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ss triple helix - autumn 2003,  Stories of Sickness (Book Review)

Stories of Sickness (Book Review)

Stories of Sickness - Howard Brody - Oxford University Press 2003 - £22.95 Pb 295pp - ISBN 0 19515 140 2

The author of this book is a Professor of Philosophy and Family Practice at Michigan State University. With chapter headings such as: 'Sickness, Life Stories and Self-Respect'; 'Sick Roles: Practices and Life Plans'; 'How Sickness Alters Experience'; 'Stories of Life with Disability', and 'The Patient - Health Professional Relationship as a Narrative' the author sets out to explore the many dimensions of what illness means to the sufferers and those around them. He refers to depictions of illness in classical literature and other non-fiction accounts as the basis for his approach.

This is not a Christian book, although it is a scholarly and weighty addition to the growing field of what might be called 'narrative based medicine', a useful and timely counterpoint to the evidence based approach beloved of exponents of performance management who currently seem to dominate health service thinking. Two quotations perhaps sum up the main message of the book, both from the final chapter: 'We could do much worse than to graduate physicians who resemble Berger's English country doctor in having always about them the air of one trying to recognize - trying to make a link between their own anguish and the humanity of the anguished individual before them (Berger and Mohr 1967).' The last sentence of the book says: 'As physicians and other health professionals pay more attention to the stories of their patients, their ethical quest to enhance personal autonomy and self-respect in the wake of sickness will be aided by an increased awareness of the richness of human response to illness and anguish.'

Whilst containing a detailed and powerful analysis, it is a difficult book to read, perhaps reflecting the philosophical training of the author. It also lacks any spiritual perspective on this important area, and whilst agreeing with the author's emphasis on the importance of what he calls 'narrative ethics', for these reasons I found it slightly disappointing.

Reviewed by
Huw Morgan

Consultant in International GP Education
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