5 Different Reactions to Empire’s Portrayal of Myasthenia Gravis
FOX‘s Empire is the biggest international hit on television since The Cosby Show. In fact, 22.5 million people tuned into the second season premiere on September 28, 2015. (Spoiler alert: stop reading if you haven’t seen the first season finale.) As promised in my post where I explored the show’s portrayal of bipolar disorder, I’m going to write about Empire‘s portrayal of myasthenia gravis, MG.
As a person with has MG (a rare, neuromuscular autoimmune disease), I was shocked to see the main character (Lucious Lyon) have this disease. And even more surprised to see that another character has one of my other four illnesses, bipolar disorder. Overall, I was happy with Empire’s portrayal of MG, but not everyone is. I’ll present a variety of opinions from people with and without MG.
MG Comes in Different Colors
When I was diagnosed with MG and hospitalized in 2008, I had all of the symptoms of MG. MG almost killed me. With every illness, there is a spectrum and MG is no exception. Not every MG patient has all the symptoms. In my case, I carry a cane. There are people who are in wheelchairs and people who don’t carry any walking implements. And there are people who are in pain even when the don’t look like it–hence the term “invisible illness.” Because MG can present itself in drastically differently ways, myasthenics call ourselves “snowflakes.”
Symptoms of MG In Real Life and MG
Family and friends who are doctors said I was a “text book case of MG.” My symptoms included: fatigue, droopy eyelids, loss of balance–falling down, inability to feel arms and legs, head feeling too heavy to lift, dysphasia (difficulty swallowing), speech problems, coordination problems, vision problems, and respiratory problems. When patients do not get a timely diagnosis, they develop respiratory problems, which can be deadly. For more on my MG diagnosis story, go here. On Empire, Lucious Lyon is like the Godfather (Michael Corleone–not Vito Corleone) of the music business. Here’s what I liked about Empire’s portrayal:
-Lucious has double vision
-Lucious experiences coordination problems–his girlfriend has to help him shave because he can’t do it. I used to have the same coordination problems–difficulty brushing my hair, applying makeup, shaving my legs, etc.
-Lucious has speech problems–this scene was deja vu for me! Before Lucious has to give a big speech, he discovers he cannot speak. One of my first MG attacks happened when I was delivering a speech. No one could understand what I was saying. I remember people standing over me saying, “Give her some water. Give her something to eat.”
-MG is said to be chronic–throughout the season, Lucious thinks he has ALS. When the nurse tells him he really has MG, she calls MG “rare but serious” (or something like that). After the finale, there were was an erroneous article circulating online that said MG is curable. It is not. A patient can experience a remission of symptoms but it is not “curable.” Not yet anyway.
5 Different Reactions:
1. Pleasant Surprise–I was shocked to see a character with a rare disease; some estimates say that MG only happens to 1 in 100,000 people. I liked how Lucious’s MG was confused for ALS because patients with MG often get misdiagnosed with other illnesses like MS, multiple sclerosis.
2. Watchdog–My friend, Aaron, texted me the night of the finale, “Jessica, are you watching Empire?!? I’m going to be watching how they portray the disease.”
3. Enlightenment–My friend, Meghan, posted on my Facebook wall this sweet message.
4. Mixed Feelings–
On our Facebook page, Fashionably ill reader, Michelle wrote:
“I saw it and had mixed feelings. Great they brought it up, but was kind of shocked at how brushed over it was and, to me, it didn’t really enlighten anyone to the disease. If I didn’t know about MG I would have thought it was as devastating as getting a hang nail. While I agree ALS is much worse, please don’t get me wrong – I am one of the people with MG who has been blessed with living a full, drug-free life in remission (with one small relapse recently when I had a horrible strain of strep) – I know so many others whose roads are so different and so much more difficult…I’ve seen so many, like you, who have had an awful road. So many others never make it to remission – or are battling other diseases on top of their MG. I wish it was explained better.”
5. Disappointment–I read this article by TV critic, Keertana Sastry. Here’s what she wrote in her Bustle article:
“I hope the series does show Lucious dealing with MG. I’ve been told the illness is much more serious than the finale led on, and I’m hoping to do even more research about it. So it’s not fair to call it less important than ALS, but it just feels too unfair to those living with both conditions to make such an abrupt change and act like Lucious is completely healthy and will never die. That’s unfair.”
Do you watch Empire? Any thoughts on Empire or the presence (or absence) of MG in the media?
Resource: MGFA, Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America, Inc.
–Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno
7 thoughts on “5 Different Reactions to Empire’s Portrayal of Myasthenia Gravis”
I also have MG was diagnosed
About a year and a half ago and all the symptoms listed ive had abd still do most of them im on three different medicines aling with five vitamins , and still having problems
I’m really sorry to hear that. 🙁 Thank you for sharing. In my latest article, I talk about Reliv, a nutritional supplement, I’ve been taking since Dec 2012 that helped me so much with my respiratory problems: https://jessicagimeno.com/?p=4845
At any rate, you can meet other people with MG on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/fashionablyill I hope things get better. Jessica
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I’m just stumbling upon your article. A friend of mine sent it to me since she found out about the MG plot in Empire. I was diagnosed a year ago, and it’s definitely been a rollercoaster. I remember the night before I saw my pulmonologist I resigned to the fact that I had ALS. I had severe muscle weakness, and my breathing had deteriorated so badly because previous doctors ignored my symptoms (sad part was they were a big research hospital here in LA). My pulmonologist literally saved my life. I too hope that more MG awareness comes from this show and hopefully will inspire other shows as well. It’s definitely frustrating that a lot of the info on the internet portrays out disease like it’s no big deal. I wonder if they would feel that way if they actually witnessed an MG person choking on food..or their own saliva..or running out of breath just walking a few steps upstairs. Anyways, I enjoyed this article and I found it comforting to see someone out there with the disease and speaking out about it!
It appears the writers of Empire have let the MG symptoms slip into the background. Several missed opportunities to enhance the plot and help educate the audience about the disease. With the numerous assaults on his body and the constant stress, he would most likely have serious repercussions, I.e., MG Crisis, need for O2, with mission lower leg his other muscles should be compromised in numerous ways. It’s disappointing to constantly watch as the disease gets diagnosed via some dramatic moment, but then becomes a footnote. Even a moderate case of MG requires major compromises and life-changing activities to remain functional… often for just a partial day.
Thank you for sharing, MK! I stopped watching the show a few years ago. I agree that MG needs to be taken more seriously. People do not understand how life changing and devastating this disease can be. It’s definitely not a footnote in my life tat’s for sure.