Sunday, July 29, 2018

Review: Grey's Anatomy 14x07 "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story"

Tara and I watched this episode last night, and Tara commented how she missed reviewing things together.  So, we thought we'd comment on the disability representation here together - because what better way to celebrate four years of Tonia Says:


At the beginning of the episode, we see Arizona, testing  out paint colors in anticipation of her 7-year-old daughter, Sofia, coming to live with her.  Sofia has spent the past year living with her other mom, Callie (Arizona's ex.)

Throughout the episode, we see Arizona is nervous about Sofia moving back in with her.  We see this when Arizona delivers a baby for a young mother and reassures / distracts her by talking about Sofia, and how she does not feel particularly ready for this new development either. 

At the end of the episode, we see Arizona arrive home with Sofia, who looks tired and says, "I miss Mama."  Arizona says she misses her, too, and then takes Sofia to the kitchen where she cheers Sofia up by showing her the three different kinds of ice cream she stocked the freezer with.  

There's a close-up of a photo of Arizona, Callie and Mark with baby Sofia, all smiling.

Tonia:   Arizona's been an amputee since Sofia was around nine months old.

She's been a single parent before, but always with a co-parent nearby.  This is the first time, Arizona will be parenting without Callie or Mark (Sofia's father) close by.  Arizona has a close friend in fellow surgeon, April, but other than that?  I can't name anyone off the top of my head that Arizona might reach out to, if need be.

I think Arizona's storyline is important here because it speaks to the complexities of parenting with a disability and how, like with everything else in life, we just have to figure out how to do it as we go.

But the anxiety is real.  And I'm glad it was included here - and even more glad that it remained subtle and not something we were hit over the head with.  (How hard Arizona's life is and how is she ever going to parent because of her disability?)

Though it does make me wonder, too, if this wasn't, perhaps, an oversight, due to a lack of disabled representation in the writer's room?  Which, would then allow for a more creative filling-in-the-blanks by disabled audience members like ourselves?

Tara: This is one issue that could potentially be tackled by authentic casting as well. An actor brings their physicality (including their disability or lack thereof) into a role, and they also bring their cultural and lived experiences. We may have gotten more or different nuances in an actually disabled performance.


Meredith has been nominated for the prestigious Harper Avery Award, and the ceremony is in the evening.  Having been through a plane crash six years previously, Meredith has significant trauma around flying.  

Alex tries to encourage her to get on the plane, and to just "pretend it's like a rollercoaster."  But then, a trauma comes in, and it's two people trapped in a roller-coaster car.

"Pretend the plane is like a rollercoaster, you said!" Meredith snaps at Alex angrily.  She pours herself into helping with the rollercoaster trauma, regardless of the fact that her daughter, Zola, sister, Maggie, and Harper Avery Foundation members (and fellow doctors) mother and son Catherine and Jackson Avery are waiting to fly with Meredith to the ceremony.

Meredith stays with the rollercoaster patient all day, successfully operating.  April comments that Meredith is "taking her talent for granted," by not going to the awards ceremony.  Meredith counters that she very much wants the award and in no way does she take her talent for granted.  At the end of the surgery, a television screen is wheeled in and the gallery above Meredith fills with fellow doctors, family and friends.  

The ceremony is shown on screen, and Meredith wins the award, which Jackson accepts on her behalf, with a speech about how Meredith stayed behind to help a patient and how it speaks to the kind of doctor she is.

Tonia:  I appreciate that this aspect of Meredith's trauma is not dropped or forgotten about.  I like seeing her avoiding what's scaring her by pouring herself into another task where she can help others.  (It's a legitmate coping mechanism, and I love seeing it represented.)

I loved seeing how the doctors adapted for Meredith, bringing in a TV for her so she could watch the awards.  Not just (for example) rubbing her nose in the fact that she could have gone, if she had just gotten on the plane.

Finally, I really liked how Jackson, upon accepting the award for Meredith, did not out her plane-trauma as the reason she could not be there.  Instead he spoke about her making a choice to stay behind to help these patients, and dignifying that choice.

Tara: I also liked that April's comments were included. Too often, people with invisible disabilities like PTSD are misunderstood and dismissed - even by doctors.


Zola is around 8 years old, and she is Meredith's daughter.  She comes to the hospital with Maggie, Catherine and Jackson to pick up her mom for the Harper Avery awards ceremony.  Hearing that Meredith got pulled into a trauma, Zola remarks "My mom doesn't like flying."

She and Maggie hang out together, and Zola correctly identifies some anatomy, and Maggie says she must get that from her mom.  Zola says, "And my dad."  Then, Zola adds that she wants to be a brain surgeon like her dad and that she misses him.  She asks Maggie if she misses her mom.  Maggie says she does every day.

Zola says her mom would say, "Even though she's not here, she's always with you."

At the end of the episode, Zola's in the gallery, watching her mom watch the awards ceremony and winning the Harper Avery Award.  She claps and smiles.

