Casualty and ME: turning reality on its head

I got a reply from someone at the BBC Complaints department, which (much like the response to my earlier complaint about male rape jokes) wasn’t so much an apology as a self-justification. It included this:

Drama productions like ‘Casualty’ aren’t always best served by meticulous attention to detail and accuracy and a certain amount of dramatic licence can be involved in trying to capture the essence of an issue or profession and then conveying this to an audience. We appreciate that even the most minor deviation from accuracy can be irritating to some viewers but there are constraints which mean that we cannot or do not always want to keep as closely to the level of accuracy that some viewers would like us to.

Well, I wouldn’t call this a “minor deviation from accuracy”. It’s a case of ignorantly turning reality on its head. While I don’t have any statistics to hand, I can point to a number of stories of ME sufferers experiencing abusive treatment at the hands of medical staff, as well as callous treatment by some relatives (there are also plenty of stories of selfless dedication among this group, however) and other professionals, such as social workers and teachers. One of my friends, who has severe ME, told me when I showed her (and some other of my friends, including several others with ME), “I don’t have the strength to hit anyone and can’t stand arguments because of the noise”.

I pointed out in my response that, if there had been other BBC dramas which depicted ME more accurately, I would not be making this complaint. There is a widespread perception — perhaps lessened among the public, particularly since the Gilderdale case — that those with ME are ill only psychologically and are at worst putting it on. This is the first dramatic depiction of ME in some time and the so-called sufferer is a manipulative and abusive individual. How does this benefit the public perception of those with ME?

This latest episode starts with him having caused a car accident by driving his (and his wife’s) car off the road, injuring himself and his and Kirsty’s daughter Nita in the process. He does not display violence in this programme, but is on his feet most of the time and sometimes running (keep in mind, two weeks ago he needed Kirsty’s help just to get up off the sofa). Kirsty tells him, within the earshot of a doctor, “you shouldn’t be driving in your condition”, and when the doctor asks what condition that is, Warren says he has ME. Kirsty tells the doctor, “so he says, anyway”. Later on, Warren gives Adam Trueman a list of his symptoms and tells him that he has seen one doctor after another and had no joy; Trueman says that there is “no definitive test” for ME, but that the symptoms do match.

We don’t see Warren’s reported abusive side in this recent episode (although, in the clips of past episodes, we do see him lashing out at some object), but “spoilers” which can be found on various UK soap websites reveal that he “shows his violent true colours” near to Christmas, and that his diagnosis might be muscular dystrophy rather than ME. Still, it begs the question of why they have to link ME to a storyline about an abusive patient when the reality is much more likely to be the patient getting abused.

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