Bioethics Blogs

The social framing of diagnoses and empathetic listening by Aaron J. Jackson

The account that follows depicts a visit with my neurologist. The visit was one of many within a five-month period of navigating various medical spaces to get to the bottom of the illness that was ailing me. It speaks to the systemic and cultural dimensions of illness that threaten to undermine medical understandings, diagnosis and treatment, alongside personal narratives of suffering.

I need a body to live and my current one is harbouring a ghost. To medical professionals, its idiopathic guise makes it seemingly innocuous. But it’s not. How do I know? Because it’s already stripped me of valuable time with my children. Because I’m the one embodying these curious ailments. My muscles twitch. My hands ache. There’s an old guy sitting to my right in the waiting room, plaid shirt and jeans, who’s called in for his appointment. He has more bounce in his step than I do. I feel like I’m living an 80’s body swap comedy. But my body hasn’t been swapped. It’s the same white body I’ve always had. It just feels different. I’m envious of his seventy-five-year-old vitality.

Finally, Professor Mead – let’s call him that for purposes of anonymity – calls my name. The office atmosphere feels stiff and lifeless. He tells me to lie down on the bed. My shorts and t-shirt provide unencumbered access to my body’s flesh. A needle electrode is inserted into my muscles to record the electrical activity at rest. The monitor declares the electrodes findings through a series of wavy and spiky lines.

Small fasciculations are recorded in my left foot.

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.