Yesterday, I interviewed two real, live patients all on my own.

And when I say “on my own,” I mean of course, with an interpreter. My Spanish, though adequate, is not up to snuff when dealing with illness or numbers, which can make it difficult for all concerned. English-speaking patients are a rarity.

Anyway, I ended up filling out the Social Work Assessment on both these patients, one of whom was pretty stable and ready to be discharged, and the other of whom was in a bad state about her cancer diagnosis. She spoke really fast — the interpreter had to ask her to slow down — and she kept jerking her head around like a hunted animal. I felt really terrible for her.

And the worst part was, I couldn’t sit down with her and help her feel better. Partially there was the language barrier, but more than that, what does one even say to a person whose chronic back pain turned out to be advanced lymphoma?

After returning from the hospital, I went to a reading on gendered illness and women’s experiences with illness. I’m still not convinced that there is a distinctly feminine component to the experience of illness. To be honest, the biggest connection I can see is the loss of power/autonomy/agency that often accompanies illness and the loss of power/autonomy/agency that often accompanies the traditional barriers against women. Pretty weak.

Still, the reading was interesting and moving, and it emphasized the use of narrative as a weapon against isolation and marginalization. And there was food.


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