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The Reality of the “Red Band Society”

Thursday, October 02, 2014

By Becca Atherton

I have seen the internet abuzz over a new television show called Red Band Society. I've read a few reviews of the show that were written by chronically or terminally ill teens who had watched the pilot, and their reviews made me worried they wouldn't be portrayed properly. While there were a few things that I disliked about how they portrayed life in the hospital, there were some wonderful teaching moments and this show will hopefully raise awareness about children with terminal or chronic illnesses.

Let me start off with the positives. As someone who has been evaluated for a heart-lung transplant, I was pleased to see that they explained how difficult it is to get a heart transplant. The message Leo gave as he handed out the red bands, that you are not alone, was something that hit very close to home to me. When you are in the hospital, you do get to meet other patients and can bond with them.

I loved the jokes that the kids would make about their own health. I joke a lot about my illness to my friends, the healthy and non-healthy ones! Between us CHD kids, we make heart condition jokes all the time with one another. It helps us to deal with something so serious by being able to laugh at it—gives our health just a little less control over us whenever we can laugh it off.

However, there were a few parts of this show that I did not agree with. For one, Dash, who has cystic fibrosis, is in need of a lung transplant but he isn't even on oxygen! Emma, who is anorexic, is not getting proper nutrients.

I've been in and out of the hospital since I was born and I have met a lot of other patients while in there and I can guarantee you that none of my friends nor myself have ever worn stylish clothing like these kids did. You are so emotionally and physically exhausted that you have no energy to put on makeup, let alone plan out stylish outfits. And why do all of these kids look so full of energy? Pale cheeks, droopy eyes and a slow zombie-like walking pace is what real patients look like. We are not constantly (or ever) running around throwing parties and sneaking in beer.

There are two messages that this show gives that I strongly disagree with. The first one is the message that there is freedom in a hospital. That is 100% false—there is absolutely none. You are told what you're going to eat and when you're going to eat it. Heck, you can't even go to the bathroom without your nurse coming in to measure just how much you went!

The second message is that life doesn't stop when you go into the hospital, it's just beginning. That I disagree with completely. Life stops. Sure, friends come to visit you, but once they leave, you're left alone in an empty hospital bed while they get to go out and enjoy the world around them. You miss holidays, birthday parties, school field trips and all the memories. When you finally get out of the hospital, friends have moved in different directions and it's almost next to impossible to get caught up. No matter how hard you try, you can never get those weeks or months back, nor can you ever share those memories—because you weren't there. You were cooped up inside, just trying to stay alive.

I'm excited for this show because I do believe it can raise awareness. I just really hope that if it continues, they make this show more realistic. You don't hook up with fellow patients, especially not in the so-cliché supply closet. I've never met anyone in the hospital who has snuck out for a joy ride in a doctor's car or snuck in beer. I get that you need to get viewers and some of these scenarios had humor in them—which I loved—but try to not go overboard with these parts of "hospital life," because those situations are not realistic. The last thing I want is for society to think it's fun to be chronically or terminally ill, because it's not. It's terrifying.

So, please, Red Band Society, I ask that you raise awareness in a way that will help give people a realistic look at what our lives are like.


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The opinions expressed by ACHA bloggers and those providing comments on the ACHA Blog are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Adult Congenital Heart Association or any employee thereof. ACHA is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the ACHA bloggers.

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