Empathetic Medicine: K. Fitz Duffy

The Patient as an Object

Patient Charts

We have become objects of medicine. There are many examples of objectification in the medical field, but some are more obvious than others. Let's say we know someone with a chronic deficiency of red blood cells. We do not call this person one with anemia. We call them anemic. It is "their" disease. The sufferer is at fault. And, as an object of this suffering, this person must adapt or change in order to survive.

“Since we are creatures of paradox, we will employ the metaphors even while we continue to live in a culture that obligates man to be ‘healthy,’ a culture in which all disease can be withstood”

We assume the larger medical community, given a background in health, will view a person in terms of their illness. After all, it is a physician’s job to eliminate an illness. But, what about those that have no Ph.D.? We tend to describe people we appreciate as "fighters" of disease. We evaluate each person’s accomplishments in light of his or her disease. We view these people as products of disease.

We even construct idioms to bypass the negatives associations with illness. We can use the expression "welcome back" as an example. We often use this in the context of health. We say it to someone after they have recovered. But, this person is not actually returning from a physical place. This simple phrase means that we were a different person at a different time, that in illness we are not ourselves.

In illness, we want to be the person we were before. We want to be healthy. We do not want others’ opinions to define us, but we let illness do the same thing.

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