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Mistaken for Dying

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C-3PO: "Listen to them, they're dying, R2! Curse my metal body, I wasn't fast enough...It's all my fault! My poor master..."
Luke: "We're alright! You did great!"
— ''A New Hope"

One character mistakenly thinks that another is terminally ill, whether as the result of an amateur diagnosis, a File Mixup in the hospital, or something else. In such a case, the characters may feel like they have to be especially nice to the "dying" person, or they may attempt to "cure" them somehow.

Usually the supposedly dying character has no idea what is going on. The other character(s) may avoid telling them because just talking about the terminal illness might kill the poor victim from "shock". Alternatively, the "dying" character might take advantage of the situation, leading to an inevitable comeuppance once his friends discover the truth.

Another example is when the focus character mistakenly believes himself to be dying. As a result, he decides to take suicidally risky dares in order to go out in a blaze of glory (and, in some cases, to avoid the ravages of the imagined disease). Often times, the other characters tell him in the midst of one of the dares that he is in perfect health. His flash of relief is immediately replaced with mortal terror as he realizes that he has unnecessarily placed himself in mortal danger and has to be rescued. This variant might overlap with Baffled by Own Biology.

In comedic versions, the "blaze of glory" will include giving vent to long-repressed opinions, quitting a hated job, and the like, forcing the character to eat crow when it turns out that he'll have to live with the consequences after all.

Compare Disney Death, Last Day to Live, Hypochondria, Mistaken for Undead, No Longer with Us, and Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated. Can overlap with Gassy Scare. Contrast with Secretly Dying.

Not to be confused with Mistaken for Dyed.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • A well played/comical version of this was on High School Girls when the "Dying" person thought her friends were helping her audition for a role and played along with it! This was subject to a Snap Back at the end with a spot of Lampshade Hanging in the next episode: "Weren't you dying of a terminal illness?"
  • Manga subversion: The manga version of Excel♡Saga had Iwata (a subversion of the Sentai Hero) go through this trope in one chapter, which ended by revealing that his doctor (and Sitcom Arch-Nemesis) had faked his diagnosis. The next chapter started with the team's mentor Kabapu announcing that Iwata had died; the doctor had only exaggerated the symptoms to try to get the case into a medical journal. (Of course, Iwata was only mostly dead; they save his brain and turn him into an Artificial Human — after sticking it into the body of the Robot Girl for a few chapters...)
  • A central theme of one episode of Macross 7, though in this case the "victim", Miriya, is convinced that she's dying due to a diagnosis from Doctor Chiba, and spends the episode completing her "last objectives". In the end, it turns out she has the flu. Though why she believed the medical diagnosis of a doctor whose primary specialty is giant speakers mounted on jet fighters...
  • This was a plot of one episode of Inuyasha, when the group believed Miroku's teacher when he said was about to die, after one of the characters saw him coughing up blood (he was actually choking on a sharp fishbone, not suffering from a terminal illness). They only learn at the end that he simply thought he was going to be the next in a string of murdered monks. Of course, he had nothing to worry about, but this didn't stop him from getting his house cleaned up, dinner at an expensive inn, and sake from a deathtrap mountain, and so on, as his dying wishes.
  • Used as a filler episode in One Piece. The old guy was diagnosed with a fatal heart condition by the crew's resident doctor and everyone joined in to make his last days more comfortable. He ended up having so much fun that he got better, somehow... Although the end of the mini-arc strongly implies that he died soon after helping the Straw Hats break through a Marine blockade.
  • This happens with Gloria in episode 9 of Daphne in the Brilliant Blue - after a group check-up the cast believes she has advanced terminal cancer that will kill her in a week, but in the end it turns out to have been caused by a series of coincidences.
  • In the last fight between Haku, Sasuke and Naruto, Sasuke was beaten up so hard by Haku that he was aswoon for the most of the fight while Naruto thought that he actually died.
  • One episode of My Bride is a Mermaid has both types of this trope. Kai tries to hide the fact that he has a pimple on his butt, and out-of-context dialogue from his doctor leads to his friends assuming that he's been stricken with a terminal illness. All of his friends then proceed to act nice to him, confusing him until they drop the bomb that they know he's going to die. Amusingly enough, he actually is convinced that he will die, and this enables him to briefly get over his debilitating phobia of wide-open areas to have a final man-to-man showdown with Nagasumi and seemingly die happily. And then everything goes back to normal the next day.
  • In an inversion, Tai from Digimon Adventure thinks he can't die while in the digital world because it's not really him. After crossing a deadly barrier without worry, it gets explained to him that he can, leading to his freak out when trying to get back out.
  • In a less deadly showing of this trope, a filler episode of Hayate the Combat Butler, the characters think Yukiji is going to quit as a teacher and they make an effort to show that they're interested in keeping her around. Played with since the note that'd been found was actually Makimura's given to Yukiji as a carrier, and she eventually decided to stick around.
  • Sharon in A Cruel God Reigns. Greg lies to Jeremy, telling him he shot Sharon in the woods. He did threaten and chase her off, but did not kill her.
  • In one chapter of Sgt. Frog, Keroro mysteriously falls ill will a disease unknown to the Keronians that leaves him exhausted to the point of being bedridden, and several characters are worried this strange disease may actually kill him. Turns out the "unknown disease" was heat-stroke (Keron is very humid, and the Keronians are used to a climate-controlled environment quite unlike Japan's dry summers). All Keroro needed was to eat some star-fruit and get some rest.
  • In The Seven Deadly Sins, King Baltra Liones is bedridden with terrible pains, and everyone assumes he has a life threatening illness. He is eventually healed with magic, but it turns out what he was suffering from was a stomach ulcer.

