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“Royal Pains” TV show depicts RA so inaccurately it’s insulting

Dan asks: Should we get mad, boycott the show, or laugh it off?

My column always spans the gamut of subjects from light humor to heartwarming stories to gripes about life. This column is of the third type. I saw something this week on a TV show that Allison and I regularly watch that made me upset. Very upset.

The show is Royal Pains on the USA network. We tune in every week during the summer as a fun distraction and also to get a peek at some of the fantastic houses that exist where the show takes place – The Hamptons in Long Island, New York. The series is about a man who, through the prodding of his brother, becomes a concierge doctor for the rich and famous who spend the warm weather months at the more posh end of the 80-mile bit of land I call home. The show has been running for at least four years now, and as you can imagine, that’s one heck of a lot of different medical issues. If you combine that with the fact that people seem to unbelievably and literally drop like flies when this doctor, named Hank, is around, then you have the potential to bring to light many diseases which the public might be misinformed about or ignorant of.

Of course, the illness I am most concerned with is, as always, rheumatoid arthritis. I was thrilled when, out of the corner of my ear, I heard the good doctor tell one of his patients that she was probably suffering from a “touch of R.A.” As any of us would, I stopped what I was doing and turned toward the TV screen to see who was afflicted, and how the doctor planned to help them. That’s when my hope turned to dismay, and I knew that the creators of the show - a medical show mind you, had fallen prey to one of the most spurious stereotypes of autoimmune illness in existence.

Sitting on the bench with the doctor was a woman who had to be at least 75 years of age. She was complaining of pain in her hands, and our physician told her that she could be suffering R.A. Now, I’m aware that elderly women can get rheumatoid arthritis too, but we all know exactly why the script writers made the woman 75 years of age – they fell for the same stereotype that has been plaguing us arthritis sufferers for years!!

I know that TV shows are not required to get everything right, and I’m really not picky, but I think this is a very irresponsible decision on the show’s part. Even if they knew that people could be born with R.A., they should have realized that making an elderly woman the afflicted person would only further the stereotype that only old people get arthritis! Why not make the patient a teenager or, better yet, a newborn? They could have easily helped to end the myth that arthritis only affects the elderly, but instead, they chose lazy research.

As if that wasn’t enough of an insult to our community, the show didn’t stop there. The next question the elderly patient asked was if she was destined to suffer from R.A. because her mother had suffered with it as well. This time, it was the doctor’s assistant, and she told the woman that rheumatoid arthritis isn’t hereditary at all, and “just because your mother had R.A. doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get it.” When I heard this I immediately jumped up and started raving at the television. When Allison finally calmed me down, I knew that I had to write my next column on the widespread misconceptions of autoimmune disease.

Now, I know I have spoken on this subject many times before, and you are probably all sick of me ranting about the latest media outlet that has failed to do proper research. Each and every time it happens, though, I feel the same outrage well up inside me yet again. I could easily understand if a show about fast women driving fast cars told their viewers that only old people got arthritis, and I could forgive a show about lions that made a joke about passing down R.A. to the lion’s cubs. Unfortunately, this is a TV show about serious medical ailments and a doctor who prides himself on knowing everything about illnesses and their causes. I mean, for God sake, the man once saved someone’s life by using a plastic tube and some duct tape! He can MacGyver a breathing tube, but he doesn’t know that kids get arthritis too?

At first, I was going to write an irate e-mail to the producers at USA. Then, I said no, they wouldn’t even look twice at e-mail, and I’d write a real letter. After an hour or so when I calmed down, I realized that a real letter wouldn’t matter to the network, either. Let’s face it folks, as long as the show is making money, they probably wouldn’t give two hoots about some crackpot raving on the inaccuracies of their medical information.

So, now, I’m just going to write this column and let you, my readers, decide what to do. You can choose to be mad, chose to boycott the show, or chose to laugh it off. You might say “who cares it’s just a TV series,” but keep in mind that there are series like House M.D. that pride themselves on getting the medical details correct. Honestly, there is no excuse for an irresponsible mistake like Royal Pains made this past week, and I truly hope someone there eventually reads this column. If that does happen, I want to let them know that they can always contact me or someone else here for authentic autoimmune info. It only takes a day or two, and the show will be better for it.  Whatever you decide to do, though, don’t make the mistake of assuming something you “heard” about a disease is true. What’s next, Royal Pains, cracking knuckles causes arthritis?

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