It's a quiet afternoon at Fictional Hospital, with Bob the RN and Dr. Alice doing rounds. Suddenly a high-pitched, beeping alarm sounds. Alice and Bob instantly drop everything and sprint into one of the rooms — thank God they were in time! They caught a patient just as he was going into cardiac arrest. After Dr. Alice stabilizes the victim, she quietly says to Bob that mere seconds could have meant the difference between the man's life and death.
Fiction shows us the world, not as it is, but as we want it to be. Such is the case when in a medical setting the silence around a patient's bed is broken by the shrill shock of a monitor alarm, causing all the medical providers in the area to immediately direct their attention to the problem which caused the alarm, which is invariably real and serious.
Expect to see tense doctors and nurses making tough decisions. If the doctor pauses for a second, a nurse will remind them that they have to make a decision quickly. This is usually followed by the Magical Defibrillator. The scene will end with a pulse returning, in which case everyone present will be greatly relieved. Or the patient dies after many attempts.
Real-life looks nothing like this. Bedside alarms are so pervasive in the hospital that the people working there learn to largely ignore them. "False alarms" in the form of loose leads, sensing devices removed, tubing kinked, or insignificant perturbations of vital signs are far more common than acute emergencies. Nurses pay attention to the alarms of their own patients, but it's their job to determine whether a real problem exists, so the whole floor need not come running at the sound of every beep. Some alarms will trigger this kind of response; pushing the "Emergency" or "Code" button that's on the wall in every patient room will set off an alarm that sounds like nothing else and is guaranteed to bring everyone up to the housekeeper running (and setting it off by mistake will not make you popular with them!), and Intensive Care Units by their very nature tend to contain patients where any change in vital signs needs the immediate attention of a nurse. But most of the time, the alarm is treated with a kind of benign contempt.
Frequently the patient themself, rather than being unconscious or dying, will call the nurse to report that an alarm is going off. Usually this is because it has woken them up, has been going long enough to get really annoying, or is making it hard to hear the TV.
- Anesthesiologist Hana: One chapter is specifically about urgent medical alerts, the "Code Blue." The first time it happens, by the time Hana arrives the emergency is already over, and her specialty wouldn't have been terribly helpful (and her friend the ophthalmologist admits she doesn't often get to be helpful either), but the second alert is one where anesthesiology is exactly what's needed.
- Averted in Archie Comics, of all things, when our heroes go to the hospital to look for Jughead. They happen to see an alarm at the unattended nurse's station, and rush to the room, to find that the patient has been calling the nurse to pick up a book he dropped. Then the real nurse comes in, and apologizes. When they find Jughead, he's volunteered as a candy-striper, and tells them about how the hospital is understaffed. Did I mention this story was published in the 1970s or 1960s?
- Played with a few ways on Scrubs:
- In the pilot episode, JD gets his first code. We see a shot of him running down the hallway, and into a room. Turns out it's a closet where he has gone to hide. This also turns out to be a subversion, as Turk ends up shocking the guy, who turned out to have fallen asleep attached to a faulty monitor.
- In the episode "My Old Lady", we cut to response shots of the three protagonists as a single beep alerts them that their patients' hearts have stopped.
- In another episode, the Janitor pranks the doctors by creating a device that plays the flatline sound. Dr. Kelso is not amused.
- Once an Episode on House, a scene starts with the doctors bursting into the patient of the week's room as a bedside alarm sounds.
- ER is the granddaddy of 'em all.
- Subverted in various ways from time to time. On one amusing occasion, Carter rushes to respond to a code alarm indicating a cardiac arrest. He arrives in the patient's room just in time to see a janitor successfully revive the patient with CPR.
- In a more serious subversion, an all call goes out in response to a seriously injured patient coming in, who had jumped in front of an oncoming train and was mangled beyond recognition. One of the doctors has failed to show up, and they page him, only for them to hear a beeper on the patient's body start going off.
- One Emergency! ep averts this and lampshades the false alarm problem-only to find out just after that it was a real problem, a fire in a patient room.
- Hospitals are apparently so boring in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic that during a break-in, the doctors, the nurses, and even the mental patients will drop everything to help the security guards fend off the burglar.