Why Do I Watch Shows About Weird Medical Problems?

Am I the only one who every so often finds herself sucked into TLC and Discovery Health programs about people with weird, effed up health issues like tumors on their faces and bark growing on their arms and just sick shit like that?

Please say you watch these programs, too, and that I am not alone.

Maybe it’s my childhood Catholic guilt rearing its head, but I always feel so horribly voyeuristic and rude for watching shows like Tree Man: Search for the Cure, A New Face for Marlie, and The Man With No Face.

Then again, I suppose Tree Man knew what he was getting into when he agreed to be part of the program.


I think the one that disturbed me the most was the one about Peruvian Jose Mestre, a Jehovah’s Witness who had a bloody tumor that had literally taken over his entire head. He refused to have surgery because of his religion’s objection to blood transfusions, and watching his poor sister literally crying over his reluctance to go under the knife broke my heart. The program ended on a depressing note when Jose decided to make a little film about his life and show it to his neighbors so they would understand who he really was as a person. But he didn’t agree to go through with the surgery.

Uh, dude…you have an enormous bloody tumor on your face!

God, I’m going to Hell.

A New Face for Marlie was also heartbreaking, but that one ended on a better note because even though 13-year-old Marlie had this rare bone disease that made her face grow into this weird shape, after surgery, she was certainly looking a lot better. I was crying as I watched it, but at the same time, I was totally repulsed by Marlie’s face, and she’s just this poor, 13-year-old kid. And I was repulsed by her! I felt awful.

Why do we watch these shows? To feel better about ourselves? To marvel at modern medicine? To ponder what beauty or even normalcy is? For that “there but for the grace of God go I” moments?

Because we simply cannot help but stare?

Some of the programs aren’t as “gross” as others, but they’re just as odd. For example, my sister says she loves the Discovery Health program Incredibly Small: Kenadie’s Story because it’s about primordial dwarves and, as she puts it, “they are so freaking adorable.”

She’s going to Hell, too.

The phenomenon that is this type of programming is a strange thing, and I kind of want to stop being a part of it.

But I can’t!

Hope they got TV in Hell.

-- Jennifer Mathieu

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