Did you happen to see Law & Order: Special Victims Unit last night? I did.
The main character who was victimized (raped and abused) was a 41-year old black woman living with chronic progressive multiple sclerosis. It was mentioned that she had a very aggressive form of the disease.
In the show, she was not only wheelchair bound but she was a quadriplegic who couldn't speak nor apparently move her mouth even. She could blink. One for yes; two for no. The characterization reminded me of "locked in syndrome." which can be seen in ALS (amyotropic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gerig's Disease) patients.
To make the story more interesting, and tragic, the woman with MS had been a famous opera singer. Beautiful, successful, courageous. Her sister, who had also become her caregiver, was the longtime jealous sibling who now took out her frustrations by beating her paralyzed sister. Abuse by the hands of caregivers is apparently not uncommon according to the portrayal in this episode, but the sister is forgiven in the end by the MS patient while power-of-attorney is transferred to the nephew.
One bit of evidence which was used in the conviction of the serial rapist (who was the driver for the disabled bus service in the area) was fingerprints on the woman's adult diaper. Never mind that the woman most likely had a catheter in place to catch her urine, the absence of the diaper was the indication for medical professionals to check for signs of sexual abuse.
Although this woman was unable to move, unable to speak, unable to use her operatic voice to communicate, it turns out that she could move the index finger on her right hand. She used it to caress her nephew's face in one scene and later she used it to identify her rapist in the courtroom.
We are nearing the end of Multiple Sclerosis Education and Awareness Month here in March. I wonder if the timing of this episode of Law & Order was meant to coincide or if this was pure coincidence. Either way, I wonder what you think.
Please watch the synopsis video below and answer a few questions:
Was the portrayal of a highly aggressive case of chronic progressive MS helpful in spreading awareness of the disease, or hurtful in characterizing MS patients as invalids?
In our country, we know that cancer can kill and bo-koos of money is donated for research. Do you think that heightened public awareness of the potential devastating effects of the disease might lead to more dollars donated towards research?
Or does this portrayal simply spread fear among those who might have a loved one newly diagnosed with MS, or for the patient himself who faces the vast unknown of the future?
Would it have been helpful to have had a minor character in the episode - someone who was mobile, employed, non-disabled, and for all practical purposes completely "normal" - reveal that he/she also had multiple sclerosis for x number of years? Would this have given a better picture of the wide-ranging possible outcomes?
What are your thoughts? Please respond in the comments below.
P.S. Often Law & Order: Special Victims Unit includes a public service announcement as a postlogue. This would have been a perfect opportunity for the National MS Society to coordinate with the writers on the show to briefly (in 30-45 seconds) give a rundown on MS in this country. And an appropriate time to help gear up for all of the MS Walks which are about to take place all across the country.