RA goes to Hollywood…

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”.

new amsterdam
Dr. Kapoor, RA patient, and the “specialist”

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.





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Kelly holds masters degrees in both Special Education and Speech-Language Pathology. She works full-time as a speech-language pathologist in both a public school setting and as an adjunct faculty member at a university, in Philadelphia, PA. She specializes in both autism and augmentative/alternative communication and took her skills to Uganda, Africa to start a special needs program for disabled children living in an orphanage in 2011. Kelly began experiencing symptoms of autoimmune arthritis in 1984 (while in her teens) but wasn’t officially diagnosed with autoimmune arthritis until 2001. Her first diagnosis was Sjogren’s syndrome. Eventually her diagnosis was changed to sero-negative RA and now Polyarticular Spondlyoarthropathy. She also manages thyroid disease (resulting from Graves Disease), fibromyalgia, renin-deficient hypertension, and disseminated superficial actinic porokeratosis (DSAP) on a daily basis. Kelly connected with other autoimmune arthritis patients via social media in 2008. She began volunteering with the “Buckle Me UP! Movement”, which evolved into the International Autoimmune Arthritis Movement (IAAM) beginning in 2009. Then became a cofounder of IFAA in 2013. She has represented the ACR on Capitol Hill as an Advocate for Arthritis, was a finalist in Wego Health’s Health Activist Hero awards in 2014, and speaks at various healthcare conferences as a patient advocate in the Philadelphia area.

One thought on “RA goes to Hollywood…

  1. Kelly, there were two parts of that show that came home for me. The first was the one you highlight, and I thought, well, I mean OK if that is what the story line is I guess I can live with it. The second was about the price of insulin. What I wished they would have done is link the tow stories over the cost of medication. In fact I sent them a note after the show suggesting that people do live with both RA and diabetes and maybe they ought to approach a new story line. We will see, I mean who knows maybe ?

    Liked by 1 person

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