    Comic Books 
  • In Joker's Last Laugh, a doctor fakes a medical report to con The Joker into believing that he's dying. The doctor hopes to "scare him straight". Instead, the Joker goes on a final rampage of such hideous scope that it becomes a Crisis Crossover.
  • Once during an early run with The Defenders, Doctor Strange had to make an emergency out-of-body trip without time to warn anyone. Both the bad guys and his teammates mistook his deep trance state for death.
  • The 2019 miniseries G.I. Joe: Sierra Muerte (unrelated to the contemporary ongoing) has Cobra Commander believe that he is terminally ill. When he gloats about the Joes not being able to punish him for his crimes because of the inherently hollow victory in sentencing a dying man to prison at the end of the miniseries, he is in for a rude awakening when he is informed that he just has the flu.

    Fan Works 
  • Played for Laughs in Shadow the Hedgehog - First Class when Shadow momentarily believes Professor Robotnik is dying to due the poor wording of a sentimental speech.
    Shadow: Professor? You said 'before you go', does that mean... are you...? Isn't... isn't there anything you can do-?
    Robotnik: Something I can... Shadow, what? I'm going to a science conference in Apotos, for goodness sake, I am not dying.
    Shadow: ...Oh.
  • In Unplanned, Sarada worries that her mother is dying because Sakura's been seeming sickly lately and her father Sasuke is home more than usual. Sakura's not sick, just pregnant.
  • In Chapter 25 of The Command Quarters, Starscream is told by a medic that he has an obstructed spark chamber, and thus has only a few days left to live. It turns out that the medic accidentally smeared an energon goodie on the scan, and Starscream is fine - unfortunately for him, he doesn't learn this until after he's had sex with Megatron.
  • In the Encanto fanfic Reflections in a Cloudy Sky, Bruno misinterprets a vision and believes Camilo (who had been sick) is dying. However, because he cut the vision off early, he didn't get the full picture, and Camilo recovers by the end of the story.

