Skip to main content

In our series, ANONYMOUS RANT, we let ostomates groan and gripe about things that irk them.

If you’re like me, you probably watch a lot of medically based television shows and find yourself diagnosing the patient before the script plays out. There are so many sketchy scenes and questionable content which might get past the “non-patient” TV watcher. But not me. Having Crohn’s disease for decades and 18 years with an ileostomy has been a lifelong medical education. What irks me is when these shows represent any illness as something that’s easily diagnosed or quickly treated, and sometimes astonishingly cured within the allotted 45-minute episode.

About eight years ago I became very ill and had very strange symptoms which could’ve been related to my autoimmune history, we still don’t know. The medical team was unclear on how it was going to be diagnosed, so my wife and I jokingly said that I needed to get on the show “House” since the fictional Dr. House could probably figure this out and fix it STAT. Medical dramas unveil both the good and bad of medicine. I guess that's entertainment?

Many years ago, on the show “ER” there was a scene in the emergency room where one of the hunky main characters was shot in the stomach and his colon was severely damaged. To end their season on a cliffhanger, the doctor was left in critical condition… with an ostomy. I was floored. They actually said the word “ostomy” on prime-time TV! A topic that, in my experience, is considered taboo even in polite company. So, the show breaks for summer and I anxiously awaited the first episode of the new season. I wanted to see how they were going to address his ostomy in the storyline. The show began and the tv doctors entered the ER in a panic, shouting out orders to the nurses and staff. After watching for some time, his ostomy was never mentioned. Talk about disappointment! I wrote a letter to the network and said they were doing a huge disservice by ignoring what could've been a really powerful and inspiring story — ostomies save lives! I also explained that for those of us living with an ostomy, it’s not like we can just “ignore it” in the next episode of our lives… so how could they? What happened to his ostomy? I WAS MAD!

There are millions of people with an ostomy who would've appreciated the awareness and education since most of the general public still doesn’t know what “ostomy” surgery even means! Why aren’t medical dramas and mass media talking about ostomies with accuracy? I have a few theories.

Uneducated and inexperienced authorities are coaching the actors.

I assume that most shows hire medical professionals to review the storyline, and some even have real-life doctors and nurses in scenes to add to the realness of the information they are presenting. But, they rarely employ a gastroenterologist or Crohn’s disease patient to support these specialty storylines. I feel they rely on the same level of knowledge that is offered on Wikipedia.

Storylines about ostomy surgery are seen as undesirable.

Talking about feces or urine exiting the body in an abnormal way scares the crap out of most people and would piss a lot of people off (pun intended). After having ileostomy surgery my friend said, “Ugh, I could never live with that… I’d rather die!” Yes, she really did say that to me. So, I have to think that most people don’t want to hear about it or see someone wearing an ostomy bag. 

Follow the money.

The networks earn BIG money by selling commercials. I do not see the day where ostomy companies pay millions to advertise their products during TV shows, so this topic will remain as hidden as the storylines themselves.

Most of the world has no clue about "reality" TV.

If we start actually talking about the outcomes of diseases and injuries that require surgery, we might have to face the facts that it isn’t “other people” who end up with an ostomy. Lifesaving surgery, that's real life. But who cares, right? "Reality" television is the furthest thing from real life. Back to the “follow the money” theory.

I've fought illness for 40 years and can't stand watching "TV IBD" treated in a single episode as a bad stomach ache. I have openly lived and thrived with an ostomy for 18 years and I'm tired of the stigma. All that being said, I'd happily share my personal experience to help any television show or movie portraying Crohn's disease or ileostomy in a realistic manner. I won't hold my breath for offers.

RANT over.