By Joanna Mechlinski.
A recent story arc on NBC’s Chicago Fire involved firefighter Otis (Yuriy Sardarov) struggling to regain his job after being shot during a routine call. The situation was grim – the bullet hit Otis in the neck, dangerously close to the spine , necessitating an operation which might paralyze or kill him. Yet to opt out of the operation might also prove detrimental.
Otis chose to have the operation, and when friends and colleagues came to see him in the days after, Otis could barely sit upright in bed. He attempted to stand with the assistance of two hospital personnel, almost falling despite their support.
In the following weeks, Otis devotes himself to physical therapy with a vengeance (even his therapist tells him outright that he’s overdoing it). But Otis is aware there’s a temporary replacement at the firehouse, and if he takes too long recovering, that other firefighter might just be permanent.
In the spirit of keeping up Otis’ morale, Chief Boden (Eamonn Walker) allows him to come to the firehouse and help in the office as soon as he’s out of the hospital. Viewers see Otis drive himself with no problem (despite the fact that he was just seen in physical therapy with a resistance band wrapped around both legs, presumably to help him have enough muscle control to stand). Otis is also seen walking with the assistance of a cane…but only for a few days. After that he walks normally, without even the slightest limp or difficulty. And this isn’t a case of “TV time” being different than “our time,” either. Otis himself states that it’s been three weeks since he was shot.
Now, I love this show and have been a faithful Fire fan since its pilot nearly six years ago. I also understand that due to the nature of the venue, some things need to be condensed or even omitted in order to make the story flow. But come on! THREE WEEKS?? For an injury of this magnitude? Had the writers given Otis a magical bandage to slap on his neck, it would have been only slightly less believable. This is a downright insult to viewers who have gone through actual surgeries and rehab, or know someone who has. If you want to include this sort of story but don’t want the character out of the loop for too long, why not have him recover over the summer? That way excessive episode time is not spent on the situation, yet is more realistic. Otherwise, choose a different injury. There are many things, such as a broken limb, which would seriously infringe on a firefighter’s ability to do his job, yet not call into question every medical truth known to mankind.
The second problem is that there was absolutely no mention of pain. It’s only natural that Otis would experienced a great deal; had he not, he would have been superhuman. But the entire issue was completely overlooked…both the existence of pain overall and most definitely nothing about painkillers of any sort. Given the recent stigma surrounding opioids, it’s not too surprising the powers that be decided to steer clear. But then, that’s entirely unrealistic. If you’re determined to go down this road, why not use the opportunity to show someone using painkillers as necessary and not immediately becoming an addict? Contrary to popular belief, it IS possible to do so. I wrote an article in November 2017 (http://nationalpainreport.com/34789-8834789.html)about This is Us’ storyline where Kevin (Justin Hartley) badly injured the knee he had already wrecked playing high school football, necessitating immediate surgery and prescription painkillers. Within weeks, if not days, Kevin is depicted as being obsessed with getting more pills. As ridiculous as this sounds, it’s a familiar plot on many TV shows in recent years. Why not actually show a person using opioids to get through their pain…and that’s all? Sadly, it just doesn’t make for an “interesting” story, at least not in the eyes of TV writers and producers.
People living with chronic pain already have too many obstacles. They must suffer through the physical and emotional effects, as well as financial, social and more. In today’s world, those who legitimately require opioids in order to maintain some semblance of independence and ordinary life are often shamed and dubbed fakers or addicts; meanwhile, actual addicts are often absolved of all negativity or blame, as many people insist that it’s entirely due to chemicals in the brain and not a person’s fault. The irony of this juxtaposition isn’t lost on those with chronic pain.
While many of the obstacles aren’t easy to overcome, this false narrative constantly being fed to the public IS something that chronic pain patients can change. All we have to do is voice our objections, voice them loudly and keep voicing them until they make impact. Reach out, courteously but firmly, to the writers, actors and others associated with these kinds of storylines and let them know how you feel; in today’s world of social media presence, it’s simple to do. All chronic pain patients want is to be respected and to have their stories told with accuracy and truth.