    Films — Animated 
  • Kung Fu Panda: Po is horrified when it looks like Shifu is dying from injuries inflicted in his battle with Tai Lung... until Shifu snaps "I'm not dying, you idiot!"
  • Pooh's Grand Adventure: When Pooh's friends are separated from him and are chased by the "Skullasaurus" and hear him screaming, they are led to believe he was eaten by the monster.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Short Time, a forgotten 1990 comedy with Dabney Coleman and Matt Frewer, hinges on an occurrence of this trope. Coleman plays a risk-conscious cop who has the results of his physical switched with another patient and is told he is dying. Coleman wants his son to go to college so he plans to get himself killed in the line of duty and his family can collect on insurance. But he only has three days left before retirement, so he has to work fast.
  • Another example comes from the 1990 Tom Hanks film Joe Versus the Volcano, where the titular Joe is willing to be sacrificed to a volcano god because he thinks he's got a fatal "Brain Cloud."
    • Lampshaded. "You didn't get a second opinion about something your doctor called a BRAIN CLOUD?"
    • This inspired the 1991 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episode "Raphael vs. The Volcano," where a misunderstood overheard conversation leads Raphael to believe he's dying. He takes on especially dangerous crimefighting endeavors without the other Turtles since (he thinks) he has nothing to lose.
  • The 2006 film Last Holiday starring Queen Latifah, which in turn is a remake of the 1950 film starring Sir Alec Guinness.
  • This bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
    "Oh sweet Concord, you shall not have died in vain!"
    "Um, I not quite dead Sir..."
    "Well... Then you shall not have been mortally wounded in vain!"
    "I think I'm going to pull though, Sir."
    • This is a Running Gag throughout the film, brazenly subverted in the Castle in the Swamp scene when Prince Herbert's father orders the bride's father killed after he shows signs of "getting better".
  • A variation in Almost Famous: it appears that the band's plane will crash, resulting in an outpouring of everyone's emotions and secrets. The last guy to talk simply shouts "I'm gay!" Then the plane stops shaking.
  • In Killing Emmett Young (also known as Emmett's Mark), Emmett is given a false diagnosis of a fatal illness, which causes him to put more effort into his work as a detective, as he figures that this will be his last case.
  • Happens in Eat Drink Man Woman, when Jia-Chien sees her father coming out of the hospital's cardiac department and thinks he has heart problems.
  • In Lethal Weapon 2, Riggs is shot multiple times. After taking care of the Big Bad, Murtaugh goes to where Riggs is lying in a pool of his own blood, complete with "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" playing in the background. The following conversation ensues:
    Murtaugh: You are not dead until I tell you! You got that, Riggs?
    Riggs: Hey, Rog, *cough* could you reach into my pocket there?
    Murtaugh: *pulls out a pack of cigarrettes and offers one to Riggs* Here you go.
    Riggs: I... I want you to throw those things away; those things will kill you.
  • The premise behind Send me no flowers, a 1964 Rock Hudson/Doris Day comedic vehicle. Hudson's character believes he has only two weeks to live and decides his wife would not be able to function without a man in her life, so he devotes his remaining time to finding her a new one.
  • In Never Say Die John Kidley (Bob Hope) mistakenly believes he has a terminal illness and marries Mickey Hawkins (Martha Raye) in order to protect his fortune from a black widow.
  • Casino Royale (1967) - Agent Mimi (Deborah Kerr), after her Heel–Face Turn, helps Sir James Bond (David Niven) and gets injured. She goes on in a melodramatic dying scene fashion and requests a last kiss.
    Sir James: Madam! Are you quite sure you're dying?
    Mimi: Not dying... but giving up my life. I'm going to another world!... There's a convent over that hill!
  • Nothing Sacred is about Hazel Flagg, a Country Mouse from Vermont made into a New York celebrity by reporters exploiting a mistaken diagnosis of terminal radium poisoning.
  • The Jerry Lewis movie Hook, Line and Sinker, Peter Ingersoll (Lewis) is told by his doctor that he's dying and he should go on the insanely expensive around the world deep sea fishing trip he always wanted. He'll be dead when the bills are due and a simple notice in the papers will save his wife from the debt. Turns out the doctor is having an affair with Lewis' wife and did this get rid of him, figuring that by the time he finds out he won't be able to come back because of all the debt. Lewis exacts a wacky revenge plot.
  • Annie from Little Annie Rooney volunteers to help in a blood transfusion. She thinks this means she will die, so she writes a will and gives her goodbyes. It isn't until right before the procedure that she learns that she isn't undergoing a Heroic Sacrifice after all.
  • Downplayed in When the Last Sword Is Drawn. The film kicks off with Saitō Hajime bringing his grandson to Chiaki Ono's doctor's office in the middle of the night with a fever that won't go down. Near the end of the film, Chiaki's wife Yoshimura Shizu assures him the illness isn't serious and it's safe to take the boy home.
  • In Little Hare (available here) a meek loser overhears his doctor explaining to a janitor her pet's diagnosis and believes he has one month to live. He re-evaluates his life, decides to somehow leave his mark on the world, grows a backbone and becomes an activist. He encourages his neighbours to beautify their district, he coerces his supervisor to behave, he forces civil servants to do their job... After learning he's not going to die, he retains his newfound courage and even chides the narrator for being unceremonious.

