nick Riviera ("Hi, Doctor Nick!") is an amoral quack who'll show up at any medical emergency, sometimes pursued by angry former patients.
    Hospital intercom: Dr Nick Riviera, the coroner would like to see you. Dr Nick Riviera...
    Dr Nick Riviera: The coroner? I'm so sick of that guy!
    • Played with in the case of Dr. Hibbert, who is the Simpsons' normally competent family doctor. However, in Trilogy of Error, when Homer accidentally gets one of his thumbs cut off, Hibbert suggests that the other thumb should get cut off for "a sense of symmetry". Marge and Homer are then immediately seen driving away from Hibbert's office. This one is less about Hibbert specifically and more of a knock at HMOs; Homer, only having finger insurance, isn't covered for thumbs.
    Marge: Hibbert's really losing it. We're going to Dr. Nick's.
  • Doctor Vindaloo, a recurring bit character on Courage the Cowardly Dog, has a doctorate hanging on his wall that actually reads "Quack" on it. His appearances usually consist of making a bleak and outlandish diagnosis, before reassuring the patient:
    "There is nothink to worry about. Nothink at ohl... but there is nothink I can do."
  • When SpongeBob SquarePants gets the Suds, he at first calls Sandy to take him to the doctor, but then he gets scared by Patrick's horror stories about the doctor's office. He asks Patrick to cure him instead, but his "cures" - which include plugging up his pores, putting seanut butter and bread on his foot, pulling out his tooth, jumping on him, putting a very large bandage on him, and even medieval torture - only makes things worse.
  • Dr. Krieger on Archer is a subversion of this. He apparently isn't a real doctor (it seems his first name is actually "Doctor"), has no real concept of human anatomy and mostly performs highly questionable "mad science" under non-sterile conditions, but somehow usually ends up healing his patients and even making them better than they were before.
  • Dan Vs.: In "Dan Vs. The Animal Shelter", two hospital orderlies mention offhand that only the patients with really good insurance get examined by a real doctor—everyone else just sees an actor dressed as a doctor. This becomes a Chekhov's Gag when, at the end, Dan gets his face badly scratched by a cat and has to go to the hospital:
    Doctor: Okay, let's get those pants off.
    Dan: Um, I'm here about my face being all scratched.
    Doctor: [chuckles] Oh, don't worry. I'm not a doctor.
    [Scare Chord. Episode ends.]
  • Lilo & Stitch: The Series: In the episode "Poxy", Pleakley gets a bizarre illness. When he tells Lilo and Stitch about it, their response is to attempt to "operate" on Pleakley - in Stitch's case, by way of a chainsaw.
  • Buddy Thunderstruck: Roby attempts to fake an injury at a truck stop in order to sue, but unfortunately for him, Buddy is under the impression that he can fix a broken back with Heimlich; and then what he actually does is attempt to perform CPR instead.
  • Disenchantment: A health spa tries to cure drinking spoiled water by irritating the patient back to health, by having him tortured for twenty-four hours by a jerkass. Afterwards, the spa attendant admits that the cure could just be the passage of time.


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