Film Review: First Do No Harm

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First Do No Harm
07.04.2020
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Health is one’s greatest treasure. It is important to realize this, and such films as First Do No Harm appear to be a great reminder for those who concentrate too much on materialistic aspects of life and forget about the value of simply being healthy. This film’s name is an excerpt from the Hippocratic oath, in accordance with which a doctor is expected to do their best to heal their patient, and when it is impossible to do, it is important to at least not do any harm. This has become the central message of this film: doctors who rarely doubt their own professionalism could be also wrong when prescribing treatment for their patients and, therefore, they can ruin lives not only of those who are being cured incorrectly but also of their family members.

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The film touches upon a subject of childhood epilepsy. I personally was not aware of the fact that seizures of epilepsy could occur so frequently. Also, it was really appalling to see how seizures tormented a tiny child’s body. A really frustrating moment in this story is prescriptions Robbie, the boy suffering from epilepsy, is getting. First, he is treated with medicine that worked on most children. However, over time, he developed intolerance of the most common type of drugs for epilepsy, so he has to take another drug in order to battle the side-effects of the first one. This recurres, and at some point, his life appears to be endangered, while doctors just keep prescribing his new medicine and mentally preparing his mother for the fact that Robbie will have to undergo a very complicated kind of surgery.

It came to me as a surprise that children have much worse symptoms when having epilepsy than adults. Since the disease was described by doctors as “a short circuit occurring in his brain”, what might be easily controlled with appropriate treatment in adults could be fatal for small children. Besides, there are more than forty different types of seizures, and each of them becomes a real horror that twists the body that still needs to develop and grow. It has been proven that children have much more problems with epilepsy because their chances to have retardations and mental disorders are much higher than those of adults.

In First Do No Harm, one can observe several techniques that are used for the treatment of this deadly disease. Severe cases of epilepsy, just as the one that Robbie has, are first cured with commonly used medicine. Those are usually some really strong drugs, and their effectiveness is not absolute. Their efficiency is normally measured not only by seizure control capacities but also by possible side effects. Before I had watched this film, I could not possibly imagine that epilepsy treatment could trigger such horrible side effects and drop of immune.

However, the most astonishing thing that I was not aware of was the fact that diet plays a crucial role in the treatment of epilepsy. Following a strict diet was maybe the least expected solution to this problem for me when I initially started watching the movie. However, if one considers that humans are literally made of what they consume, the whole idea makes sense and the movie ends on a positive note.

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Some approaches to treatment of people who have epilepsy, especially of children, are presented in this film. The first approach bears semi-experimental character. As it was mentioned above, Robbie is given different medicines to ease his seizures. This approach is the most common and has the highest efficacy rates among the children. The second medicine prescribed is meant to alleviate side effects brought by the first one. The third one is given to the patient in order to remove side-effects caused by the second medicine. The next step is a very heavy surgery with unpredictable side-effects. Although studies conducted on surgeries aimed at easing effects of epilepsy among children proved that both children and adults show approximately similar results of the operation (Hindi-Ling et al., 2011), it seems unfathomable why doctors are willing to resort to this type of treatment, especially when another young patient, a girl with this disability, dies shortly after the surgery.

After this sequence of attempts to cure Robbie, doctors still do not admit their mistakes, which is why the mother of the boy decides to take him to a doctor that uses a completely different approach towards treating epilepsy. Robbie is greeted by a doctor who seems to treat him in a much more personal way. He does not treat him as a victim, but rather as a healthy boy. The doctor also underlines the necessity to do this to Robbie’s mother. It is astonishing to see that he is recovering much faster in the conditions where everything he has to do is simply following a specially prescribed diet for two or three years.

Children having this disability can quite often become socially excluded and emotionally vulnerable. They also can experience difficulties studying and focusing because their mental abilities are impaired with various deviational syndromes. The study conducted at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago (2016) shows that regardless of seizures’ intensity of epilepsy, aftermath of their academic performance and social life could be equally suboptimal. This means that people with epilepsy should be monitored and assisted throughout their life in order to ensure their mental and physical well-being. Groups of people who participated in an experiment included not only those who had seizures resistant to the medication, but also those people who had not experienced them for five years since the diagnosis took place. This means that children with epilepsy should be monitored equally carefully regardless of the disease’s severity.

Finally, certain moments of this film are especially touching. It can really be appreciated for the struggle of all the family members, but especially the mother of the sick boy who fights fiercely for the well-being of her son. This manifestation of love of a mother is an incredible motif of the story. It is proven by medical studies conducted at the University of Murcia that it is important that parents integrate into processes of home teaching and exercising of their children when prescribed by a physician (2015). When Robbie’s mom invests hours in maintaining his intellectual capabilities, she is showing her strive to make her son equal to other children.

However there are ugly and sad moments, too. When Robbie is wearing a protective helmet while playing with a healthy boy, Robbie’s mom has to tell the mom of the other boy the reason behind using such a garment. Upon learning about Robbie’s disease, the woman runs away with her son. Perhaps, she thought that epilepsy was contagious. Such ignorance is frustrating for those who are battling this terrible disease. Therefore, it could be possible that children with this physical disability feel undermined and find it difficult to integrate not only because of some intrinsic factors, such as depression, but also because the society does not accept them.

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All in all, First Do No Harm appears to be a real masterpiece that portrays all difficulties of people struggling with epilepsy, especially of the young ones. However, the film ends on a positive note and shows examples of human ability to fight, love, and find ways of understanding each other. This is also a very good example of how traditional medicine sometimes can do harm and that some doctors are willing to go very far when simply pursuing their point of view. This is alarming for viewers: anybody can become such a victim of inappropriate treatment, and perhaps people should unite in their efforts to improve healthcare in general in order to avoid such saddening accidents.

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