  • In A Brother's Price, when it is announced that Jerin will leave, his youngest sister says, she doesn't want him to go away "just like papa did" ... and is explained that her father died, while Jerin will eventually come back for a visit once he's married.
  • In the story The Adventure of the Dying Detective (in the collection His Last Bow), Sherlock Holmes fakes having a terminal disease in order to lure the villain into a trap, but because he doesn't trust anyone's acting ability but his own, he deceives not only the villain but everyone else as well.
  • During a later part of The Belgariad, Garion's cousin Adara gets shot with an arrow; on her deathbed, she reveals to prince Hettar how she always loved him and now they'll never be together... until he points out that she was actually only lightly wounded and isn't going to die at all. She's understandably embarrassed and wants to run away and hide, but Hettar's having none of that. Ah, love...
  • In L. M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle, the protagonist is told incorrectly that she has a fatal heart condition, and likely won't live a year. This leads to her saying what she thinks without regard for what her (overly judgemental) family thinks of her, taking a job caring for a "ruined", dying girl, and marrying the town's mysterious ne'er-do-well.
  • A similar example to The Blue Castle is Rita Mae Brown's Venus Envy. The heroine, thinking that she's dying of lung cancer, writes letters to everyone she knows telling them exactly what she thinks of them (which, in many cases, is not nice). Furthermore, she comes out to everyone who didn't already know. Turns out that it was pneumonia, not lung cancer...and, by the time everyone's gotten their letters, she's recovering.
  • In Millicent Min, Girl Genius, the main character overhears her mother throwing up in the bathroom, regularly, and other similar symptoms. Being a genius, she deduces that her mother has terminal brain cancer, and does not share her findings with anyone - and (happily) eats humble pie when it turns out her mother is actually pregnant.
  • In ''Blood Pact'', Colonel-Commissar Gaunt is convinced Ayatani Zweil is dying of blood cancer. In reality, it's Tolin Dorden who is dying. Zweil just switched the labels on their test samples out of mischief, because he was convinced both of them were perfectly healthy and didn't need to waste time on routine medical exams.
  • One of the Don Camillo stories has Peppone, who's been feeling poorly for a while, getting X-rays done. Unbeknownst to him (and everyone else), there's a mix-up and he ends up getting told he has two months to live. He faces death with dignity, and the conversation he has with Don Camillo before leaving for the sanatorium is probably one of the most sincere and genuine in the 300+ stories. (He comes back two days later healthier than ever and they're soon back on their regular snark.)
  • At the end of "Fool Moon" Harry Dresden, believing that Murphy shot him, forgives her generously and is well into the "I'm Cold... So Cold..." routine before she disillusions him. She was shooting at the man behind him, and there's a cold front coming.
  • In The Accursed Kings, the cardinals are locked up by the French royal family to expediate the Conclave, with living conditions meant to worsen every day until a new Pope is elected. Cardinal Dueze uses this trope as a Wounded Gazelle Gambit, so the other Cardinals elect him in hopes of holding a new Conclave on their own terms soon. He immediately recovers his health and rules Christendom as John XXII for 18 years.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Happened in The Adventures of Lano and Woodley , in the episode "One Simple Task". Col and Frank were planning a trip, but Frank forgot to book a spot at the caravan park. Frank invents all sorts of outlandish stalling methods while he frantically tries to get a spot. During one conversation, the caravan park tells Frank they'd have a spot in a week, causing Frank to protest that "in a week he'd be dead". Cue Col, who overheard the last part.
  • Due to Dr. Fishman's poor choice of words, this has happened many times on Arrested Development. Lucille gets so frustated by this that at one point she has to be held back from attacking Dr. Fishman.
  • Benson did this twice:
    • One episode has Kraus think she's dying after overhearing a conversation between Benson and her doctor. They were actually talking about a horse the doctor owned who was on her last legs.
    • Benson would later visit a female doctor who he displays romantic feelings for. She calls him up and tells he they need to talk about something serious. Benson thinks she's discovered something wrong with him and his days are numbered. She's just trying to tell him that she's married and can't start a relationship with him.
  • In the Broad City episode "Fattest Asses," Abbi has an opportunity to be a trainer, but gives it up to a skinny, coughing, bald woman who always wanted to teach a class. It turns out she doesn't really have cancer - she shaved her head to raise awareness of her band.
  • In an episode of El Chavo del ocho, La Chilindrina is trying to set up a surprise party for Don Ramón, who's forgotten his birthday, asking for help from Quico, Doña Florinda and Doña Clotilde. However, due to el Chavo's Out-of-Context Eavesdropping, they assume they mean Don Ramón is ill and going to die, and later that they plan to Mercy Kill him to spare him of the agony.
  • In Childrens Hospital, Lola wants to break up with Owen, so she tells him she has a brain tumor. He freaks out and vows to find a cure. Realizing what went wrong with her "cunning plan" Lola tries too tell him the truth, but Owen insists that every denial is "just the brain tumor talking."
