Medical Documentaries That Put A Human Face To Illness

Here is an excerpt from a great article, “Medical Documentarians: Putting A Human Face on the Search for a Cure”, by George Heymont on Huffington Post:

Director, and cinematographer Andy Abrahams Wilson is a triple threat filmmaker. The recipient of a Pew Charitable Trust Fellowship in Dance/Media, Wilson was recognized by the Marin Arts Council as an Outstanding Artist of 2003. He has produced films about dance and dancers and has been nominated for an Emmy award. Wilson currently teaches video as art and discovery at Sausalito’s Open Eye Pictures (which he founded in 1994). The studio’s mission statement reads as follows:

“Open Eye Pictures is an award-winning, nonprofit production company specializing in creative, educational media. Taking a unique, humanistic approach, we open the eyes of viewers to see the extraordinary in the ordinary and the bigness in the littlest of things. We turn the lens on places where worlds and assumptions collide, illuminating the new life that springs forth. Telling stories through rich and poetic imagery, Open Eye Pictures moves its audience in unexpected ways.”

If I stress Wilson’s artistic achievements it is because he has done a remarkable job of making a documentary — that looks absolutely gorgeous — about a truly depressing disease that has reached epidemic proportions in America. Part of Wilson’s motivation for making Under Our Skin was personal: His twin sister and another close friend had both been diagnosed with Lyme disease. Over a period of four years, the filmmaker amassed 375 hours of footage for his documentary.

Under Our Skin, which focuses on patients struggling with Lyme disease, is that rare documentary that can hold a cruel mirror up to the insurance companies and other power players within the medical field and contrast their shallowness and deceptive practices with the real life pain being experienced by patients who are routinely denied coverage for their illness.

Connecticut’s former Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal, investigated allegations that serious flaws were to be found in the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s process for writing its 2006 Lyme disease guidelines. Blumenthal charged that IDSA’s board of directors had financial interests that compromised their ethics, causing them to advocate against the use of long-term antibiotic treatment for patients with Lyme. Under Our Skin takes aim at the hypocrisy of the IDSA’s position.

Wilson’s documentary also outlines the insurance industry’s systematic attempts to discredit physicians who have specialized in treating patients with Lyme and relates how insurance companies have worked behind the scenes to have some doctors’ medical licenses suspended so that they could then turn around and sue those very same physicians to recover the costs incurred from unauthorized treatment protocols.

In the following video, Dr. Joseph Jemsek (whose license was suspended for one year by the North Carolina Medical Board) describes how insurance companies pursue their insidious goals while attempting to jack up their profits.

As an infectious process that attacks the immune system, the spread of Lyme disease has eerie parallels to the history of HIV/AIDS. Both diseases started to ravage patients around 1980 (at about the same time that managed care started to become a dominant force in the medical field). In the early years of both epidemics, it was the patients who were often educating their physicians about the disease.

However, AIDS hit a minority population with a long history of political protests as well as its own media — the newly-formed Gay Press Association. While word of a deadly new disease spread quickly through the gay population, patients with Lyme were often misdiagnosed or unable to find a physician who knew how to treat someone with Lyme.

Part of the problem is that Lyme can easily mimic symptoms of such chronic diseases as syphilis, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, ADHD, fibromyalgia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety, depression, and Parkinson’s disease. Some physicians still refuse to issue a diagnosis of Lyme disease or even admit that it exists. The disease, however, does manage to find its way onto a death certificate.

Because a new law in the early 1980s made it possible for patents to be issued for living organisms, many of the researchers working on Lyme disease were quick to secure patents which might prove profitable, even if they prevented a great deal of research from being shared. A recent breakthrough, which points to Lyme having the physical characteristics of a biofilm, has offered new insights into the chronic nature of the disease.

Whether or not you know anyone who suffers from Lyme disease, Under Our Skin is an excellent teaching tool for people who have been brainwashed by the health insurance industry. If you want to give a conservative acquaintance a strong consciousness-raising session, I highly recommend Wilson’s documentary. Here’s the trailer: