I was watching the NBC show “New Amsterdam” last night. It’s not the greatest show, but it is entertaining enough. The show is based on the novel “Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital” by Eric Manheimer. It follows the doctor in charge of the hospital who is “aiming to reform the neglected facility by tearing up its bureaucracy in order to provide exceptional care to patients.” (copied from Wikipedia so it must be accurate.) A lofty goal for sure. A likable cast. I typically tune in.
Last night was the 2nd season debut to follow up on the cliff hanger from last year’s season finale. I tuned while simultaneously working on a project. Suddenly, I hear a young doctor talking to an older doctor about how he has been working with a patient for two years, who has the worst case of rheumatoid arthritis he has ever seen. The older doctor offers to help, but the younger doctor claims this patient needs something innovative to help her. The older doctor responds with “You think as a senior physician that I can’t be innovative?” The senior physician, Dr. Kapoor, takes this as a challenge. When they meet the patient, she assumes she is being “handed off” because the younger doctor has given up on her. She then asks Dr. Kapoor, “What brilliant cure do you have?” he responds, “I don’t….(pregnant pause) but, I will by the end of the day”.
When the younger doctor protests and states this is his specialty (I never heard the word rheumatologist) and he’s worked with this patient for two years. Dr. Kapoor cuts him off and says (to the patient), “I will help your rheumatoid arthritis today, or I will retire.” It was at this moment that my brain exploded ……
I watched “patiently” as the fictitious doctor tested his new patient for things like Celiac disease and metals in her system (that would prevent her medications from working). Finally, it was concluded that she had an abscessed tooth and the infection was preventing her meds from working. Hallelujah!!! We have a miracle!! Now this lovely older woman will be able to play with her grandchildren again!!
Now I will say, the show wasn’t all bad. I did like that they explored other things that may mimic rheumatoid arthritis or impede medications from working. I even liked the parts of the show that focused on the high cost of insulin. What I didn’t like, was the happy ending. I know that that Jill and John Doe in middle America are going to watch this show and think, “Oh, Susie can’t deal with her RA, she must have an abscessed tooth!!”
I’ve been feeling really terrible lately. Low energy, extreme fatigue, and lots of pain. So maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mine to watch my disease trivialized on TV. Watching a rheumatologists knowledge about his patient’s disease trivialized also rubbed me the wrong way. Is it too much to ask for realism? As a patient living with autoimmune arthritis, I know I will never be cured. There are diets, supplements, and therapies than can help me feel better BUT THERE IS NO CURE. It took me 12 years to find a drug that even mildly gave me the ability to live a somewhat normal life. Not because my rheumatologist “gave up on me”, but because we were limited by insurance, step therapy, and my body’s rejection of many treatments.
I guess I’m not surprised that rheumatoid arthritis is not portrayed realistically on TV. Honestly, it would be a total downer watching someone struggle to dress, shower, cook, clean, live etc. Hell, watching me try to get out of bed in the morning (which can take up to an hour somedays) would make for riveting “must see TV” as I struggle to stretch, roll over, and stand. The real comedy starts when I accidentally leave my phone across the room when the alarm goes off. I’m a barrel of laughs before 7 am. It would be painful to watch because it is painful.
I wish NBC wouldn’t have made the story more about a “senior doctor able to be innovative” and instead shown the real struggles with rheumatoid arthritis treatments. The story may be too ugly for Hollywood, but trivializing my illness, my doctors, and my treatments has turned me off. So next time New Amsterdam comes on, I’ll be tuning out.