  • Doc: In "Captain Supremo: Have Tights, Will Travel", the titular children's entertainer collapses in the middle of a show at the hospital. However, he refuses to wait around for Clint to give him the test results, and by the time the doctor tracks him down, he's begun trying to act as a real superhero. He has a family history of a terrible brain disease and wants to die on his own terms. When he ends up in the hospital with a gunshot wound, Clint finally gets a chance to tell him that he doesn't have any signs of the disease; his symptoms were caused by untreated diabetes, which has a much better prognosis.
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries: In "Mortal Coil", Lucien self-diagnoses his symptoms as possibly being cirrhosis of the liver and starts making preparations for his possible demise. However, when he eventually gets blood tests done, it turns out to be the far less serious (and more treatable) hepatitis, which has similar symptoms, combined with additional symptoms from his attempt to quit drinking.
  • On Frasier, Daphne thinks Martin is dying, when he's just starring in a nativity play.
    • And in the last episode, everyone thinks Frasier is dying, when he's just moving to San Francisco. Done quite well; rather than an offhand remark everybody misconstrues, it begins when Frasier claims he went to the doctor to cover for missing a day's work, then later goes to the doctor (without telling anyone why, as he's embarrassed) to have botox, but the procedure gets mixed up and makes his eyes water constantly like he's crying. He gathers his friends (to tell them he's moving, but they don't know that) and gives some prized possessions away. Even then they are reluctant to jump to the obvious conclusion, but a message gets left on Frasier's answering machine that they all can hear which speaks of his medical results (from the Botox, but they don't know that) "not looking good." Followed by Frasier announcing his move to San Francisco in this way, "We all knew we weren't going to stay together forever. I mean, that's not what life is about. Cry, if you must, but I assure you, when I pass through that Golden Gate I will be smiling!"
  • Gilligan's Island: In "Gilligan Gets Bugged", the other Castaways think Gilligan was bitten by a deadly bug. They initially try to throw him a party to make his last day more pleasant, but that fails when all of them start breaking down and walk away from the table while he's trying to light the candles. Later, the Professor discovers that there's an antidote and everyone starts hunting for ingredients. It turns out the bug was harmless.
  • Harrow: In "Parce Sepulto" ("Forgive the Dead"), the Victim of the Week is a health blogger who believes she was cured of cancer by a miracle mineral supplement. However, she had never actually had cancer. She had self-diagnosed as having the cancer after she experienced similar symptoms to her mother and brother, who had both died of a rare form of cancer. When she actually went to get a formal diagnosis, her manager intercepted the letter informing her that she did not have cancer, as they were making too much money promoting the supplement.
  • Hey Dude! also did the die-if-he-goes-to-sleep variant, with the cast accidentally overhearing a conversation with a doctor - a doctor that turned out to be a veterinarian diagnosing a horse (which also led to them throwing a party with mashed carrots and oats in the snack bowls).
  • A purposeful mixup of checkup patients in Hogan's Heroes makes Klink think Schultz has a few days to live, when really he's just going on leave for the weekend.
    Schultz: I wish you were going with me!
    Klink: [pained] I probably deserved that...
  • In the episode "Half-Wit" of House everyone thinks that House is dying of brain cancer, and it actually looks like he is for most of the episode. However, by episode's end, everyone discovers that House was just faking having cancer so he could get high off of the powerful drugs cancer patients are given.
  • On Inside George Webley, George thinks he is dying after swallowing a prune stone in "Get Well Soon", while Dr. Horniman doesn't do much to reassure him on the matter.
  • On It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Charlie tells Dennis he has cancer, hoping that the news will make its way to the waitress he has a crush on, who he has seen wearing a Livestrong bracelet. Unfortunately for Charlie, she instead feels sorry for Dennis because his friend is dying, and they end up sleeping together.
  • The Love Boat: A real tearjerker. A boy and his grandmother go on the cruise. A twelve-year-old boy had a month before overheard that a conversation between his parents, thinking they're talking about the fact that his beloved grandmother is terminally ill . . . his father told his mother nothing can be done. The boy confesses to Dr. Bricker how upset he was about his grandmother dying. But this isn't the case. The boy's grandmother confesses to Dr. Bricker, after what the boy talking to her about death . . . the grandmother thought the boy may have heard something he shouldn't have. It turns out the grandmother wasn't mortally ill, the boy was dying and he didn't know it. Dr. Bricker's face as the boy and his grandmother left at episode's end said it all.
  • In the Made in Canada Series 2 opener, "The Merger", Pyramid CEO Alan Roy's daughter Siobhan drops in on him at the health spa he has been visiting and finds him with an IV drip in his arm; she later overhears him asking a doctor how long he has, and being told, "Two, maybe three months." This, coupled with Alan talking of wanting to step down as head of Pyramid and return to directing films or going on a world cruise, leads Siobhan and several other characters to assume he is dying. However, it later emerges that he is planning to step down due to a pending merger, while the doctor was referring to the fact that Alan's body is rejecting his new pectoral implants.
  • Parodied on Newhart, when Dick stars as the father in Stephanie's short-lived sitcom. Stephanie (playing twins) overhears him saying: "Tonight, I am going to hair."
  • Happens less than you might think on On the Buses. One example is in Bye Bye Blakey, where Stan overhears Blakey discussing his plans to leave his job, and believes he is dying instead. As you do in these situations in Sitcomland.
