On this week’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy (Thursdays at a new time of 7 p.m. ET on CTV), the focus on the surface of the episode may have been about Bailey’s lack of work-life balance leading to a heart attack, but in fact it was much more than that. The true story on this week’s episode was about what happens when patients ignore their own body and don’t act as their own advocate, or even worse, when they’re ignored.
Throughout Grey’s 14 seasons, the series has dipped its toe into more serious subject matter than break room hook ups and gruesome injuries. We’ve seen this social commentary increase in the past few years, with Season 13 giving us an outstanding episode about the lack of humanity and medical care in the prison system. Just last week, Grey’s took on police shootings of young black men when a child who was climbing into his own house was shot and killed. Now with Bailey’s heart attack acting as the main storyline this week, patient advocacy and the discrepancy in care for women of colour were the true conversations starters of the episode.
After telling Ben that she had a meeting at another hospital, Bailey checked herself into an ER and told the doctors that she was having a heart attack. Even as the highly respected Chief of Surgery at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, Bailey’s concerns were dismissed, with the doctors instead more focused on her stress levels and history of mental illness. It wasn’t until Bailey called Maggie and passed out that the doctors finally took to heart, literally, the word of a woman with decades of medical experience.
Advocating for yourself as a patient can be difficult for anyone and this point was driven home with Bailey, a celebrated surgeon, having her opinion dismissed. Sadly, this isn’t a huge surprise, especially with Bailey being a black woman. A study done in 2016 by the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management found that black actors posing as patients were treated with less compassion and care than white actors. This trend increases for women of colour; in the US, black women are three to four times more likely to die from complications from childbirth. Tennis champion Serena Williams even shared her own traumatic story in 2017. After giving birth to daughter Olympian, Williams advocated for herself that she needed blood thinners, but was ignored by medical professionals and only after repeated requests was examined and tested positive for a blood clot.
This week’s near-death experience may have shown us Bailey’s childhood. Her thrill-seeking neighbor may have inspired her to work less. Her heart attack may have been the force that changed her mind on Ben becoming a firefighter. But the most important part of this week’s episode was seeing first hand how important patient advocacy is in the medical community and how far there is still to go.
Sure, Grey’s may be a TV show, but there are plenty of Baileys every day who don’t have the medical training to be able to voice their concerns, or surgeon friends they can call on speed dial. If you think something is wrong, be a Bailey and don’t quit until you’re treated.
As a side note, after what happened when Derek and Bailey were treated at neighboring hospitals, can we all just agree that treatment should only take place at Grey Sloan? Deal.
Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays at a new time of 7 p.m. ET on CTV.