Thursday, January 21, 2016

Grey's Anatomy: Disability Representation Series: 12x04 - "Old Time Rock and Roll"

The main disability plot line in 12x04 is one which centers around resident Stephanie Edwards.  Smart and driven, she is willing to do whatever it takes to further her education.  She has worked closely with Chief of Neurosurgery, Amelia Shepherd.  In this episode, Amelia summons Stephanie to assist her with a patient named Rachel, who is recovering from a decompressive craniotomy the previous day.  Amelia tells Stephanie that Rachel is the perfect candidate for early ambulation (which means that the earlier a patient is up and active after a surgery, the better their chances for a full recovery.)  

The first session, we see Amelia, Stephanie, and an intern named Hannah, all helping get Rachel to the edge of the bed.  Rachel groans in pain and Stephanie suggests maybe they should stop.  Amelia says they can't stop until Rachel either reaches the edge of the bed successfully or reaches a point of intolerance.  Hannah wonders how they will be able to tell when that point is, at which point, Rachel is seated at the edge of the bed and vomits.  Stephanie says it's pretty clear.  She offers to clean up and goes to grab a towel, while Amelia and Hannah help Rachel back to bed and reassure her she did great.  We see Stephanie standing off to the side.  Her hands are shaking and she is short of breath after seeing Rachel pushed so hard after such an intense surgery.

Amelia tells Stephanie she needs her to take the lead on Rachel's next session as Amelia is swamped with patients.  If they miss one day, they'll have to stop the treatment.  Stephanie asks Amelia if that would be such a bad thing.  She wonders if they are pushing Rachel too hard.  Amelia reassures Stephanie that though the protocol is traumatic, it is Rachel's best chance to heal.

When it's time for Rachel's next session, we see Stephanie taking the lead, with an assist by Hannah, in getting Rachel from the bed to a chair a few steps away.  They get her on her feet, and Rachel grasps Stephanie's arm, and pins her with an intense eye contact, as she groans in pain.  Stephanie says that's enough and helps Rachel back to bed.  Hannah protests they haven't gotten Rachel to the point of intolerance yet and Stephanie again insists that Rachel has had enough.

In the clip above, we see fellow resident, Jo, asking Stephanie if she wants to join her for lunch and Stephanie says she doesn't have an appetite because Amelia is making her torture a patient who just had brain surgery.  Jo is jealous at all that Stephanie gets to do and Stephanie decides to let Jo take the lead in Rachel's early ambulation.

In the next scene, we see Amelia confronting Stephanie (and Jo) demanding to know why Stephanie abandoned a patient.  Stephanie admits she couldn't do what she was being asked to do.  She couldn't put Rachel through that amount of pain.  Amelia says Stephanie is too smart for this  and asks her why she did what she did.  Stephanie then discloses that at five years old she was part of a clinical trail for sickle cell anemia, which involved many traumatic medical procedures, and being strapped to a table so she couldn't fight back.  Stephanie remembers her mother telling her, "It's for your own good."  Stephanie shares that it "felt like I was being punished for something that I didn't do.  For something that was inside of me.  And I'm not going to do that to somebody else.  I'm sorry.  I can't.  I won't."

I can't tell you how very deeply this resonated with me, having gone through numerous surgeries as a child myself.  As Amelia says, surgery is traumatic.  When you have surgeries and invasive medical procedures done to you from the time you're born and through your entire childhood, that is traumatic.  That level of powerlessness, and of helplessness is difficult to articulate.  The complete and utter lack of control over the amount of pain I went through from three days old through eleven years old?  It is intense and it did very much feel like I was being punished for something I didn't do, but was inside me nonetheless.  All the medical interventions absolutely were for my own good.  I recognize the need for them.  But they do leave scars, and not just on the body.  I have huge amounts of anxiety around the most mundane doctor or dentist visit.  I'm always told I have high blood pressure, because it's taken in that environment, where my stress level sky rockets because I am triggered.

The next scene in the video shows Amelia coming to apologize for yelling at Jo, and Jo tells Amelia that Stephanie lied about being sick as a child.  

In the next video, we see Amelia telling Richard (former Chief of Surgery and current Residency Director) that Stephanie abandoned a patient and lied about being sick as a child.  Richard looks to Stephanie and asks, "What do you want me to do here?" Stephanie says, "She won't believe me on her own..." and tries to leave but Richard stops her.  Then he tells Amelia that when Stephanie applied to this program, he got a call from a doctor at St. Jude, who ran the clinical trial.  Stephanie says she doesn't talk about being a patient anymore because she is a doctor now, and when she does talk about it, she only tells people she can trust.

What I love the most about this clip is the pause Richard takes to get consent from Stephanie before sharing her medical history with another doctor.  So often, we, in the disabled community, have our privacy violated when people around us share our diagnoses without our consent.  I really, really appreciated Richard's respect for Stephanie and that he waited for her to give permission before he told Amelia anything.

Starting at :50, we see Stephanie back with Rachel and Hannah.  Stephanie tells Rachel she knows this sucks.  When Rachel starts resisting, hitting Stephanie, Stephanie encourages her to "keep hitting me" and "focus on that."  Stephanie encourages her to keep going and tells her she is almost there.  This time, Rachel makes it successfully to the chair.  Stephanie reassures her that she's okay and she did great.  Again, Stephanie needs to step out for a moment, but this time she finds Amelia in the hall.  Amelia tells Stephanie she did excellent work and as Stephanie breaks down, Amelia hugs her and apologizes for not believing her.

I love this episode because it puts a finer point on what looks like medical related PTSD and really did a great job in letting me know I wasn't alone in my own feelings as a child, recovering from surgeries.  What makes this episode even more impacting is the fact that it was based in part on the experience of actress Jerrika Hinton's (who plays Stephanie Edwards) cousin.  Hinton was able to draw on the close familial experience to really give a depth to this storyline that I appreciate so much.

Such a strong storyline and the authenticity of it means it resonates so much more deeply.


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