How Television Portrays Epilepsy

This post is part of the Epilepsy Blog Relay™ which will run from June 1 through June 30. Follow along and add comments to posts that inspire you!

Every time I hear the word “seizure” during a television show I automatically start to cringe. How will it be displayed this time? Will it be a part of a joke or will there be some truth in it? I know majority of these shows are scripted so there may not be a whole lot of truth in the story. But in recent years, I see more real life stories.  From Grey’s Anatomy to Major Crimes we see truth. I promise i’m not being biased since we all know I am HUGE Shonda Rhimes fan but her shows always have some sort of real world truth. Then on the other hand, we have shows such as OITNB (Orange is the New Black) and more, that think something that can kill you in a matter of minutes is something to laugh and joke about. Trust me its not.

Grey’s Anatomy Season 1, Episode 1 “A Hard Day’s Night”. Now I know you are thinking, “it’s a medical show so of course they know what they are doing”. But see Grey’s is not your typical medical drama. We get back stories, we get stories that reflect real life and sometimes my life. The pilot of Grey’s introduces intern Meredith Grey who’s first patient is a teenage pageant contestant who is suffering from life threatening seizures. Meredith cannot figure out why this young girl is having these Grand Mal Seizures. Sounds familiar? The doctor assigned to this case, neurosurgeon Dr. Derek Shepard, was also stunned. It took a team to try to find what could be causing these episodes in a teenager who is, for the most part, healthy and vibrant. Doctor’s have struggled all of my life to find the root cause for me. Its been 30 years and we still do not have an answer. This holds true to a number of people with epilepsy. The cause is unknown.

After hours of research, Meredith finds the problem, a tumor lodged deep in her brain. After surgery all is well. Fast Forward 10 years into the 12th season of Grey’s and guess who returns? Pageant girl who is now having seizures again. THIS IS REAL LIFE. After not having any episodes since the age of 10, my seizures returned 17 years later. A total shock after thinking they were long gone. Now pageant girl is older and angry at Meredith. She thought she was fixed, she thought the removal of the tumor fixed her. But we all know its not the simple. Epilepsy has no cure. We can go through surgeries, stay on medications but all are just a temporary fix. Don’t get me wrong, surgery has been the saving grace for some. But most cases, its temporary.

During those 12 Seasons of Grey’s, we have seen countless stories just like this one. We have a former intern who went into the basement of the hospital after flooding and a power outage, who got electrocuted and the seizures would not stop. It ultimately killed her. We also see the pregnant mom who suffered a seizure during child birth and died. Then there’s the episode of the guy who has numerous Temporal Lobe Seizures, showing not all seizures look the same. The most traumatic episode was this season, the older guy who had a seizure, was dazed and confused about who he was when he came to and lost it on poor Meredith. This stuff happens and it tells a lot about the amount of work and detail that goes into the writing of my beloved Grey’s Anatomy.

Now lets switch it up a bit. No one would ever suspect a show about murders and crime would ever depict a life with epilepsy. My other favorite show, Major Crimes, does an amazing job showing how we sometimes take our care in our own hands when it comes to epilepsy. The decisions we make without the counsel or consent of our doctors can be life threatening. Major Crimes Season 4, episode “Sorry I Missed You” we see why Detective Julio Sanchez suffers from some MAJOR anger issues.

Det. Sanchez tells this gut wrenching story of his once pregnant wife who suffered from epilepsy. He states his wife was told it was safe to come off her meds and she later becomes pregnant. The wife is now 5 months pregnant and decides to go for a drive. She has a seizure while driving and gets into a car accident. A few days later she and the baby dies from injuries sustained in the crash. Julio is angry at the world and especially her doctor for taking her off her meds. I know first hand of people who have had seizures while driving and it caused tremendous damage to themselves and others involved. And yes, some have resulted in death. The patient, caregivers and families are never the same after that.

In a more recent episode “Hindsight Part 4”, Julio visits his wife’s doctor to find out why he would be so careless and take his wife off her medication if she wasn’t really ready. In this powerful episode, Julio learns the doctor never told her to quit her meds. He actually urged her not to stop treatment. So often, we try to go after what we want, against better judgement, and it causes more harm than good. Its so dangerous to take matters into our own hands. It especially dangerous to stop treatments on our own.

We also have shows on MTV and PBS that shows the journey of those living with epilepsy daily. To see scripted shows take the reigns and really make these stories come to life, that’s what amazes me and makes me so proud. On the other hand, we have the comedies, that poke fun at people with epilepsy. For the life of me, I will never understand how faking a seizure such as on OITNB, could be something to joke or laugh about. You never see anyone poking fun on shows when it comes to cancer or Alzheimer’s. See those are illnesses that pull at your heartstrings. However, seizures are not all cute and cuddly so its easy to create stigmas that pours fuel on the fire of misconception. I applaud writers like Shonda Rhimes and James (who by the way is a New Orleans native) that take these stories and bring all of its truth and glory to the light in a real-life kind of way. Their creativity lets the world know, there is not just one face and one truth when it comes to seizures and epilepsy. They, by far, succeed in the areas where other writers fall short.

Do you know of any shows or movies that depicts epilepsy in a positive light? Let me know below! As always, do not look to tv or the web for medical advice. Always consult your doctor.

NEXT UP:  Be sure to check out the next post tomorrow at Bella the Brave Epilepsy and Autism Warrior Facebook page for more on Epilepsy Awareness. For the full schedule of bloggers visit livingwellwithepilepsy.com. And don’t miss your chance to connect with bloggers on the #LivingWellChat onJune 30 at 7PM ET.

With Love,

Whit

cf.epilepsy@gmail.com

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