The Phoenix Zine

Life Lessons… From TV?

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Okay, it’s confession time. I hate to admit it, but I love medical shows – ER, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice – if the episode is new, I’m there, even if it’s not new, often I’m still there. I struggled not to cry when Abby and Luka got married on ER and I wept when Izzy’s fiancee Danny died after FINALLY receiving a heart transplant on Grey’s.

The truth is, although I sometimes laugh at the over-the-top, ridiculous storylines that appear in the shows, I still can’t resist watching the doctors and patients interact with each other. I like learning about new illnesses and get mad when I feel the transplantation process is being misrepresented, (no, doctors do not purposely make their patients worse in order to compete for an organ) but above all, I listen.

Because even though the shows are highly sentimentalized, when the content is about people in their most vulnerable state (dealing with illness), powerful insights about life and what is really important come out.

Case in point: the sixth episode of Private Practice entitled “In Which Charlotte Goes Down the Rabbit Hole.” The spin-off from Grey’s Anatomy features McDreamy’s ex, Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh), a gynocologist and obsetrician recently moved to California to practice in a private clinic run by her collegues and long-time friends, Naomi and Sam Bennett (Audra McDonald and Taye Diggs).

In the sixth episode, a woman named Angie Padgett (Kimberly Elise) wants Addison to tell her husband, Ray (Corey Reynolds), he is infertile. Turns out Angie’s mom died from Huntington’s Disease and Angie is afraid if she and Ray have children, they will inherit the gene and get Huntington’s later on in life.

Due to this fear Angie has never gotten tested herself to see if she inherited the gene. Angie has also never told Ray about her mother, because she is afraid he wouldn’t want to be with her if he knew.

Addison, Naomi, and their collegue, Violet (Amy Brenneman) convince Angie to get tested in case she’s worrying over nothing but when the test comes back positive Angie is devasted. Addison then tells Angie that even though she has the gene for Huntington’s, she still gets to have her whole life. Angie can still be married and have children, and maybe medical advances will cure or treat Huntington’s better in the future.

Angie is scared and flees, deciding her husband will be better off without her instead of having to watch her slowly deterioate and die an early death. But then Addison’s words sink in and she returns to tell Ray about her mother and herself, and together they decided to have children anyway, inspite of the chance their children may inherit the Huntington’s gene because she realises she still gets to have her whole life.

I only saw it the one time, but I love that episode. I needed to hear what Addison said to Angie, that even with her impending illness, she still got to have her whole life.

Sometimes I feel dealing with my chronic illness means I have to give up my dreams for my life. I feel no one would want to be in a relationship with or marry me because they would have to deal with my illness and scars.

I feel like I could never be a mother because I can’t have kids and I don’t have the energy or the strength to chase them around or pick them up. And I feel like I could never have a worthwhile career because I am unable to work nine to five, I’m physically weak and I’m supposed to eat (although I rarely manage it) six times a day with my high protein diet.

However, Addison’s message is for all of us dealing with an illness. Despite having to deal with the crap that comes with a chronic illness and despite potentially having a shortened life span, we still get to have our whole lives. We still get to have our dreams of how we want our lives to be. Those lives may look different from how we are told by society to live and what our dreams should be, but that’s okay.

With that one storyline, I find encouragement to fight for what I want in my life. I look for guys I want to be with as opposed to picking someone I think will settle for me because I realise I have a lot to offer someone else. I think about adopting older children who need a good home instead of babies because I have a lot of love to give and physical problems should not prevent me from being a mother if I want to be. I work through writing for my web site and am looking forward to developing self-help programs for Hope for Familes Counselling Centre.

And I keep watching those medical shows, searching for the next grain of truth that is going to change the way I think about my illness and life.

One Comment

  1. I have fibromygalia and looking at me you would never know it. I really liked when you said you look for guys you want to be wtih as opposed to picking someone you think will settle for you because you realise you have a lot to offer comeone else. I have felt this way and have been told by my extended family that that is just being picky but really it isn’t. It was really encouraging to me.

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