Media turns a patient into a freak show

Rasha al Raisi – Iman Abdul-Aatti is the name that kept the Arabic media busy for almost 2 months now. Whenever I switched on my laptop, the headlines of ‘the fattest woman in the world’ would hit my screen. For those of you who haven’t heard of her, Iman is an Egyptian lady who’s 36 years old and weighs 500 kg. Her weight is caused by a rare genetic illness that took toll on her body when she was 12 years old. Her movement became slow and then she was bed ridden for almost 25 years.
I read about Iman’s case when it came first and was happy to know that it was adopted by a hospital in Mumbai. And then it was just a matter of reading the headlines without opening the articles: How the fattest lady was moved out of her house, how she had arrived with her sister to Mumbai and had her surgery, losing almost half of her weight. Then the buzz died for a few weeks to come back again in the form of her sister’s appeal on the social media to help Iman as she was getting worst and the Indian medical team’s response to these allegations.
A couple of days later while changing TV channels, I was surprised to see a video of Iman lowered from a plane using a crane. She was surrounded by a dozen people ranging from medical team to airport personnel. The video was part of a programme on Abu Dhabi channel, where two presenters were discussing her case with a medical director. I learned then that Iman was brought to one of Abu Dhabi’s hospitals to continue her treatment there. The medical director of the hospital sat pompously on his chair, saying that he has information about the case that he’s sharing for the first time ever: when she was on the plane, Iman had a bad fever and suffered from urine infection and bed sores. A few seconds later there was a red breaking news caption across the screen with the aforementioned information. And then again he said: “This is exclusive news for your channel, Iman has aortic valve regurgitation”. The phrase became breaking news too. While the presenters discussed the emotional state of Iman, the director insisted on the importance of Iman’s privacy and how they’re working hard to maintain it. This contradicted with Iman’s arrival video playing in the background, where she was obviously intimidated by the whole experience. Then the doctor added that for the first time Iman was able to sit like a ‘normal person’ on bed, both presenters seemed relieved.
To make things worse, the pretty presenter fluttered her fake lashes and said that all parents should learn a lesson from Iman’s case and pay attention to their children, so they don’t reach ‘late stages like Iman’.
The way the media dealt with this case was shameful, turning it from a medical case to a freak show. From online articles with insensitive headlines like: get to know the fattest woman in the world to different private videos of her. As well as the lack of empathy that the hospital director and the TV presenters had while discussing her case.
The director was advertising the services they were providing for Iman in his hospital, while the presenters were focused on the kindness that their country had bestowed on her.
The privacy that the doctor kept highlighting is not by locking Iman away in a room for treatment, it’s more of preserving her dignity by not sharing details of her illness with the public.

Rasha al Raisi is a certified
skills trainer and the author of The World According to Bahja.