  • Our Miss Brooks: The episode "Have Bed - Will Travel" sees Mrs Davis' medical records mixed with an ill nonagenarian friend, making Miss Brooks believe her landlady is mortally ill. Mrs. Davis is also given the wrong diagnosis by her doctor, although heartwarmingly she chooses to keep it to herself. Mrs. Davis doesn't realize Miss Brooks has found out.
  • On Parks and Recreation, in one episode Andy tells April that Jerry is dying as a last-second lie to cover up a secret, leading to April being abnormally friendly to Gerry and doing nice things for him until she finds out the truth.
  • In the second "era" of Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie, Alice has a scooter accident at the start of an episode and has to spend most of it in a hospital with her leg in a cast. At some point, her doctor gets her file mixed up with that of a cancer patient, and tells Marlène and Laurence (her next-of-kin) that she's not long for this world. Them taking it badly is both Played for Laughs and for drama.
  • Happens to Sixth Ranger Zhane in an episode of Power Rangers in Space. Being frozen for two years messed up his powers, and he can only stay in morph for two and a half minutes—obviously, the other Rangers' eavesdropping didn't last long enough to catch that part - only about it not looking good, and Zhane not having much time. Zhane actually hears them discussing his impending death, and decides to have some fun with it. Unlike the subsequent season, when Andros himself refers to Kendrix's Heroic Sacrifice as if it were of her powers rather than her life, the word 'dying' is used twice in the episode. Something very similar happens in the Japanese version, Denji Sentai Megaranger when Kenta and Miku overhear Yuusaku talking with his doctor and mistakenly think he is dying. Unlike in the American version, Yuusaku doesn't initially realize what is going on and thinks that Kenta and Miku are just acting weird. Yuusaku is them seemingly killed in battle when a monster tries to take advantage of his inability to transform for long, but then he turns out to be alive and reveals he was actually talking to the doctor about fixing that weakness.
  • Psych did this in its eighth season. Shawn, Gus, and Juliet think Lassiter is dying when he becomes too scared to do his job, takes out a new life insurance policy, and starts seeing a doctor to have himself checked out. The real reason for Lassiter's change in behavior is he just found out his wife is pregnant.
  • Red Dwarf: The episode "M-Corp" has Lister injected with a health monitoring chip that updates him on when he's going to die. The chip, upon encountering a serious arterial blockage, tells Lister he's about to die in five seconds... and then promptly shorts out with Lister none worse for the wear. Kryten believes that the chip was confusing its own death date for Lister's.
  • A Sanford and Son episode has the "being extra nice to the 'dying' person" version when Lamont overhears Fred's doctor telling him he "has six months left" (to pay his bill) and jumps to the wrong conclusion.
  • A Scrubs episode inverts this trope when a doctor has to tell a patient he's terminal, but the patient is oblivious to euphemisms.
  • Stargate Atlantis: Rodney McKay is immune to a nanite virus, but neither he nor those he's quarantined with know that.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Body Parts", Quark thought that he had a fatal disease from a doctor on his homeworld so like all Ferengi, he arranged to sell his desiccated remains. It turns out that the doctor was wrong. The really funny part of that one was Quark's reaction to the misdiagnosis: "This means I get to sue the doctor for malpractice!... And I'm going to live!" Unfortunately, the "buyer" demands to collect Quark's remains in 6 days, whether he's dead or not.
  • Penultimate episode of Star Trek: Voyager gives us the Doc's "final speech": Thinking he's dying, he apologizes in excruciating detail for every wrong he's ever done, even those no one knows about. Only of course it turns out he's fine. Yikes.
  • A sketch on That Mitchell and Webb Look, where an Edwardian gentleman meets his girlfriend at a train station but coughs "What's the matter dear?" "Oh, it's just a cough". Repeat around three times, gradually getting more weak and feeble, then one day he's not at the station! Oh, no, he's just a bit late and he feels much better... but the girl was only going out with him because she thought he had TB.
    Woman: I wish I hadn't let you do me now.
    Man: Charming.
  • An episode of Titus featured Christopher and his father both believing that the other was dying. (The were both lied to by Christopher's fiance so that they would spend time together.)
    • An earlier episode had Christopher and his friends thinking his father was already dead, and having an impromptu wake/roast until dear old Dad showed up to berate him in the episode's final minutes.
      • Hilariously, that's the pilot.
  • On Who's the Boss?, Tony's father-in-law is trying to admit to Tony that he is going to jail, but he can't bring himself to say the word jail. Tony thinks that the unspeakable truth that his father-in-law can't say is that he's going to die (because after all, if he were dying, it would be hard to say that as well). The father-in-law spends the episode milking this undeserved sympathy, because after all, this is much preferable to admitting that he's a convict.
  • In Yes, Minister, Sir Humphrey describes his promotion in a way that gives Hacker the impression that he's dying.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • A Gil Thorp plotline from several years ago involved student Brynna thinking she'd overheard that her coach had breast cancer. Without checking on whether or not it was true, she wound up shaving her head as a show of support...only to learn this was not the case and embarrassing herself. However, this did lead to the other girls on the team either shaving their heads or simply cropping their hair extremely short to support breast cancer research.

