Chronic illness is explained as the “continual disruption of a person’s ongoing life, touching the individual’s sense of self or even causing a loss of self” (Werner). Chronic muscular pain is one such chronic illness and includes fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Culture influences the illness experience of people living with chronic pain because of the stigmas associated with this illness. There is social criticism put on people for the way they manage their chronic pain. Examples include taking too many naps to put distance between their pains or the inability to work because of extreme pain, and this can result in sufferers being labeled lazy or irrational. Additionally, chronic pain isn’t a convincing physical illness for some people, but rather an imagined condition, which can result in negative experiences with medical professionals. Many medical doctors were apprehensive of the chronic conditions the women were reporting. This doubt can significantly influence their illness experience because the women won’t receive the management and treatment they need for their conditions if the doctor doesn’t believe they are actually ill. The patients are then powerless to achieve a sick role and unable to be excused from their responsibilities or seeking the care they need. (Lecture 4.1) The women are “judged either to be not ill, suffering from an imaginary illness or given a psychiatric label” in addition to not receiving treatment for their pain. (Werner)
I think that there is a direct correlation between beliefs and healing. Someone with an optimistic outlook will have a significantly higher chance of survival compared to a person with an unenthusiastic view of his or her illness experience. The placebo effect is an example of this relationship between belief and healing. The placebo effect occurs when a beneficial health outcome or change in symptoms occurs when a person is given a substance with no therapeutic value. “Placebos are about the beliefs loaded onto it” and so the placebo effect can be present in medical treatments if the patient prefers taking a capsule to a pill, taking double the medication or taking the treatment two times a day instead of once twice a day. Personally, I find myself buying name brand pain relievers instead of plain pills even though they contain similar ingredients because I believe brand pills work better. This is another aspect of the placebo effect. Another dimension of this relationship is the doctor has to believe that the patient is ill. “If people don’t believe you are really suffering then you can not fully exercise the rights and responsibilities of the sick role” and the likelihood that you will recover is minimized. In addition, the patient has to have faith in the healing performance of the doctor otherwise influencing a negative result of the treatment. Such experience is called the nocebo effect and results in psychological and physical pain. (Lecture 4.1) One story recounted in the film “Placebo: Cracking the Code” that models the nocebo effect is the case of Sam Londe. Londe suffered from esophageal cancer, a cancer with 100% fatality and he along with his doctor had no expectations for survival. However, the autopsy report for Londe after his death only a few weeks later showed that his cancer had shrunk and that, although he had cancer when he died, he didn’t die from the cancer.
Lecture 4.1 Experiencing Illness. Week 4: Experimental Approach.” ANP 204 course website. http://anthropology.msu.edu/anp204-us14/week-4-lecture-1
Nicholas Humphrey. “Placebo: Cracking the Code”. YouTube video, 52:38. November 5, 2011. https://www.youtube.com
Werner A, Isaksen LW, Malterud, K. “‘I am not the kind of woman who complains of everything’: Illness stories on self and shame in women with chronic pain.” Social Science & Medicine. 2004; 59: 1035-1045