From North Central Oklahoma Ostomy Outlook January 2010:

Letter to Director of Grey’s Anatomy

via UOAA UPDATE, December 2009

November 14th, 2009

To: The Executive Producers of Grey’s Anatomy
Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers, Mark Gordon, Rob Corn, Krista Vernoff, Mark Wilding
The Prospect Studios
ABC Television Center (West)
4151 Prospect Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027

As a person with a colostomy, I would like to comment on the episode of Grey’s Anatomy that aired in Minneapolis, MN on Thursday Sept. 24th, 2009. Season 6, Episode 2. After managing Crohn’s Disease for over 40 years and having numerous bowel resections, I ended up with a permanent colostomy in 2003 due to surgeon error when she punctured my intestine. It was discovered too late before my kidneys starting shutting down and an emergency colostomy was performed to save my life.

I was frustrated, disappointed and alarmed during that episode. When confronted with surgery, the patient, who has a bowel infection asks, “What is the worst possible thing that could happen to me?” And Cristina responds, “You’d end up with a colostomy bag.” The patient starts to cry and responds “No, no ... no poo bag for me! My Grand Dad had one of those! I won’t do it!”

Later on in the show, Cristina is reprimanded by Dr. Bailey. Dr. Bailey says, “Well, thank you very much for threatening my patient with a colostomy and talking her out a life saving operation.” She retorts back, “What was I supposed to say? How am I supposed to sugar coat a colostomy?” Once again, words like “threatening” and “sugar coating a colostomy” make having a colostomy a negative image. I do give you credit for the exchange of words further into the episode where Dr. Bailey says to Dr Yang, something to the effect of it was a fragile situation and the patient needed time to accept it.

This short conversation sparked my anger and the catalyst for this letter. The writers of the show obviously gave no thought whatsoever to the thousands of people who have colostomies. We are not all “old Grandpas” like depicted in the patient’s comment. We are mothers, spouses, children, young, old, sisters, brothers, co-workers and employers. We have survived colon cancer, Crohn’s disease, colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, bowel resections, anal cancer, ileitis, trauma and birth defects. It was disheartening to have the patient ask, “What the worst possible thing that could happen to me?” and to have the answer be “a colostomy”. The WORST thing that could happen is that the patient could have died. I sat in front of the TV thinking.....what about all the viewers out there that may be scheduled for an ostomy due to cancer or others that have suffered years of inflammatory bowel disease that have finally decided to have the surgery and then to hear that it “is the worst thing that could happen.”

I understand that Grey’s Anatomy is just a TV series. But as successful as it is, and the number of viewers it can have an impact on, I would have thought you would have taken the opportunity to have Cristina say, “A colostomy will save your life. It may take some adjusting to, but you can have a long and healthy life with it.” But, instead, the writers portrayed it as something negative and undesirable. We, as ostomates, are trying so hard to erase the stigma that goes with it and that episode certainly didn’t help. I’m sure you are aware, in real life, that ostomies have saved 1000s of people’s lives who are now leading productive, healthy and successful lives.

As a patient who endured a surgeon’s error and must live the rest of my life with a colostomy I would encourage your writers to think twice about what is written and to reflect whether anything in the script will have an impact on a certain group of people. After my surgery I turned my anger into being pro-active and being involved in something positive. I am a patient advocate and I speak not only for myself but for others about this episode. I do hope it will make a difference in how you write and how you view a colostomy....that it is NOT the worst thing that can happen to you! None of us really wanted one, but it became a necessity for some people who have had years of enduring pain and/or cancer. If a person had an artificial limb or a hearing aid, or a wheelchair other people would freely accept that, but when it comes to such a personal part of a person’s bodily function such as an ostomy, it is more difficult to accept and to talk about. I am trying to increase awareness of having a colostomy and not being ashamed of it. Your episode made me feel ashamed again. But it should really be the writers of Grey’s Anatomy that should feel ashamed of how you made some of your viewers feel.

Sincerely,

Darlene Hafner and the Minneapolis Chapter of the United Ostomy Associations of America.
The ostomy group and I would appreciate and welcome any comments any of you might have.


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This page last revised 2010-01-12

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