Tara: Zola was born with spina bifida. Unfortunately, her disability was ostensibly erased by the show after she was adopted around the age of 1. This plays into the notion and trope that Love Overcomes Disability. 

Tonia:  To me, Zola could still do all of these things she does in this episode with spina bifida.  I know that some people with spina bifida can walk, but as a baby, she had a shunt as well, and I don't think that's something that just resolves itself.  (I could be wrong.)  But I would think that if you need medical equipment to regulate fluid buildup in the brain, that you'd have that for life.  As these aspects of her identity have been erased, I'm wondering, as a character, is she still disabled?

Tara:  I don't have spina bifida, so I don't think it's up to me to decide if this particular representation counts. What matters is whether those with spina bifida see themselves represented in her.

Tonia:  Good point.


Amelia is on duty when a patient is brought in with blunt chest trauma, having shielded two kids from the derailed rollercoaster car.  Amelia is concerned as the patient is also nonverbal.  She tells the patient, Dean, "We've got you," and later that, "I know you're scared, because you want to talk and you can't."  She requests a head CT.

But Owen, lead trauma surgeon, knows Dean is also bleeding internally, and thinks Dean is nonverbal due to shock.  Owen makes the decision to skip CT (which is also how Derek - Amelia's brother, Zola's father and Meredith's husband - died) when a CT was skipped due to other injuries.

Being a neurosurgeon, though, Amelia knows that neuro symptoms are her call.  She brings a CT scanner into the room and drapes Owen to protect him from radiation.

Owen: Amelia, there is no indication that there's a head injury.  Zero.

Vik:  I heard she had a brain tumor.  You think they didn't get it all?

Amelia:  I heard that.

Amelia finds that Dean has expanding epidural hematoma and preps him for brain surgery.  She says she knows Owen thinks she was letting Derek's death cloud her judgement, but that "he saved this guy.  He was that good."

Tonia:  What stuck out to me, with regard to Amelia's storyline, is that, at this point it has only been three episodes since she's had surgery to remove her tumor.  (Grey's timelines are particularly hard to decipher, so I'm unsure about how much actual time has passed at this point.)

The thing I'm more drawn to is what happens when the people around you feel like your medical information is their business.  Vik (who's an intern) has likely heard about Amelia's recent surgery.  But the fact that he also feels fine about commenting about her in the way he does is very telling.

Amelia is standing right there, and Vik instead talks to Owen, sharing the gossip he has overheard and speculating that Amelia's insistence, as a neurosurgeon, to get a nonverbal patient a CT scan must be a symptom of her own previous medical condition, instead of a sign that she is skilled at her job.

I love that Amelia says, "I heard that," letting Vik (and the audience) know she is well aware of the saneism going on.

Tara: The lack of respect that Vik - an intern - shows Amelia - an attending and a department head - is super telling. He heavily insinuates that she is incompetent.  And as Tonia mentioned, he talked about her as if she was not in the room. 

Tonia:  That's about it for this one, but we're definitely interested in continuing to review more Grey's episodes in the future.  (I'll try not to be so wordy so Tara has the chance to share more because I love hearing from her.


  1. Tonia and Tara:

    In the July edition of Disability Thinking's blog hop, Sydney Chasteen who has spina bifida contributed.

    Her blog is called "Bif in the middle of it all".

    And I am not going to even try with the Grey timelines!

    Happy four years of Tonia Says!

  2. Hi Tonia, Hi Tara, Its Margot. Lovely to see you reviewing again! I missed your reviews so much! I don't have spina bifida but I know someone who has a shunt from hydrocephalus and they said you just have to protect your head from injury and watch for symptoms of a "shunt failure". I'm told some people have the shunts replaced every few years. Other than that a person with a shunt looks and lives the same way an able bodied person does. It would more likely be the spina bifida and not the shunt itself that would be shown in Zola's case in my opinion. I could be wrong though. I like how Amelia assumes her patient understands her even when he can't talk to her.
    Happy 4th to Tonia Says!

    1. Hi, Margot! Thanks! I meant to comment about the fact that Zola does not appear to have a shunt at all (though I'm not sure if that's something that necessarily is always obvious, she has no scars to that end, etc.) I really liked that Amelia assumes her patient understands her, too.

  3. I thought they missed a big opportunity to bring up Zola's SB by not having her say something about wanting to be a neurosurgeon to take care of kids like herself. She may never need another neurosurgical procedure herself - some people need shunt repairs and revisions and some stay very stable - but I thought it was a big opportunity missed. And their erasure of her SB has bothered me throughout the years. Just a little throwaway of having her see a neurosurgeon for a checkup, having a routine MRI, something to remind us she is living with a health condition. (I can't say living with a disability because it is not clear if it is actually disabiling for her right now)

    1. That's a great point about Zola's wanting to be a neurosurgeon, perhaps, being connected to her SB! Apparently, I used to want to be a doctor when I was in kindergarten - I'm sure it had to do with me seeing them so often.