How a ‘Kim’s Convenience’ scene touched the lupus patient in me

Televised tale of a chronic disease speaks to those of us with similar diagnoses

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by Kristiana Page |

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Something gets to me when I see a chronic illness depicted on screen. In particular, a character getting a lupus diagnosis tugs at a special place in my heart. I’ve watched characters get diagnosed with lupus on the sitcom “Scrubs,” for instance. And then there was an episode of the medical drama “House” when, contrary to what the caustic genius and diagnostic detective Dr. House often argues, it actually was lupus.

Even though I know the characters with lupus are fictional, I’m filled with empathy and a little bit of sadness for them. And in those moments, I can’t help but recall how it felt being given my own diagnosis.

I remember the morning before it happened. Sitting on the bed in the hospital, I’d spent the previous 24 hours being monitored, tested, poked, prodded, and questioned. When I think back to that day, the emotions that permeate my memory are fear and confusion. I had no idea what was happening. I remember feeling scattered and completely unaware of what lay in wait for me. There was no inkling in my mind that my life was moments away from being irreparably altered.

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Spoiler alert for ‘Kim’s Convenience,’ Season 4

I recently watched the final episodes of my latest binge-worthy show, the comedy “Kim’s Convenience.” Toward the end of the fourth season, one of the main characters, Yong-mi Kim (Jean Yoon) — affectionately known as Umma — is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

The on-and-off use of MS to thicken the plot was interesting to me, if a bit questionable. As I don’t have personal experience with MS, I don’t feel qualified to assess whether the portrayal was realistic. But one scene particularly resonated with me.

In one of the last episodes of the final season, Umma is in bed with her husband, Sang-il Kim (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee), known as Appa. After a string of incidents that saw the subjects of her prayers meet unfortunate outcomes, Umma holds herself responsible. In a tearful moment, she confesses to Appa that after her MS diagnosis, she was filled with anger and found herself blaming Jesus for her misfortune.

As Umma cried in the arms of her husband, my heart ached. The whole scene felt so real to me. Umma was desperate to understand the reason why MS was suddenly thrust upon her. But she had no chance of getting any semblance of an answer, something that draws the empathy of anyone with a chronic illness.

I saw myself in that moment.

All the nights I’d spent filled with anger, desperate for an answer, I was Umma. I recall nights in the dark when I lay curled up in a ball, crying into my pillow. I remember all the times I cursed the universe, begging it to give me a reason — or at least a better answer than “Life’s not fair.” And because of all those times, I didn’t just see Umma’s pain; I felt it. As it all played out on screen, I couldn’t help but shed a few tears along with her.

It’s funny. MS is not my illness, and I’m not a Christian. But neither of those things was relevant in that scene’s resonance with me. There’s something touching about seeing authentic experiences depicted on screen, and there’s something sad yet heartwarming about seeing the pain of my past reflected back at me. I felt upset reliving the hurt. But I felt some comfort in realizing that some parts of the world would understand.

From the beginning, I’ve always been in favor of sharing authentic experiences, no matter how hard they might be to stomach. Life with lupus is often neither pretty nor fun, and I see no reason to chalk it up and paint flourishes on my reality when they don’t exist.

I’m a huge believer that we should talk about everything that’s unpleasant and uncomfortable. There’s no growth happening within our comfort zones. A better understanding of the world and the people around us begins at the edge of what we’ve always known.

On our darkest days, when we feel marooned on a desert island, all alone in our minds, what do we want? Love, understanding, and community. We want the world to feel smaller and the people to be closer. In the most isolated of moments, we want someone to show us that we’re not alone. And that’s how I felt, as I watched that episode of “Kim’s Convenience.”

I realized that I cried for two reasons. I cried because I recognized Umma’s pain. But even more than that, I cried because someone somewhere in the world recognized mine.

Note: Lupus News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lupus News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lupus.


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