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The clinician’s day is full of stories. Patients tell them and relatives give another version. These small incarnations are usually grounded in illness, fragmented by circumstances and heavily edited by the teller and their listener. Most are oral—the doctor writes down some chosen words, and interprets, maybe distilling the tale to a few target-driven tick-boxes. Then comes written narrative—referral letters, reports, national recommendations—even these, where the patient’s tale is mainly abstracted into numbers, contain startling stories worth retelling.
Is it worth looking at the process of narrative further in relation to illness? The editors of Stories of illness and healing think so. The book, published in the Literature and Medicine series of the Kent State University Press, contains a series of stories by women patients and their carers, interspersed with essays reflecting on the narration. There is much in there to think about, not all of which makes comfortable reading for the medical profession.
The book is divided into sections that focus on various aspects of narrative, but throughout there is a strong emphasis on the role of gender in the construction of illness, for women, their families and their carers. The authors are all women except one (Arthur Frank, p67), and even he is cautious about imposing “another male gaze on women whose illness has …