Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fox Bones Episode an Insult to People with Fibromyalgia

I was disappointed, last night, as I watched one of my favorite TV shows, Bones.  

 Episode 18, Predator in the Pool,  was very interesting. Booth and Brennan (Bones) caught the killer, a fourth-grade teacher, who had enacted revenge on a shady self-help guru, Jazz Gunn. Through his seminars, Gunn had promised a cure for pain and fibromyalgia. After taking his seminar nine times, the teacher did not feel any better and felt betrayed by Jazz Gunn and his false promises. An opportunity arose and she killed him. As she was confessing to FBI agent Booth, she stated that after killing him, she has since felt no pain. The clear implication being that her fibromyalgia was now cured.

This conclusion has some humor, but it is at the expense of millions of people who live every day in the pain caused by fibromyalgia. People with fibromyalgia, their families, doctors and scientists around the world have worked hard over the past 30+ years to document the legitimacy of this medical illness.  In 1987, the American Medical Association recognized fibromyalgia as a true illness and a major cause of disability. Despite this recognition, and years of scientific research, many in our society still think of fibromyalgia as a psychological problem. 

This episode of Bones helped to perpetuate this harmful myth. It is not a stretch to believe that the teacher with fibromyalgia would feel desperate and betrayed by the false promises of Jazz Gunn. People often do feel desperate for some type of relief for their never-ending pain. Unfortunately, there is no known cure at this time. Even revenge and murder cannot cure fibromyalgia. 

A Simple Solution to this problem, for the show's writer's, would have been for the highly intelligent Dr. Brennan to add that, "I guess she didn't have fibromyalgia after all".  This would have been consistent with the character's knowledge and avoided the implication that psychological factors, such as needing revenge, could cause fibromyalgia.

A Responsible Solution would be for the producers of Bones to apologize to the millions of people and their families that are  affected by fibromyalgia. This apology could help clarify that fibromyalgia is a true medical illness, not caused or cured by psychological factors.

Bones is still one of my favorites. I hope the writers and researchers can avoid such costly mistakes in the future. A little bit of extra background research can help all of us.

Yours with Care
Michael MacDonald, Ph.D.


  1. i totaly agree. I have suffered from this condtion. I have had major problems dispite over two feet of medical records in getting social security disablity to believe this is a deblitating condtion.
    to say the show was insulting is a small thought i was outraged. And then it was allowed to be reran.
    I have been evaluated by so many doctors all say i havent got mental problems only physical ones along with the pain issues. I face my fears daily. the fear of falling the fear of migrains for days the fear any meds will give me yet another reaction are all fears i face. I dont think it was fair to fibromyalgia paitens to say as in the show that we can stop the pain by facing the fear.

  2. A passing mention on another Fox program, Glee, on 8 February 2011, has me wondering if Fox still thinks Fibromyalgia is funny.

    In the episode "Silly love songs," Sue Sylvester tries to enlist Britney's sympathy for an inanimate object---a circus cannon---by stating that the mommy cannon can't work because it has Fibromyalgia.

    This is a flippant little reference and yet implies an understanding that Fibromyalgia is indeed disabling.

    Interestingly, the episode ends with two students getting mononucleosis, a disease which is often the viral trigger for chronic diseases later diagnosed as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and/or Fibromyalgia.

    In a perfect world, this would be the first glimmer of a great change in Fox's attitude, and we would learn in upcoming episodes that researchers have done their job right.

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