Bioethics Blogs

In the Journals December 2015 – Catching up by Melanie Boeckmann

Happy New Year to all Somatosphere readers! Hopefully you were able to take a break and came back refreshed and ready to tackle your reading list. Not sure where to start? Start here with the In the Journals December recap. Owing to its length, the round-up is divided into two separate posts. Find the second half here.

American Anthropologist

Sick Healers: Chronic Affliction and the Authority of Experience at an Ethiopian Hospital

Anita Hannig

At fistula hospitals in Ethiopia, patients who are not cured of their incontinence are hired as “nurse aides” to perform essential nursing duties in the ward and operating theater. An array of tensions surrounds the work of these women, tensions that are emblematic of their chronic—but secret—patient status. If accidentally disclosed, the women’s ongoing illness episodes sabotage their ability to administer treatment, such as injections. In contrast to classic anthropological accounts of wounded healers and therapeutic narratives about the virtues of experience-based care, I argue in this article that illness experience can also have a profoundly delegitimizing effect. Rather than attributing these dynamics to the alleged stigma that surrounds obstetric fistula sufferers, I delineate the various challenges to clinical authority that are epitomized by the figure of the sick healer. Nurse aides’ experiences with obstetric fistula proved to be a liability precisely because these experiences had not been resolved. Their chronic injuries raised questions both about their medical training and the efficacy of surgery. Attending to these Ethiopian health practitioners can hone our grasp of the professional dilemmas posed by chronic afflictions and contribute to our understanding of available ideologies at play in the global practice of biomedicine.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.