Okay, so television characters aren’t real. On some level, we know this. But that doesn’t stop us from getting wrapped up in their romances, their personal dramas and — once in a while — their disabilities.
In fact, if you pay enough attention, you’ll notice that health scare-related plots are all over television. We watched Hank on “Breaking Bad” regain the use of his legs after being attacked by cartel outlaws. And on “Downton Abbey,” Matthew … um … also regained the use of his legs after suffering a war injury. (Note to TV show writers: Maybe you should try paralyzed arms for a change at some point?)
Most TV shows gloss over the financial impact of these disabling injuries, neglecting to tell us how, say, a minimum-wage barista can afford top-of-the-line medical care in Manhattan. But as anyone in this industry knows, the health care expenses, compounded by the loss of income from not working, can add up.
For these four television characters, disability insurance could have done a lot to benefit their bottom lines — though, admittedly, probably at the expense of their storylines.
Dr. Preston Burke, “Grey’s Anatomy”
Disability insurance is practically a must-have for highly skilled, highly paid doctors. Too bad Preston Burke of “Grey’s Anatomy” never got the memo.
The chief cardiothoracic surgeon at Seattle Grace Hospital — with an annual salary of $2 million — was shot toward the end of the show’s second season, and his injury left him with random tremors in his right hand. But rather than gracefully hang up his scalpel for the sake of his hospital’s reputation and his patients’ safety (the Hippocratic what?), Burke kept his condition a secret and continued to operate.
Eventually, Burke’s nervous girlfriend/intern ratted him out to the hospital’s leadership, which knocked Burke out of the running to become the next chief of surgery … and didn’t help his relationship much either.
But it all worked out in the end, because Burke’s best frenemy Dr. Derek Shepherd ended up operating on him to repair the injury’s damage. And Burke was able to get back to proposing to his girlfriend/intern, jilting the bride, and then leaving the show to act in movies no one watches.
(AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
Rayna James, “Nashville”
Rayna James is a fading country music legend, stuck playing opening act to the industry’s newest rising star, Juliette Barnes.
But that’s not nearly enough drama for a country-music-themed soap opera. So, after crashing a car during a heated argument with her ex-lover (who’s a soulful, hard-drinking guitar player named Deacon… because of course he is) last season, Rayna wound up in a coma. And when she woke up a few weeks later, she discovered — gasp! — that she could no longer sing. Despite working with a therapist, she was forced to delay recording her next album and cancel her tour with Juliette.
But wait! A few days later, in an impromptu, on-stage moment, Rayna was asked to sing for an audience and … Dramatic Pause … did. Hold the phone, y’all!
Is Rayna’s voice back for good?! Will she be able to tour with Juliette after all?! And more importantly, does anyone even watch “Nashville”?! Answers: I don’t know, I don’t know, and probably not.
(Photo by Todd Williamson/Invision/AP)
Guy MacKendrick, “Mad Men”
One of the most iconic scenes in “Mad Men” history is also a winning argument for disability insurance.
In season three, Guy MacKendrick, an account executive with the London-based advertising firm Puttnam, Powell & Lowe, announced that he’d soon be taking over the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency. But at an office party later that day, hi-jinks involving a John Deere riding lawn mower got a little … messy.
Staffers trotted the mower out for a few joyrides, and Lois, a switchboard operator, had trouble maneuvering the machine. One thing led to another, and Guy’s foot was run over — creating a debilitating disfigurement … and a lot of blood-splattered cocktails.
Guy survived, but the Putnam, Powell & Lowe execs fired him on the spot, noting that a disability in such a public-facing field meant his career was “all over.”
The drama knocked Don Draper into an existential funk — because what doesn’t? — and gave nonchalant Roger Sterling the best line of the night: “Somewhere in this business, this has happened before.”
Steve Austin, “The Six Million Dollar Man”
An astronaut and test pilot, Col. Steve Austin was badly injured while testing an experimental aircraft. Luckily, the Office of Scientific Investigation, a secret government agency, decided that, gentlemen, we can rebuild him.
So, pro: Austin became the world’s first bionic man — faster, stronger and better than everyone else.
But, con: To pay the government back the $6 million (about $28.5 million in 2013 dollars) it cost to rebuild him, Austin had to become an OSI agent.
That’s a whole lot of mad scientist/space alien/Bigfoot investigations. If Austin had owned DI, maybe he could have set up an installment plan instead? We’ll never know, Steve. We’ll never know.
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