  • In episode "A Rotten System" of The Men from the Ministry Lamb and Mildred end up thinking that Lennox-Brown is dying after after hearing the Ministry's doctor and engineer Lambry converse about the heating system in Lennox-Brown's room out-of-context.

  • This is the entire premise and plot of the play Send Me No Flowers.
  • One of the funnier bits of Zemsta is Papkin writing his last will when he thinks he's been poisoned.

    Video Games 
  • Namu Amida Butsu! -UTENA-: When Shaka Nyorai falls asleep with his head propped up by his arm, all his followers think he's ascending to Nirvana again and launch into a panic. After this incident, Shaka has to put up a warning sign that he's not dying in case he falls asleep in that position again.

    Web Animation 
  • Ultra Fast Pony uses this as a brief joke in the episode "How to Control Freaks".
    Twilight: Spike! I need you to... holy crap!
    [Spike is lying on the ground, apparently in pain.]
    Spike: I'm scared, master. Will I dream?
    Twilight: No, Spike, you can't die! I won't let you!
    Spike: Who said anything about dying? I'm going to sleep.
  • In the Team Fortress 2 video "Expiration Date", the RED Team thinks they've got three days to live thanks to abusing the Engineer's teleporters, so they spend the time checking off their bucket lists. The good news is, the teleporters only give malignant tumors to bread. The bad news is, they're not tumors, they're a mutation, and the Solider has "done nothing but teleport bread for three days". Cue attack by a giant, tentacled, mutant bread monster. Then the Scout, who didn't get the announcement that they aren't dying, attempts a Heroic Sacrifice against the bread monster in order to protect Miss Pauling and go out in a blaze of glory. He ends up surviving though.
  • My Story Animated's story "I Heard My Parents Saying I'm Not Going To Live Long" is about a girl who overhears her parents one night and thinks that she's Secretly Dying. The actual thing she overheard her parents say is that she's adopted and her biological mother wants her back.
  • Camp Camp has "Nikki's Last Day On Earth", where after drinking an experimental formula, she's diagnosed with a fatal illness that is leading to bleeding, stomach pains, high metabolism, and mood swings. Nikki even decides to go out in a Viking funeral, but then Gwen talks her out of it by revealing it's something else.


