Call the Midwife: Topical Episode

Nice to have a chance to catch up on last week’s Call the Midwife (available on BBC iPlayer for the next month), which features a character with significant facial scarring.

Some spoilers ahead.

CtM smallpox

One of the major plot lines focuses on a sailor named Ade Babayaro (played by Jordan Peters) who arrives in Poplar hiding his face (above), and who in shivering and praying in a bed in the Seamen’s Mission is evidently unwell. When another man uncovers his face, the sailor is shown with marks that appear to be smallpox. The news, and resulting panic about the infectious disease, spread through the district. As people recoil and in other cases harass him, we are reminded about the stigmatised nature of smallpox. People clamouring in the Turners’ medical practice for vaccination also remind us that the disease was not only disfiguring, but could be fatal.

Ultimately, the disease is found to be a significantly less infectious form of leprosy instead, and thus the community panic can subside. The deeply religious Ade is not entirely relieved by this, since leprosy is also a disease with a long history of stigmatisation. It is through a theological discussion with Sister Monica Joan (including citation of Mark 1:40–“There came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, ‘If thou wilt, thou can make me clean.'”) that he is ultimately reconciled to his condition and treatment.

When Sister Julienne announces that Ade is being admitted to a hospital for treatment, there is a telling exchange between the midwives that distinguishes their differing perceptions of ‘recovery’ in the case of a disfiguring disease.

Nurse Anderson asks if Ade will make a “full recovery”, which Sister Winifred then qualifies with “Or will he always be marked?” Her distinction between recovery and marking, signalled in her concerned–even judgemental–expression and the telling ‘Or‘, are indicative of the extent to which she, at least, does not think he will ever fully ‘recover’ if he retains the scars caused by his disease. Sister Julienne’s response continues to carry this distinction, as she answers that “The scarring is unknown. But in time, Ade will eventually be cured.” Again, the ‘curing’ of the disease is distinguished from a sense of full recovery if by that is meant no longer carrying scars of the illness. A brief conversation, but a telling one in terms of the women’s thoughts on facial disfigurement.

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