Grey’s Anatomy’s Approach to COVID-19 Has Delivered the Show’s Most Polarizing Season Yet
A year after the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is finally starting to see a little light with the arrival of vaccines at the end of this incredibly long tunnel. But in the world of television, which always falls short of real life, coverage of the pandemic is just beginning.
Case in point is Grey's Anatomy, which has been baffling on the small screen since its debut in March 2005. The show is known around the world for unexpected disasters that result in the death of its main and often most popular characters, as well as topics such as rape, mental illness, and the confusing pain of grief. On season 17 of the show, which premiered in late October, the main theme is the COVID-19 pandemic - a baffling topic as the virus continues to devastate our everyday lives.
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The reaction was polarizing. While some say it's cathartic to see what's happening on the small screen across the country, others have refused to see the show. Some find it just too difficult or triggering to watch and prefer to turn to fleeting TV shows - while others boycott Grays because they think the writers are "overdramatizing" COVID. In other words, fans of the show are just as torn about how Grey's Anatomy approaches the pandemic as civil society (and sometimes civil society) seems to be approaching its severity.
"I've been a fan for over five years," said Jackie Correa, a Grey's Anatomy superfan who frequently comments on the show's Facebook page. "At first I really enjoyed it and it took my mind off things for a while, but this last episode was just too much and too real." Without giving too much away, the latest episode is about one of the series' protagonists and her sick parent signing COVID-19. "I live in Los Angeles and every day is worse than the last," reveals Correa. "It's too depressing because it's too real."
As a psychiatrist whose primary patient population includes frontline healthcare workers, Jessi Gold, M.D., was also hesitant about Grey's Anatomy's account of the pandemic - and she sees the same mixed feelings in her patients.
"Some people say, 'It's really important for me to see someone care about me, validate my experience, and I know their writers are trying to convey our experiences in a realistic way," she explains what they think of some of theirs Health facilities owned has worker patients. "And then there is another group that says, 'I turned it on for two seconds and was traumatized and couldn't keep watching.'" They are a fan of the show and admits that this aspect feels incredibly realistic and emotional.
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This isn't the first time a large or small screen has tried to reflect a modern day disaster. Law and order: The SVU often records real events and the film Contagion has gained a whole new fan base as the spread of the current pandemic feels eerily similar to the H1N1 virus that the film depicts. But the timing is where the difference lies. SVU's episodes are often released months or sometimes years after an incident that has already broken public awareness, and while Contagion may have been filmed during the H1N1 pandemic, it wasn't released until over a year after the pandemic ended in September 2011 Watching before our eyes in both real life and fiction is an experience that for many is both indulgent and unprecedented.
“It is a privilege not to have to deal with [COVID-19] every day because you are not there, you have no one to deal with or you have no family member to deal with it. Says Dr. Gold. “When health care workers stop, breathe, and the adrenaline settles, reminding them that they are a person, too, and not a robot working without sleep and taking care of people who die on the assembly line until they are told that they should stop. then they will ask, "How am I?" Which you probably haven't wondered in nine months. And then they actually have to answer that question, and the answer is probably not a good one. "
This devastating exhaustion plays out in several storylines of Grey's Anatomy this season, from Dr. Maggie Pierce's daily retreat to a hotel to protect herself while enjoying a long-distance relationship with her new boyfriend and the struggle of her half-sister Dr. Meredith Gray juggles the virus with Dr. Miranda Bailey struggles to find the time and space to grieve as she helps keep the hospital afloat.
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There are also many fans who feel incredibly validated by this season of Grey's. "Thank you for expressing so beautifully what the children of Alzheimer's sufferers are enduring," commented commentator Laura Self on the show's Facebook page. "Both of my parents have it, my father passed away in April, and my mother has just been diagnosed with COVID-19." And for hospice nurse Alecia Davidson, the fifth episode of the season couldn't have been more lifelike. "The difficult decision to push for treatment or promote wellbeing is my daily reality," she commented. "That episode had me in my feelings the whole time."
Dr. Gold has always believed that television and film have tremendous power when it comes to the representation of science and healthcare. When everyday people see characters who look like them in certain roles, the stigma changes and it makes a difference. And she believes this will be vital not only for healthcare workers like her patients, but also for how we deal with the post-pandemic, especially when it comes to mental health. "[The authors of Grey's Anatomy] could show viewers what therapy looks like or what medication looks like," proclaims Dr. Gold. "When you have a platform like this, you can make a difference in the way people talk and think about these things."
The series also contains mere stories about racial inequalities in health care. This is a headline as COVID-19 hits the black and brown communities the hardest. "It has something to do with the way you feel," says Dr. Gold. “We don't just want to see something happy, we also feel better. It is also like that when someone says that you have a right to feel this way because it was difficult or challenging, or that the whole experience is really traumatic. “When something is hard to observe but it helps normalize and validate what you are going through, it can feel like therapy to you. “I think it gives you a little bit of permission to feel what you are feeling and have someone say, 'Everything you experience is not normal in this world and right now this world is abnormal. You can feel the entire spectrum of feelings, ”explains Dr. Gold.
With the advent of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide, only time will tell what comes of the pandemic and where the story of Grey's Anatomy leads next. Fifty-eight percent of Americans say they'll get the vaccine if it's available in a November Gallup poll (conducted before promising announcements of coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna), up from 50 percent in September. Perhaps the division we see in almost every facet of public life will soon end. No matter where the zeitgeist lands, we can be sure that Grey's will capture it.
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