Grey’s Anatomy as Exposure Therapy

As if the past two years of the never-ending Pandemic weren’t enough, I’ve also been dealing with something else.

I’ve been sick. For a while now, with no real answers so far. So, that’s fun. For me.

The short story is that I’ve been dealing with lingering vertigo, headaches, nausea, and ear issues for most of 2021. It’s the kind of thing that isn’t so bad that I’m worried I’m dying–despite my joking to my wife that I’ve got the dreaded ear cancer. The sickness itself is just always kind of there, like a stain on a favorite shirt that won’t come out. You just decide to accept and live with it at a point.

So what if people see the stain? It’s my shirt.

And while the symptoms are a revolving door of when they kick in and take over, the most constant issue from it is my depression and fear of it being part of something worse. I’ve never done well with handling my own healthcare, which was fine up to this point due to being pretty healthy. I haven’t been admitted to a hospital, broken a bone, or seen the inside of an operating room my entire life.

And now all I can think about is brain tumors and MRIs with contrast and the impending dread that comes along with such things.

I don’t say all of this to get some kind of sympathy. In fact, most days I’m pretty okay. Some ear discomfort here, general fatigue there. But dealing with all of these things on a daily basis since August is more than enough to wear on anyone’s soul.

So, as with most things I went with an old security blanket. Good thing I’ve had Grey’s Anatomy saved on my Netflix queue since 2009.

Two things to know that may provide some insight into my recent addiction to ABC’s serialized healthcare sex drama that seemingly has no end: First, at one point I was looking at a career in healthcare. Most of my family has worked in healthcare at one point or another, and during college I was patient care orderly, staring down the barrel of a gun that is rural living and a hometown whose biggest non-Wal-Mart employer is the local hospital system. A few years in nursing school were all that it took to make me realize I wanted nothing to do with medicine before abandoning the plan and absconding to Ohio University for a career in writing.

The second thing to know is that I might have started nursing school because of Grey’s Anatomy. The hot show at the time that was the mid-aughts, Grey’s was a weird combination of hyper-focused on showcasing the medicine at hand while also giving you a general idea about which of its main characters would probably be down for anal.

That combination of smutty and serious is jarring to watch back in retrospect, but I think by and large the show holds up to the test of time, despite the utter silliness that it has been on television since 2004.

And so, with my health future sitting in the unknown regions of my brain space–and with my yearly rewatch of Gilmore Girls already completed–I did what I hadn’t done since Rachel and I started dating and jumped feet-first back into Grey’s Anatomy.

In a weird way it’s been cathartic, and maybe even a bit reassuring.

For one, and in a way not related to healthcare whatsoever, the show serves as a reminder about the folly of my youth. I spent a lot of time in college wishing that I led a more exciting, sexy, adventure-filled life. I’d watch back these shows that I desperately wanted as a representation of my existence and think of that 3 Doors Down song If I Could Be Like That.

The truth? Wanting a life like that, full of sex and angst and drama is just tiring, and it’s something I’ve grown out of a decade later. And that’s good! Honestly, who would want to live in a soap opera? My college years were enough like that as it was, full of failed blind dates, near-misses with bad women, and getting over high school crushes the hard way. If anything, watching something like Grey’s is a nice reminder that I love being married and moved on and settled. There’s comfort in that. I’ll take it.

The real catharsis though has been somewhat like exposure therapy. I’ve always had a deep-seated fear of death and the unknown, and slipping back into my healthcare mindset has done a lot to help me remember that this stuff doesn’t need to be terrifying. After all, I used to be the guy with a pager on my hip, eating my lunch on a morgue stretcher and dealing with all the blood and bodily fluids that could be mustered. My time as an orderly was formative in more than the obvious ways, mainly for the fact that it showed me that life, death, health, and sickness are all part of a revolving wheel in life that we don’t get to ignore. That also means we don’t need to be afraid of that wheel, no matter how terrifying a shadow it may cast.

So, I’m doing my best. I’m trying. I’m watching the smutty doctor show and not thinking about going to a neurologist and potentially being told I need to have my head cut open. We’re taking it one day at a time.

Also, Meredith is kind of the worst. I cannot believe that show is still on the air. Amazing.

Will Harrison is a writer, columnist, and reporter living in the middle of nowhere in Ohio.

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