Otis – TV Portrayal of Serious Illness/Chronic Pain

Otis - TV Portrayal of Serious Illness/Chronic Pain

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.

Joanna Mechlinski

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 (https://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.

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Authored by: Joanna Mechlinski

Joanna Mechlinski is a former newspaper reporter who now works in education. She is a chronic pain sufferer who lives in Connecticut and is a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report. You can follow her on twitter @castlesburning.

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Tara Rochon

When the Rosanne reboot premiered we started watching. As soon as they showed them taking medications for arthritis, back & leg pain, I knew they would go down the “Addicted to Opiates” path. They had a chance to show normal, law-abiding people suffering in serious chronic pain taking Opiates as prescribed in order to maintain some pain relief & some semblance of a decent quality of life, but they chose to go the popular addiction route. I agree with the author of the article. Mainstream TV either goes with a strung-out Opioid addiction, or with a super-human recovery response. It’s terribly frustrating, & it’s disparaging to law-abiding legitimate chronic pain patient’s.


I have boycotted all of these horrible TV shows & I wish all of our Pain Club Members would too! Do not pay these idiots bills, get these shows renewed, or support any anti opioid anything!! If you see it/turn it!! We didn’t break laws/ we broke bones!! #shareourpain

Marie Mitchell

You are absolutely right! Thanks for posting.


Us addicts are getting sick too! Its not just TV directors etc but viewers too the judgemental!! Including real pain patients! Loving to see addicts at their worse! Truth my addiction began with pain killer pills at 32 yrs old and legitimate! Do I blame them? Hel* no! I been to rehab, you own up! I chose cocaine next then on…why? I didn’t know, I’d never drank, smoke pot, smoked a cigarette, nothing! However, my marriage of years, my husband got another woman pregnant, I began to emotionally numb myself not just physical, do I feel bad even today? No!!! I could care for 3 kids working no crying! 1 day no pills at a person’s but cocaine, no, yes etc..well yeah but I chose that not the pain pills, I own that s*t!.. but to blame the epidemic on addicts, shame! who were selling pills they didn’t need? Oh let’s get real, they need to own up! Now 9 years clean 2nd time in cancer recurrence brutal rare cancer, I can’t get a opiate?! Did I get covered, my story, no! Why? do I deserve pain pills less than the opiate “dependant” pain patient? Why not?! Oh yeah because I had an addiction, I’m an addict! Imagine my anger! I do use medical marijuana after denied took off hydromorphone for 2yrs dying with hospice home side! I use medical marijuana not street grade but Indica, sativa and it works even metz tumors gone! Pain relief 6-8 hrs no dependency, benefits other than pain relief, no anxiety, I’ve cut xanax in half! Now I believe the opiates should be brought back given to those who need them but let’s stop judging the addict, all take responsibility - people sold them I never read that in comments! people robbed from patients, stole from, they weren’t all addicts that did that, some robbed them to sell them! stop bashing medical marijuana that’s helped many, you don’t want people to say your lying about pain pills! do you think people using marijuana for medical reasons appreciate being called liars! now their selling lies! all people need to stop buying it! all judgment stop! an addict and terminally ill cancer patient “the DEA the one at fault”


I remember when ellen degenrous hurt her back and got pain meds.Eventhough she joked about them she didn’t end up shooting heroin.i just don’t get it.


I half-wonder if they’re not going to show Otis hiding a pill bottle whenever someone comes in the room, and later the viewer learns that Otis’ miraculous recovery is due to painkiller abuse for which he later has his team intervene.

It could SO easily go in that direction. I pray it doesn’t. I love Chicago Fire and when I saw that Otis got injured and was having trouble walking, etc, I thought “Wow, they’re showing him hurting and showing him struggling.”

