Part 2 – Allergies in Film and Television: Myths versus Realities

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Howard Wolowitz, a character from the brilliantly funny TV show The Big Bang Theory, has a peanut allergy. In season 1, episode 16, Howard has an intentional allergic reaction. Without spoiling too much about the plot, Howard is trying to stall as much time as possible to keep his friend, Leonard, from going home early to a surprise birthday party. In order to stall, he initially fakes an allergic reaction; but the nurses at the hospital catch on to his ploy and send him away. Desperate to stall, Howard does the unthinkable and eats a food with peanuts in it. This short clip is what follows:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuOpWSAsKnc

There isn’t much myth in this clip; however, there is plenty to learn from it. 1) Never intentionally eat your allergen to stall time for a surprise birthday party. Nothing is worth risking your life in this way! 2) If you’re having a reaction, a Hospital is where you need to go. So, in that sense, Howard was in the right setting to have a reaction. We never saw an auto-injector used, but having nurses and hospital staff at-hand is even better. 3) The swelling of Howard’s face, extremities, and tongue are very possible symptoms of an allergic reaction (as we also saw with Hitch from my previous post).

In the second season of a Canadian ‘school teacher comedy’ called Mr. D, one of the teachers, Bobbi, has just donated blood to show another teacher, Simon, that giving blood isn’t so scary. After her successful donation, and his not-so-successful donation (I won’t spoil the reason why), the two are relaxing on lounge chairs. The school librarian, Wayne, then brings them each a cookie. Bobbi is allergic to peanuts and asks: “Are there any nuts in these cookies?” Wayne responds with a “No.” So Bobbi takes a bite of her cookie. Wayne then says: “There are peanuts.” Bobbi spits out her cookie, starts to panic, and tells them that she’s super allergic to peanuts. Wayne and Simon then exchange dialogue about the difference between a nut and a legume and how Bobbi should know the difference. She sits back in her chair and tells them she needs her EpiPen. A few things can be learned here: 1) Although Wayne is a ‘smart aleck’, and should have told Bobbi there were peanuts in the cookie from the beginning, the fact that peanuts are considered legumes and not nuts is an accurate fact. 2) Her response of spitting out the cookie and calling for her auto-injector was smart. 3) She says she needs to go to the hospital because her throat is closing up. This is also a smart decision (9-1-1 should additionally be contacted when an allergic reaction arises).

Lastly, Ross Geller, one of the main characters on the TV show, Friends, is allergic to lobster, peanuts, and kiwi. In the following clip, Ross eats a Kiwi-Lime pie that he mistook for a Key-Lime pie that his sister, Monica, made for him.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unmfG892KgQ

From the clip, the allergic reaction is very easy to notice. His throat and tongue swelling up are a few of the many possible signs that a life-threatening allergic reaction is taking place. So, in this sense, the clip is quite accurate. However, Ross never suggests the use of an auto-injector. He is afraid of needles and this may be the reason he does not suggest using one; but even his sister never mentions it. The decision to go straight to the hospital could be seen as a good decision (although it would have been wiser to call 9-1-1 and let help come to them). They live in the heart of New York City. So getting to a hospital before the reaction gets very bad, especially without the use of an auto-injector, is not very likely. The decision is ultimately very risky for Ross (he says in the clip that he can die from Kiwi).

Hopefully you learned a thing or two by reading through this two-part blog! Remember to always be critical of how food allergies are portrayed on the big screen. Sometimes clips and scenes are quite accurate, while others are completely wrong or misinformed. Just because we see food allergy management on the big screen, or on our favourite TV show, the management not necessarily accurate or advisable. Some of the clips reviewed here were simply used to cause audiences to laugh; but, when you or someone you know is faced with a severe allergic reaction, it is no laughing matter and proper care should be taken. Thanks for the read. If you have any more clips, scenes or stories to share, please comment here and we can spark a conversation!

 

Dylan

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