Tuesday, December 13, 2005


    Our daughter enjoys a Tuesday evening, Fox TV program “House”, an off the wall medical mystery show. Catching snippets and overhearing dialogue while doing chores this evening I could follow that the plot involved a diagnosis of Munchausen Syndrome. Give or take some other twists.

     I learned that Munchausen Syndrome is a type of factitious disorder, or mental illness. A person repeatedly acts as if he or she has a physical or mental disorder when, in truth, they have caused the symptoms. People act this way because of an inner need to be seen as ill or injured.

     Now comes the clincher. The show’s script writers gave the patient the “excuse” that while she was growing up her mother had Multiple Sclerosis. People were always doing things for her Mom, and taking care of her Mom, getting her things, brushing her hair …  Her Mother died when she was 16 and the show's patient had learned to associate attention with illness.

     I just sat there with my mouth open. It may mean nothing to 99 out of 100 people. Yet, we have lived with MS in our family and that includes a daughter raised by a Mother with MS.

     I tried to rationalize that script writers were writing for the reasoning of a mentally ill patient. However, I couldn’t help but wonder what misinformation a viewer with no real knowledge of living with MS could walk away with.

     In all these years I have never heard or read of any family member developing Munchausen Syndrome because another family member had MS.

1 comment:

  1. I've dabbled in television writing, and though I don't write for House, I'm a big fan of the show.  Coincidentally, I suspect I'll be diagnosed with MS in the next couple months--just waiting for an MRI.  OK, so it's not so coincidental, I had searched for "cerebral" + "multiple sclerosis" and the magic Google machine lead me here.

    About a month ago I developed chronic inappropriately cold feet, which progressed into numbness, and then tingling.  Eventually the parasthesias migrated to my upper extremeties, then I was plagued by twitches.  Now my symptoms have shifted again: fatigue, eye-pain, dizzinness.  It's been a hell of a month.  Though my doctor hasn't  yet given me a diagnosis, it's pretty clear to me what I have.

    I saw that House episode you've commented on here, and I loved it.  House is a brilliantly written show, and the medical research they put into the show is incredibly solid.  I usually make it a point to research the pathogens-of-the-week simply to satisfy my own curiosity (and it also comes in handy as I've written a few sample scripts for the show).  

    When writing for film or television, writers rarely consider "what usually happens?"  If we did, you'd just see a bunch of the same boring stuff you see going about your day.  The more appropriate question is "what could happen?"  From that infinite range of possibilities, the writer selects the most dramatically effective scenarios.

    The Munchausen's patient demanded a back story, and a conditioned behavior to feign illness for attention certainly makes sense.  Multiple Sclerosis is just, dare I say, an innocent victim?  The show's writing team could have traded it for any chronic disease which might warrant a lot of attention.  But it's certainly not an inconceivable, or even unprobable scenario.

    Nice blog.  I'll check it out every now and then.


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