I didn’t see the next episode(s). I will avoid watching them. I pray it doesn’t go in the “predictable direction” I mentioned above. I use my meds as I need them in order to work and sleep and I skip meds if I can manage well enough with alternate pain control or if my activity level doesn’t justify them (generally off-work hours or weekends when it doesn’t matter as much if I can’t focus on tasks or if I’m just going to be doing work that doesn’t strain my body or just vegging out). They give me an improved quality of life, and without them I’d suffer from the effects of sleep disruption/deprivation and I’d be wholly unable to concentrate on my job — let alone not even sure I could GET myself to work because I take public transit and walk rather than drive.

I wish that there was some “miracle” for me, but I’ve tried most of the potential miracle solutions that got my hopes up. I have to live with the pain. I don’t take the medicine because it makes me pain-free. I take the medicine because it lets me continue to work and sleep. I wish Otis’ story was representative of the frustrations of pain. I mean, even an injury…

You know what? Pain is no fun. Nobody wants to “dwell” on it (meaning: people with pain aren’t supposed to talk about it at all). So the producers just moved on. If only true pain was that way. *POOF* HEALED! Sigh.


A “since of purpose” is one of, if not the most motivaing factor in life, to continue. Patients across the nation with intractable pain have been stripped of any…..sense of purpose. The future for pain management patients seems so bleak that it really seems like a purge of us from society. Millions of patients have used opioid medication to treat pain generating disaese, injury, and less than successsful surgey that was supposed to improve life, possibly decrease pain experience. I almost feel damned for using opioid medication for decades to continue to remain employed, socially active and the ability to nuture my spirit. The other narrative of successful, responsile opioid medication use is not being told. The experts can not show us another way to manage documented lifetime experiencing of intolerable pain. The concern for drug overdose is well understood even by we “addcits” who will most likely die with inhumane pain suffering but, the only narrative being pushed is let’s stop drug overdose. Granted, opioids are a part of drug overdose but, so is “legal” aclohol use, cocaine, heroin, and now fentanyl.

Rich Reifsnyder

Hello, For the millions of us disabled chronic pain patients being treated inhumanly and “tortured”as the United Nations states,our vote counts.We have to see which senators and congressional leaders are being padded by lobbyists involved with PROP for addiction centers.These politicians need to be voted out of office now,it is apparent they don’t support or care about me or any of us suffering from diseases or severe chronic pain.A lot of these political stiffs have invested in addiction centers to pad their pockets.I haven’t seen on any major news networks where there is one bit of sympathy for the millions of us chronic pain patients.It all started with Dr.Kodony and all the lies and false statistics from PROP linking the heroin and fentanyl deaths together with prescribed opioid medication to make the stat. numbers bigger.We Disabled Chronic Pain Patients,our veterans,Patients young and older in every part of our society are suffering and being treated inhumanly.Maybe Iam wrong but I do not see any major news network talking about chronic pain patients suffering this inhumane treatment brought about by Dr.Kodony and PROP.All I see is False Opioid Epedemic and Addiction Centers.We are not addicted we are taking medication to help our chronic pain.We do not get “High”from our medication,we get some relief from our pain.You wouldn’t take insulin away from diabetes patients,or blood pressure meds away from patients.Now since these Opioid Guidelines went into effect Chronic Pain Patients are dying from suicides and their health is declining from stress,withdrawals,high blood pressure,strokes etc.When is a political official or the Human Rights Group going to help the millions of us chronic pain patients,I think we suffered enough.Polititions we also Vote.


I think all of this is there way of distracting the American People from more important issues that are not being addressed. How about our broken health care system that gets worse by the day.
I live in Southern California where the homeless population is out of control and growing. I live in an affluent area and I saw a women yesterday (one of many), walking in the street, filthy, crying, talking to herself. Looked to only 40 but they usually look older than they are. She was carrying around and hugging a red flannel blanket that looked like it had grease all over it. Instead of helping that woman, they are deceitfully gloating about saving lives by reducing opioids. When instead they are causing serious harm and suffering. For God sake, do your job and quit interfering with pain patients decent quality of life.

