If your previously able-bodied friend stopped coming over for their regular weekly coffee catch-up, citing a numbness that prevents them from getting out of bed or opening the front door, you’d be worried. You’d encourage them to seek medical care. You might even go with them.
What if they went to their GP, and following a series of referrals to specialists, investigative procedures and tests the clinical conclusion suggested that there was nothing wrong? That is, nothing pathologically ‘wrong’ definable in terms of the current field of medical knowledge. How would you receive this news? Would you assume that your friend is therefore ‘well’?
These questions and the resulting cultural and social aspersions are what consultant neurologist and author Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan deals with on a daily basis and in her work ‘It’s All in Your Head: True Stories of Imaginary Illness‘. She writes: ‘even if medical tests cannot explain your pain or tiredness or disability, it does not lessen your suffering. The pain of medically unexplained illness is every bit as real as any other and, if anything, is multiplied by the lack of understanding.’
Ever since Oliver Sacks’ iconic ‘The Man who Mistook his Woman for a Hat’ was published in 1986, doctor’s accounts of their patient’s often unusual, inexplicable and unique health experiences have brought humour and uncertainty in equal measure. O’Sullivan doesn’t try to resolve these, but rather explores them with a sensitivity and insight that can only be afforded to someone who’s professional nature and personal motivations move her to try to bring meaning.
Image Credit: fedewild, Flickr