Arches. Photo by Daniel Chia
HOPES: Huntington's Outreach Project for Education, at Stanford
Aug
14
2014

HD in Scrubs: My Finale

In the season 8 finale of Scrubs, a popular medical TV show, one of the doctors diagnoses a 70-year-old woman with Huntington’s disease. While manifestation of the disease is more common during middle age, presenting symptoms later on is possible. JD, the physician on the show, does his best to explain the disease in a manageable, understandable way without neglecting to mention the patient’s son, Mr. Stonewater, is at-risk. JD offers Mr. Stonewater the genetic test that would reveal whether or not he had inherited the same faulty gene as his mother. Mr. Stonewater asks for some time to consider his options.

JD goes through the rest of his day fazed, as he knows how devastating the disease is and how difficult a decision it is whether or not to pursue genetic testing. When Mr. Stonewater informs JD that he does not want to take the test, JD respects his wishes.

Background:

The son, Mr. Stonewater, had told JD that his mom wasn’t acting like herself. When JD tries to examine her, she lashes out and accuses him of trying to attack her. JD comes back later with a diagnosis.

Dialogue:

Stonewater: She has Huntington’s disease?

JD: It’s a degenerative brain disease, causes you to lose control of your movement and mental ability. It can also change your personality like with your mom.

Stonewater: So what do we do?

JD: Unfortunately, there’s no cure. Eventually it will take her.

Stonewater: Oh geez.

JD’s internal monologue: Sometimes, you just have to barrel through no matter how much it sucks.

JD: And Mr. Stonewater, Huntington’s is caused by a faulty gene. And since your mother has it, you have a 50/50 chance of having it too. We can test you for it if you want.

Stonewater: If we find out that I have it early on, are there any treatment options?

JD: Nothing substantial yet. I can only tell you if you have it, can’t even tell you when the disease would hit you if you do have it. Could be in your 70’s like your mom or…

Stonewater: Could be sooner.

JD: Could be sooner. I’m so sorry.

Stonewater: Can I have a few minutes?

Next scene:

JD internal monologue: I’m so bummed about Mrs. Stonewater that I totally space and forgot what was wrong with Benjamin here. Is he the one with broken ribs? Nope. Maybe he’s the guy with sinus polyps. I don’t think there’s any polyps but he definitely has some oily skin issues. I should turn him on to that awesome apricot scrub I stole from Elliott. Come on, focus!

Next scene:

In an argument with Elliott, a fellow hospital employee and JD’s girlfriend

JD: NO, Elliott. I’m upset because Huntington’s disease sucks, Dr. Cox is a jerk and I’m such a crappy doctor I just got dumped by a patient. And nobody but you and Turk care that I am leaving.

Later

JD’s internal monologue: Sometimes it’s deciding that you don’t want to know if you have a fatal disease.

Stonewater: Dr. Dorian, I decided not to take that test.

JD: Ok.

(JD walks away from the patient in a haze of his own internal monologue)

It is unusual for a doctor to recommend the genetic test without explaining the formalities that accompany it—genetic counseling, psychiatric and neurological evaluations as well as a blood draw. These aspects of genetic testing, along with the risks—discrimination, insurance spikes, depression, etc.—were probably not included in this episode due to the nature of the show (entertainment versus documentary). The purpose of this article is to clarify that doctors should always explain the full process of genetic testing before offering it, especially if someone has only been recently introduced to the disease.

Other than the exemption of these facts, JD does not misinform Mr. Stonewater about his genetic risk nor the fate of his mother and explains the facts clearly and succinctly. Within the context of a medical drama TV series, this episode overall accurately portrays the difficulties for the patient, the family, and the physician involved in dealing with the realities of an HD diagnosis.

K. Powers 2014