There is so much I could say but Im getting so weary of all of this. I watched the CNN special; “weed 4; pot vs pills”; where they focused on wealthy priviledged people and their experience with opioid “abuse”. I couldnt believe that our Attorney general (Jeff Sessions) said; “take an aspirin and tough it out”. I have no faith or trust left in our government. I dont wont to see anymore (as someone said); “hocus pocus solutions”. Im thoroughly disgusted. I wrote a length civilized comment, on CNN youtube, describing the other side of this. They have deleted my comment twice and maybe a third time by now. Havent checked again. A month ago, I wrote to my local congressman, senator and Dr Drew Pinsky; asking some important questions but no response. I dont want to hear about acupuncture, massage, CBD, blah, blah, blah. Quality options are not available through insurance and I wont hold my breath. I have other things to do besides spin my wheels when none of those have been proven to be long term solution.

I truly believe that those who have too much access to opioids/benzos, legal or otherwise (like the privileged), will continue to use them irresponsibly or die from an overdose. People taking the prescribed amount of opiods or less, are not dying from opioid overdose and they know it. I keep telling myself Im going to take a break from this and then affects my life again.

Nancy Wilson

Thank you, this article is so accurate and true.

Kris Aaron

Unlike HBO, FX and other cable broadcasters, the writers for prime time network shows have to keep the scripts optimistic, the themes positive, and resolve all troubling issues within the last 10 minutes of each episode. Shows like Chicago Fire do themselves and their viewers a disservice when they gloss over truly terrible issues, turning them into “triumph of the week” feel-good pieces that have no basis in reality.
I can’t blame the writers, either — it’s what the top executives demand, because their “focus groups” seem to want happy endings and their advertisers (the ones who REALLY make the decisions) insist their products be presented on positive formats.
The real tragedy is that people with actual disabilities will believe they, too, should be able to completely recover within three weeks while feeling little pain. They blame themselves when it doesn’t happen that way for them. Even worse, their friends and family also get suckered into that particular trap: “But… Otis got better right away. YOU need to try harder!”
I’ve stopped watching most network prime time shows, in part because they deal so unrealistically with issues viewers encounter in REAL life. Even Law and Order: Special Victims Unit occasionally went down the rabbit hole with sex assault crimes, although it was one of the better series.


I used methamphetamine. I drank alcohol. I’ve tried every substance known to man in my early years. It was the thing to do then. It was the sex, drugs and rock n roll days.
But it was always different for me. I never really got high.I remember only a few times the alcohol got me drunk. But the drugs never did for me like they did for everyone else. They either turned me totally off, or I felt no pain. Not the numbing, “hey, man, I can’t feel the ground”, type of no pain, but I didn’t have that niggling, stabbing, constant, pain that never went away and I never really put together that I had a problem, disease, or condition which would later in my life become serious enough to change my life.
So, labeled now a drug addict due to my past usage of street drugs, it is rather difficult now to obtain pain medicines for my now excaberated pain, even though the evidence does show the truth of the matter; I have need of something and have traveled the whole gamut of treatments, and my need is OPIOIDS!
All this to say, why don’t they target the street drug sellers? Well, because they get a payoff from them to leave them alone. And besides that, they’d be out of a job if they got all the street drugs… Or maybe they know who they all are and now they want to know all of us and we aren’t paying them yet?

Alice Carroll

Have you seen the latest episode of Chicago Med? An older man goes into a warehouse to feed feral cats and he is found to be experiencing overdose symptoms but his daughter says her Dad has never taken drugs. Then the doctor spots his jacket which has white powder on it and all hell brakes loose. The ER is put on lock down because this is Fentanyl that the man was exposed to in the warehouse. The man dies of overdose although he never ingested the drug! This will scare everyone as it’s not clear how this happened. ChicagoPD has also had recent episodes involving opiod drugs and their evil consequences. What is it about Chicago?

Maureen Muck

Amen. My feelings were the same as Otis miraculously recovered. I loved the idea of giving Otis a place in the firehouse…feeling a sense of purpose is important. But I was shocked at how quickly things happened. You are right, much as I enjoy this show, it did pain and injured patients a disservice.