Under the Medical Gaze: Facts and Fictions of Chronic Pain

Under the Medical Gaze: Facts and Fictions of Chronic Pain

Under the Medical Gaze: Facts and Fictions of Chronic Pain

Under the Medical Gaze: Facts and Fictions of Chronic Pain


"This is an extraordinary book--riveting story, concise scholarship, experimental ethnography--and it is beautifully told. Greenhalgh makes a cogent and powerful analysis of the sociopolitical sources of pain through feminist, cultural, and political understandings of the nature of medical science and medical practice in the United States."--Sharon Kaufman, author of "The Healer's Tale

"Far above a simple telling of an illness, Greenhalgh takes the experience as a way to view gendered relations in medical care, the seduction of science for the physician and the patient, and the creation of facts and selves in the treatment of pain. She sets a new standard for the practice of autoethnography."--Virginia Olesen, Professor Emerita of Sociology, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, School of Nursing, University of California, San Francisco

"A compellingly told story that advances our understanding of the meaning of chronic illness, particularly for women. This work adds a new dimensionto the genre of illness narratives."--Susan DiGiacomo, Series Editor, "Theory and Practice in Medical Anthropology and International Health

"A very useful and very well written book. . . . It states the issues in the culture of biomedicine field effectively and makes them relevant."--Arthur Kleinman, author of "Writing at the Margin: Discourse between Anthropology and Medicine

"A deeply troubling, meticulous account about the chasm between medical orthodoxy and the subjective experience of chronic illness. This courageous book is essential reading for physicians and the public at large."--Margaret Lock, author of "Encounters with Aging: Mythologies of Menopause in Japan and North America


By the age of forty S. had a thick medical file. Pieces of her body's history could be found up and down the East Side of Manhattan, from Cornell Medical Center on Seventieth Street to New York University Medical Center forty blocks to the south. Clearly, S. had sought some of the best physicians from the best centers of academic medicine in the city. Her records were also strewn all over the medical landscape, in the offices of neurologists, orthopedists, rheumatologists, physical therapists, and even cosmetic surgeons—so many specialists had she seen looking for help diagnosing and treating the pain in her knees, elbows, neck, and fingers. That the problem was bodily or biological she had no doubt; after all, the swelling and pain were in her joints. the solution, just as obviously, was to find expert medical help: that is what people do when their bodies stop working properly. the decision to medicalize the problem was thus made without even a passing thought.

This prologue recounts some key episodes in S.'s search for the right doctor to treat her ills. the story begins with the quest for a diagnosis and ends with the discovery of a doctor whose promises for treatment sounded too good to be true. It moves from New York City, where S. was employed during her thirties and early forties, to southern California, where she moved in her mid-forties to assume a new position. It is a tale of disillusion, confusion, and desire—disillusionment from encounters with thought-less doctors, confusion over a once-healthy body now out of control, and desire born of worsening health conditions that seemed to spiral ever downward.

East Coast Doctors:
Thoughtless Men and Empathic Women

S. had begun her search for doctor and diagnosis in her mid-thirties, when the joint condition that was later to dominate her life first made itself . . .

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