    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of All Hail King Julien King Julien pretends to be sick to get out of having to work, prompting his advisor to take him to the local doctor to disprove him, only for the incompetent doctor to diagnose him with a week to live. Julien's enemies use this information to disguise an assassination attempt; when Julien starts actually getting sick as a result of being poisoned, everyone assumes he was right all along and is actually dying of a disease.
  • Amphibia: After working outside all day in a storm, the Plantars come down with all the symptoms of a deadly disease. They take this mostly in stride, accepting their inevitable deaths, but Anne takes it upon herself to get them to a healing spring just in time. When they get there and their symptoms don't clear up, they realize they weren't sick at all; it was just due to a mushroom Anne mistakenly fed them.
  • In the Book 2 Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "Return to Omashu", the marks a pentapus' tentacles leave on Sokka makes a Fire Nation guard think he has a deadly disease, which Sokka and the gang play up to get off the guard's tail. Later, the gang convinces the citizens of Omashu to deliberately put pentapus marks on themselves so they can pretend a plague is going on and escape Fire Nation occupation.
  • Camp Lazlo, "The Big Cheese": Scoutmaster Lumpus thinks he's going to disintegrate after eating a certain kind of rare cheese.
  • In one episode of Dexter's Laboratory, Dexter downs a massive burrito and gets gas, an experience he's clearly never had before. He decides to run an experiment to see what will happen to him, but uses a balloon in place of himself. Of course, overinflating the balloon causes it to pop, convincing Dexter he's going to explode. He sets out to get his affairs in order, including leaving Dee Dee his lab and coming clean to his parents. Once his countdown to doom reaches zero... he farts.
  • Donkey Kong Country: In "From Zero to Hero", local buffoon Bluster overhears Cranky Kong complaining about his defective X-ray machine and ends up thinking he's going to die. He resolves to be a good ape for the remainder of what little time he has left. We Want Our Jerk Back! ensues... It's even lampshaded when Cranky realizes what's going on.
    Cranky: So, Bluster's being a nincompoop. He thought we were talking about him instead of the x-ray machine, and now he's determined to weasel his way into the history books by killing all of us with his good deeds!
  • Drawn Together has an episode where Captain Hero hits his arch nemesis with a car, and decides to take care of him on his deathbed. However, it's just an elaborate ploy to get CH to wash his balls, a recurring theme between the two.
  • The "mechanic's report mistaken for doctor's diagnosis" premise was recycled in the DuckTales (1987) episode "Scrooge's Last Adventure". Huey, Dewey and Louie took Scrooge McDuck's grandfather clock to a mechanic after they accidentally broke it while playing inside. While at the same time, Scrooge was getting a checkup at the clinic. From there it turned into a parody of TRON.
  • A variant occurs in the Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "A Case of Ed", where Ed and Eddy trick Edd into thinking he has a rare and deadly disease.
  • An episode of The Flintstones had everyone thinking that Fred will die if he goes to sleep, so they construct an elaborate plan to keep him awake for the next seventy-two hours.
  • Futurama: In "Tip of the Zoidberg", Prof. Farnsworth believes that he's dying of a rare condition that he contracted from a yeti years ago, but it turns out that it was a near-identical condition that instead causes him to turn into a yeti himself.
  • Also happened in the Godzilla: The Series, where Randy reads an email to Mendel, saying that "his virus is fatal". Little did he know that the email was about a mummy Mendel examined beforehand.
  • In one episode of Goof Troop ("Terminal Pete"), Pete believes that he only has a few hours to live after hearing from the doctor about his "terminal illness", and so he needs to spend the last hours of his life playing stuntman. However, the "terminal illness" thing turns out to be a joke, made up by the doctor and played out when Pistol's gopher had snuck into the sheets where Pete was lying on when the X-ray picture was taken.
  • The Hey Arnold! episode "Monkey Business" after Helga gets a rash from being licked by an organ grinder's monkey and mistakenly checks out a book on fictitious diseases causing her to believe she has contracted a disease called "monkeynucleosis" in which she will turn into a monkey and die, since she displays all the symptoms in the book she decides to hold a funeral for herself and give up her possessions to her classmates, her friend Phoebe eventually tells her that the disease doesn't really exist just as she's about to confess her love to Arnold, once she finds out she continues to treat him like crap as she usually does.
  • The Jetsons did this one, in the episode where George thinks he's only got a few weeks to live as a result of a robotic medical probe accidentally going into a mummy instead of George's body, and in the process of telling off his boss ends up being volunteered to test an experimental indestructible suit.
  • The Johnny Bravo episode "Carl Be Not Proud" had Johnny think a report that Carl's sickly Venus fly-trap had only twenty-four hours to live was talking about Carl, and Carl taking advantage of the situation by talking Johnny into doing his bidding for the day.
  • Pickles thinks he's, close to Hamburger Time in an episode of Metalocalypse. It turns out everyone in the band switched their medical records with each other and the real one dying was Toki's cat.
  • Numb Chucks: In "Hunk O Chuck", Buford convinces Fungus that a giant tree is going to grow out of his nose at sundown, and it is played exactly like this trope.
  • The Pink Panther and Sons re-enact the "talking about a machine" version beat by beat in "Rocko's Last Round." Rocko gets some x-rays taken at the doctor's office, but leaves with a good diagnosis. Meanwhile, his friends come to the office to support him and overhear the doctor talking with a mechanic about a car and think Rocko will be dead in two days. They try not to tell Rocko they know, leading Rocko to not understand why everyone is being so kind to him even to the point of getting his favorite celebrity boxer to visit him, until Rocko finally overhears them talking about it and learns the "truth." By the time its straightened out, he's trying to beat the crap out of a bank robber since he thinks he's got nothing to lose.
  • Another example of "mechanic's report mistaken for doctor's diagnosis" occurs in an episode of The Raccoons, where Cyril Sneer is ill and his pig servants, overhearing the doctor on the phone about his clapped-out car, mistakenly think Cyril "only has a few days to live". At first, Cyril also believes this "diagnosis", but, on learning that he only has a cold, keeps up the pretence in an attempt to force the Evergreen Standard (which needs a new printing press) out of business. However, Bert Raccoon thinks of a way he and his friends can both commemorate Cyril and save their paper - a memorial printing press.
  • Variation/subversion in an episode of Recess. After the kids find a cootie-catcher and discover that the predictions made with it are coming true, Gus believes he will die the next day, as predicted. So, he decides that if he's going to die, he might as well do everything he was too afraid to do before...including trapping and humiliating the bully he attacks him all the time. After the good fortune everyone had runs out and they realize Gus won't die, they arrive to tell him this just as the bully is about to get trapped in a net. There is a subversion, however, as Gus doesn't regret doing what he did, and the bully becomes terrified because he realizes that Gus nearly pulled one over on him and wonders who else might do that.
  • The Simpsons: In "One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish", Homer is told he may only have twenty-four hours to live after eating badly prepared fugu sushi. Especially interesting for two reasons: first, that there is no mistake, just an even chance of life or death, and second, that this is given the dramatic weight it deserves.
  • In The Smurfs (1981) episode "Smurf Me No Flowers", Brainy assumes from overhearing Papa Smurf in his laboratory talking about Vanity's plant that Lazy's insomnia is a prelude to his fellow Smurf's soon departure from life, and so he gets his fellow Smurfs to hold a final party for Lazy to comfort him in his final days without letting him know. Of course, Brainy ends up spilling the beans about it, and Lazy decides that he's going to do some daring deeds in his final days — including a bullfight, which makes his fellow Smurfs fearful for him.
  • The Spliced episode "Best Before Date" is about Entree finding a barcode on his butt that when scanned, says he has 24 hours until his "best before" date comes. Hilarity Ensues as he tries everything he can to stall his expiration date, including convincing his best friend Peri that he is Entree to expire his place. The date arrives, but rather than dying, Entree grows hairy mould on his head that he treats like real hair.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants, "Dying for Pie": Squidward thinks Spongebob has eaten an exploding pie, and does everything he wants for a day.
  • South Park episode "The Death of Eric Cartman" combines "mechanic's diagnosis mistaken for doctor's diagnosis" with the other kids coincidentally getting so angry with him they decide to ostracize him. The result is Cartman believing himself to be already dead.
  • Rebecca and Baloo both thought he was dying in the TaleSpin episode "Barely Alive" when a mechanic's report that an airplane part was broken beyond repair was misinterpreted as the results of a doctor's physical. Humorous mostly because Kit hears the news, knows what it's in reference to, and fesses up that he broke the part — "I didn't mean to! I was just playing around with it and it fell out! Maybe I can get another one at the junkyard..." — much to Becky's initial horror and confusion. By the time they straighten it out, Baloo has already gone on a last glory flight into the "Bermuda Trapezoid".
  • In an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987), Donatello builds a machine that does a quick medical exam on the turtles. It malfunctions when Raphael tries to use it, which later with him eavesdroping on Donatello and Michelangelo saying that "he's got 24 hours left" (they were talking about Mikey's pizza oven), makes Raph believe he's going to die and decides to go doing heroics for all the time he's got left, including jumping into a volcano to retrieve a bomb that would cause a devastating eruption.
  • An episode of Top Cat had Officer Dibble mishear a conversation between T.C. and a doctor about a broken clock and think T.C. only has one week to live. After a few more misunderstandings, T.C. figured out the situation and tried to take advantage of it. Of course Dibble eventually found out and got quite angry at this development.


Video Example(s):


Don't Tell Mrs. Patel... Yikes

In "Escape from New York" from "Resident Alien," Dr. Smallwood accidentally mixes up Mayor Ben Hawthorne's file with that of a woman named Mrs. Patel and tells him that he has an aggressive form of colon cancer. Before he can really process this, Nurse Ellen Cho shows up and explains that Dr. Smallwood mixed up the files. Dr. Smallwood says that this happens sometimes. "Should it?" asks Ben, pointedly. "No," deadpans Ellen.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / FileMixup

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