Was I Conned by a ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Writer?

News

Was I conned by a writer for “Grey’s Anatomy”? Now, there’s a question I never thought I’d ask myself.

This strange saga started in early 2018, when I was doing research for a book about bias in women’s healthcare. A commercial for an upcoming episode of the long-running ABC medical drama piqued my curiosity because it was about a female heart attack patient. I had just interviewed several women who nearly died after their cardiac symptoms were dismissed as panic attacks — an all-too-common scenario.

This point was underscored by Martha Gulati, MD, now a cardiologist with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, when I interviewed her for the chapter on heart disease. “As women we should be outraged,” she told me “If I’m having a heart attack, I want no delay…. I don’t have time for chitchat. I don’t want somebody asking me if I’m stressed out. Of course, I’m stressed out! We’re all stressed out. Why do men not get asked those questions? There’s something about presenting as a woman, whatever that is, that we get treated differently.”

In the excellent “Grey’s Anatomy” episode, character Miranda Bailey, MD (played by Chandra Wilson), chief of surgery at the fictional Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, enters the emergency department of another hospital and declares that she is having a heart attack. The story exemplifies how a woman (especially a Black woman) with cardiac symptoms may be mistreated when her physical symptoms are chalked up to stress or anxiety. In the show, after a psychiatrist weighs in, Bailey tells him, “Doctor, with all due respect to your field of medicine, I need you to understand that with every second we waste, I’m losing heart muscle.”

I was very interested in talking with the credited writer, Elisabeth Finch, and I requested an interview through the publicity department at ABC. In the past, when I sought talks with television folks, it typically happened within a matter of days. This time, I got the sense that something was going on with the writer that would delay or maybe even prevent the interview. I knew nothing about Finch, so I googled her and discovered a moving 2016 essay she wrote for Elle about having a rare — and deadly — form of bone cancer, which was misdiagnosed.

When we finally spoke by phone, I was conscious of not wanting to wear Finch out, having read that she spent many hours in clinical trials and chemotherapy. During our conversation, I asked her what inspired her to write the heart attack episode and she told me: “When we talked about doing this episode, one of the things that we were really interested in exploring was how challenging it sometimes can be for a woman to be heard in a medical setting…. Throughout the course of the history of our show, Dr. Bailey is so strong and so powerful and so articulate and so passionate and so successful in achieving anything it is that she needs or wants. To see her in a setting where she is not able to get the care she needs is something that I found really impactful.”

When I wrote about Finch, I observed that her own medical ordeal added extra meaning to the plight she created for Bailey: “Elisabeth had a personal attachment to writing a story of misdiagnosis, because she lived it when a prominent orthopedic surgeon brushed aside her chronic back pain…. In a moving piece for Elle magazine, Elisabeth wrote that the doctor characterized her as impatient and emotional: ‘It never occurred to me that being ‘female’ was perhaps the most dangerous label of all.'”

After the interview, I sent Finch her quotes to review, along with a release form required by the publisher. When the book was published in 2019, I mailed Finch a signed copy, thanking her for her help and wishing her good health and happiness. (All the other people I interviewed provided their emails. Finch did not. The only way I could contact her was through ABC.)

While working on my book’s paperback edition in 2021, I again googled her, fearing that I would find an obituary. Many people with chondrosarcoma, the form of cancer she said she had, do not survive past 5 years; Finch claimed to have been sick since 2012. The only thing that popped up in my search was her active Twitter account, indicating she was miraculously beating the odds.

Then, this May, Vanity Fair published “Scene Stealer: The True Lies of Elisabeth Finch, Part 1.” Reporter Evgenia Peretz exposes allegations that Finch fabricated her cancer diagnosis, as well as a string of other extreme crises. Finch’s Elle column was her magic ticket to be hired by superstar producer Shonda Rhimes.

“Everyone in Finchie’s world, as they called her, believed she was that miracle. Not only was chondrosarcoma unheard of in someone her age, but she was, incredibly, living with it,” Peretz writes. “She showed up so bravely to the Grey’s Anatomy writers room, a scarf over her bald head. And she so inspired everyone around her…. When cancer story lines came up on the show, Finch led the way — she was the expert.”

I am angry about Finch’s alleged deceptions. Obviously, no one enjoys being duped. (She appears on two pages of my book.) But that’s not what has me so upset. A recurring theme of my book is that sick women often are not heard or believed. If it’s true that Finch lied, I worry that her high-profile duplicity may plant seeds of doubt, making life more difficult for women struggling to get compassionate medical care.

I’ll never know what Finch was thinking if she did, in fact, invent so many facets of her life story. Years ago, when I was in journalism school, one of my professors counseled: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” I neglected to follow this advice with Finch, and that’s on me. I assumed that Finch had been vetted by Elle and ABC, and you know what they say about assuming…

I get why no one doubted her cancer journey — who would lie about having a deadly disease? According to Peretz, Finch was given time off from work whenever she requested it to take part in treatments and clinical trials at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

What I can’t wrap my head around is why Finch’s colleagues apparently didn’t question the escalating and extreme crises that tormented her. Peretz writes about the string of calamities that afflicted Finch, “some of which she chronicled for the world, some of which she talked about in select company.” There was a doomed pregnancy, a failing kidney, a friend murdered in the Tree of Life synagogue mass shooting (Finch claimed to help clean up the body parts), an abusive brother who attempted suicide. Peretz’s article calls into question whether any of these things actually occurred.

How was it possible that no one at “Grey’s Anatomy” saw these catastrophes as red flags that something was off, and that Finch needed some kind of mental health intervention?

Finch no longer works for the show. The Elle essay that elevated her TV career has disappeared from the magazine’s website. ABC sent me this statement from production company Shondaland:

“Grey’s Anatomy prides itself on telling painful, emotional and oftentimes difficult medical stories, many of which are inspired by firsthand experiences of our writers, doctors and consultants. We have always worked hard to tell these stories in the most truthful, empathetic and compassionate way, and we were never given any reason to suspect that any personal story told to us was untrue.”

Perhaps the new season of “Grey’s Anatomy” will include an episode on factitious disorder, defined as a mental illness in which someone deceives others by appearing sick. However, the Mayo Clinic notes this is not the same “as inventing medical problems for practical benefit.”

I truly hope that Finch gets the help she needs.

Emily Dwass has written about health and culture for numerous publications. She is the author of Diagnosis Female: How Medical Bias Endangers Women’s Health. An updated paperback edition came out in February 2022.

Articles You May Like

AstraZeneca Boosts Cancer Portfolio With $320 Million Neogene Deal
Simulated Driver Training May Reduce Accidents Among Teens With ADHD
Popular toy of prehistoric children revealed by new research
CDC will test sewage for polio outside New York to see if it’s circulating elsewhere in nation
Why most men don’t have enough close friends

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *