Sunday, June 10, 2007

transplants in popular culture: The Last Summer (of You and Me)

OK, if you want to read the above book, haven't yet, and hate spoilers, CLEAR OUT.

Room clear?

OK Good.

I just finished reading this book last night. I had read a lot of good things about it and I do like my modern fiction as well as the greatness of Jane. The plot revolves around two sisters, Riley (24) and Alice (21), and their friend, Paul (who I guess is around 22, 23). They have always spent their summers together at a Long Island beach, but now a relationship is springing up between Alice and Paul.

Anyway, Riley ends up having congestive heart failure and a lot of damage to her heart, possibly due to the two bouts of rheumatic fever she's had, the one recently caused by failing to finish a course of antibiotics for strep throat. Riley ends up getting sicker and sicker and is eventually placed on the heart transplant list. Her illness, and the secrecy she has sworn Alice to (she asks Alice not to tell Paul), leads to the disintegration of Paul and Alice's fledgling romance, at least until after things with Riley are resolved.

Now I am always glad to see organ donation in literature, movies, etc. in a positive/accurate way, since it has potential to bring the cause before a lot of people in a way that non-profits often can't. This particular writer, for example, wrote the widely popular series The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, so she already has a large following, and since this book is more adult than those, she has the potential to attract new readers (like the Sisterhood's readers' mothers). So I am glad for that.

However. (You just knew that was coming, didn't you?)

I do wish that the author had done some more research or presented the facts of transplantation a bit more clearly for her audience. There are a few things that are glaringly questionable:

1) From the outset it's made clear that Riley hates taking pills and is ambivalent about following rules. She doesn't finish her first round of antibiotics because she loses her beach bag, where the drugs were placed. Yet she doesn't try to get a new script. When you're evaluated for transplant, compliance is one of the main things centers consider, because they're not going to give an organ to someone who isn't going to take care of it. Riley's history of not liking to take drugs, as well as her lack of compliance in something as simple as treating strep, would not make her a good candidate.

2) Riley is a lifeguard; in the novel, she continues to swim even after she is placed on the list, in fact, she swims right up until...well, whatever. Now I have no doubt that that can happen. Heck, I worked until two days before my transplant! It's important to live your life as much as possible while you're waiting, or you'll go nuts. But she is portrayed as extremely sick; the author talks about her lips and complexion being bluish. She would've been on home oxygen therapy at some point, and thus unable to swim.

3) The family gets a beeper. NOTE TO AUTHORS/MOVIE WRITERS: You don't get a beeper anymore! For most centers it's too expensive, and with everyone having cell phones, you just get their numbers. Karen had every single number in our family, including Bryan and Mel's cell phones, so she could ALWAYS get ahold of someone. Which leads to point

4) Riley gets the call for a heart but she left her beeper at home and thus missed it. Note that this story takes place in TODAY'S time period. As per point 3 this would not have happened. The coordinator would've called all the other numbers on the list and they would've found Riley. Now whether or not she would've gotten the heart could've been done more realistically by having it be a 'dry run' as opposed to Riley not having her beeper with her and missing it that way. Because only having one number to call wouldn't have happened. The center did also call the house but, as usual in novels, no one was home.

OK I think that's it. Like I said, I'm glad to see transplantation becoming more prevalent in the media and popular culture. And I am aware of the dramatic element--that is, wanting to up the drama so that it's compelling. When I used to watch ER they usually had at least one CF case a year, and of course they were always pathetically sick. It made for good drama; it made explaining to my friends that I could have a normal life difficult.

No comments: