Ruby Allen has endometriosis, and real endo women are both glad and mad about it
Eastenders recently aired a story about the character Ruby Allen getting a diagnosis of endometriosis. The show claims to have worked closely with Endometriosis UK to portray the illness, which affects 1 in 10 women in the UK, as accurately as possible. Is our endometriosis columnist Emma Kemsley impressed with the portrayal of this illness – or has Eastenders simply paid lip service to the condition & neglected to give sufferers proper representation?
Endo in Eastenders
When the news broke of EastEnders’ endometriosis storyline, sufferers quickly took to Facebook support groups to voice their concern.
“I hope they raise awareness for the real things that happen and don’t sugar coat it!”
“Will they show the pain and suffering that goes with it?”
“I think they should show how s**t it is for women waiting for a diagnosis and lack of support.”
“Are they going to show heavy periods, the debilitating pain, surgery to diagnose it, long waits…?”
We eagerly waited to see how the plot would unfold. Would this be a breakthrough or talking point for sufferers? Or would endometriosis fade into the background once it was no longer helpful to move the story along, like the issues of characters who make a swift recovery from alcoholism and drug abuse?
Would the endometriosis symptoms be shown in Eastenders?
We all know soaps are a distorted version of reality. A world where people get away with murder despite living in busy towns full of CCTV. A place where everyone has affairs and no one seems to work five days a week. It’s escapism at its finest. However, producers understand the importance of relatable context and rightly so, they often touch on serious topics. Cue character Ruby Allen’s latest storyline of miscarriage and an endometriosis diagnosis. But in a world where no one seems to have periods, how on earth would BBC 1 attempt to accurately depict the reality of endometriosis?
While I believe it’s great to raise awareness for endometriosis on TV, the inaccurate portrayal during the plotline is bound to leave women who suffer with the disease feeling let down and angry.
Ruby gets a scan booked right away – from a pub
In one episode we see Ruby call the Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU) to report bleeding at seven weeks. Someone answers on the second ring. Just like that, she has a scan booked. From personal experience, like so many other women who have been through this heartbreak, it’s difficult to get through to an EPU. You wait and wait. Praying and hoping someone answers to relieve you from going out of your mind. Where was the moment she sat anxiously in the waiting room with a ticket number feeling as though you’re placing an order at Argos rather than waiting to hear the outcome of your baby’s life? And who the hell would make that call in a pub?
Ruby’s endometriosis diagnosis is unbelievably fast
The storyline has swiftly moved straight to a potential endometriosis diagnosis. Following a drama that sees Ruby accuse Stacey Slater of pushing her down the stairs, Ruby and her partner Martin Fowler, are told the news Ruby might have endometriosis at a doctor’s appointment, which may affect her fertility. This is tragic for Ruby, but many real endometriosis sufferers would have been thankful for a diagnosis this swift. They may have been told there’s nothing wrong with them at this point or even asked if they might be depressed or making it up.
Now, this is what has the endometriosis community riled up. This is how women should be treated when they report symptoms of this common illness, but it is not how they actually are treated a lot of the time. It is a slap in the face to the millions of women that have spent the best part of a decade begging doctors for a diagnosis. I’d also like to add, I lost my baby at 20 weeks and I didn’t even get a follow-up appointment, so I was surprised that Ruby was offered one so early on. In fact, baby loss charity Tommy’s recently launched a campaign to have support available after every miscarriage. The UK Government currently requires parents to have three miscarriages in a row before getting support.
An endometriosis diagnosis actually takes years
Those who have endured years of pain know that it is very rare to detect endometriosis via an ultrasound. Imagine how you would feel if you had chronic pain with years of misdiagnosis from ultrasounds and doctors who simply don’t take your pain seriously, however, here is little Ruby with one scan, and boom, she may have endometriosis. You’d be pissed off, right?
If a quick diagnosis follows, I can only speculate that she has been seen privately, off-camera! Diagnosis of endometriosis in the UK by the NHS on average takes eight years. Eight! Endometriosis can only be officially diagnosed by laparoscopy surgery. It was paramount that EastEnders writers made this clear within the story, to avoid upsetting an army of angry women who lie in bed crying in pain on a daily basis because they can’t get the help they need. This is more inaccurate information for us to deal with.
Speaking of pain, where is it? Have we seen Ruby collapse in pain? No. Have we seen her crunched over in the corner of the Queen Vic? No. Does she complain every episode of stomach cramps? No. Does she walk around like a zombie fighting fatigue? No.
If this storyline is to be believable, we need to see the reality of this devastating illness on screen. There are limits to the gory reality that a show like Eastenders can depict, and I’m not demanding blood! I just want to see Ruby bloat. I want Ruby to walk around with a hot water bottle as a new fashion accessory. I want to see Ruby in A&E begging for morphine. I want to see Ruby recover from surgery. And why not go the full hog? If it’s going to affect her fertility, like it has been mentioned, then let’s put Ruby through IVF too. And another. And another.
EastEnders, this is your chance to educate a nation. Like our own endo journeys, Ruby’s story doesn’t have to end here. Please continue to show Ruby dealing with her condition in a realistic way! Please don’t let us endo women down!