The Time 'The Golden Girls' Portrayed What It's Like to Be Chronically Ill


I’ve recently stared watching “The Golden Girls,” and I can relate to those woman quite a lot. The other night I watched an episode called “Sick and Tired.” It was a two-part episode that revolves around the character Dorothy feeling sick and run down lately, this had been happening to her for about five months. The illness came on randomly, and it made her feel and act differently than was the norm for her, to the point where her mother, Sophia, and two friends, Blanche and Rose, noticed. This episode was as if it was straight out of my life. The only difference is that Dorothy is an older woman and I am a young woman under the age of 30.

Sophia, Rose and Blanche urged Dorothy to go to the doctor to get checked out, so she complied. When she went to the doctor, explained her symptoms and had many tests, that first doctor came back to tell her there was nothing physically wrong with her. Sophia adamantly stood up for Dorothy, telling the doctor that the Dorothy that sat before him was not the same Dorothy that she had always known. She defended and advocated for her daughter. Dorothy was referred to another doctor, a neurologist who said the same thing, he even asked her how she was able to get from the cab to his office if she was so sick. He wrote off the symptoms as stress mostly due to her older age, telling her that she needed to go see a psychiatrist.

Dorothy began to feel overwhelmed, questioning whether or not it was all in her head, whether or not she was crazy. She collapsed in an onslaught of desperate tears. She was then told by Rose that she definitely was not faking it and it wasn’t all in her head, prompting Dorothy to keep fighting.

She went to this next doctor desperately hoping he would find something physically wrong with her. This time he believed her completely and told her that she had chronic fatigue syndrome. She was relieved, but wondered what it meant for her future.

She was so ecstatic about being believed and finally being diagnosed that she took Sophia, Rose and Blanche out to dinner to celebrate. At dinner she saw the neurologist who didn’t believe her and made her feel like she was crazy. She went right up to his table and stood up for herself, saying that she didn’t know when doctors lose their hearts, wishing that all young doctors could suffer from a scary unknown illness for a few weeks because that would teach them a hell of a lot more about compassion than anything else.

This episode almost exactly mirrors my own experiences. I went from doctor to doctor, each of them telling me I was making up my symptoms and it was all in my head. I was told to see a psychiatrist and even began to question my sanity just like Dorothy. I collapsed in an onslaught of tears just like Dorothy. It was my mother who stood up for me, just as Sophia did with Dorothy. I was finally referred to a doctor who believed I was ill, telling me that I have Chiari malformation and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which is associated with chronic fatigue syndrome. I was so ecstatic to finally be diagnosed just like Dorothy, as well as wondering what my illness meant for the rest of my life. The only thing that never happened for me was seeing the doctor who told me I was making up my symptoms. If I did see this doctor again I do not think I would have the bravery that Dorothy had to stand up to her. If I were to stand up to her I would want to say exactly what Dorothy said to her doctor. I think somewhere along the way (some) doctors do seem to lose their hearts.

It was both a bit painful as well as cathartic to see “my story” on an episode of a very popular television show. It brought back a lot of those bad memories, but it made me happy to see that issues like this were delved into because it shows a wide audience a brief summary of what a typical chronic illness patient goes through just to be diagnosed, to be believed. In the future I will refer people to this episode when I want them to understand what my journey was like. Thank you to Susan Harris, who has chronic fatigue syndrome and wrote the two-part episode “Sick and Tired.” You did an absolutely wonderful job portraying my story, our story. Thank you for being a friend!

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