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Year : 2022  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 131

Five Feet Apart

Advanced Pediatrics Centre, PGIMER, Chandigarh, India

Date of Submission23-Apr-2022
Date of Decision26-Apr-2022
Date of Acceptance26-Apr-2022
Date of Web Publication30-May-2022

Correspondence Address:
Prof. Joseph L Mathew
Advanced Pediatrics Centre, PGIMER, Chandigarh
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ipcares.ipcares_105_22

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How to cite this article:
Mathew JL. Five Feet Apart. Indian Pediatr Case Rep 2022;2:131

How to cite this URL:
Mathew JL. Five Feet Apart. Indian Pediatr Case Rep [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Jan 30];2:131. Available from: http://www.ipcares.org/text.asp?2022/2/2/131/346245

Consider the following plot: Boy and girl meet and fall in love. The relationship is challenged by insurmountable difficulties. Both fight the odds, succeed, and live happily ever after. Add a supportive friend, and a menacing villain; and such predictable three-line plots can be stretched to 300-page novels or 2-h cinematic experiences.

Against this backdrop, “Five Feet Apart” (directed by Justin Baldoni, and released in 2019) literally stands apart. For one, the heroine (Stella) and hero (Will) have cystic fibrosis (CF) with terminal lung damage and meet in a hospital. Despite being poles apart in their attitudes toward their condition (and life in general), they fall in love. Second, the villain in this scenario is Burkholderia cepacia (a Gram-negative bacillus-colonizing CF lungs that is associated with progressive lung damage, hence often considered a death knell). Developed health-care systems make great efforts to reduce cross-infection by ensuring that individuals harboring B. cepacia avoid contact with other patients; by using masks, ensuring strict hand hygiene, and maintaining the now-famous six-feet distancing.

Stella and Will are typical white teenagers with CF. While Stella follows the prescribed protocols assiduously, Will portrays a teenage rebel, callous with CF treatment protocols. Stella, therefore, is an ideal candidate for lung transplantation, whereas Will is not. Here, candidacy for lung transplantation is based not only on the severity of the lung condition but also on the physical, mental, and psychological state of the patient, likelihood of compliance, and potential prognosis.

As they draw closer, Will learns to regard his treatment more seriously, while Stella learns to loosen up. However, the six-feet distancing rule and the strict enforcement by hospital personnel, challenge their relationship. Live-in-the-moment Will is prepared to throw caution to the winds to further the budding romance, whereas play-by-the rules Stella, is not. She finally agrees for an in-hospital date, deciding to stay five-feet apart from Will (instead of six). Ergo, the title!

The film meanders through melodramatic situations, raising obvious questions: Will the romance survive? How will a “five-feet apart” relationship work? How will it end? I shall not answer these, but dwell on other dimensions, instead.

From a cinematic perspective, the film is not exceptional. There are several hackneyed clichés and near-absurd situations. Hence, why should pediatrcians watch it? Being familiar with the intricacies of CF management, I can appreciate how well certain complex issues are depicted by the cast, and challenges faced by service providers, highlighted in the film.

In developed countries, a lot of emphasis is placed on making hospitalization as atraumatic as possible. In India and other developing nations, the experience is usually unpleasant for the child (and family). I believe the difference is partly due to the elaborate support systems. Besides medical professionals, the care team comprises of highly trained nurses, respiratory therapists, psychologists, social workers, and others, working with compassion and sensitivity, within the traditional “business-oriented” boundaries of busy hospitals. “Life goes on” for these families, in contrast, to the developing world, where “life” comes to a screeching halt.

Last but not the least, “Five Feet Apart” displays the “dependent, yet independent” behavior of Caucasian teenagers with chronic diseases, who actively participate in their own healthcare. They are encouraged to understand their disease, discuss treatment options, the consequences of nonadherence, and take responsibility for their own well-being. Thus, they exhibit greater maturity and independence than adolescents in our society. However, considering the societal transformation in India in recent times, it may not be long before we witness similar situations.

In summary, watching this film can be educational, especially for clinicians working with patients with chronic health conditions. For those who don't mind sugar-coated romantic portrayals, the storyline may be an added bonus. Oh, and for those who aver that the printed word is superior to a 1000 moving images, the book is also available!

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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