Academic journal article Ethnologies

"The Very Environment Militates against Denial": Negotiating Place through Material Culture

Academic journal article Ethnologies

"The Very Environment Militates against Denial": Negotiating Place through Material Culture

Article excerpt

Dans cet article, l'auteur reflechit a la signification des objets apportes dans la chambre d'hospice de son pere au cours des huit dernieres semaines de sa vie. Les objets et le choix de leur emplacement etaient sans cesse renegocies tandis qu'il traversait les divers stades de la maladie -- du plus au moins de douleur, d'appetit, de liberte de mouvement, de lucidite, tandis que sa mort ineluctable connaissait des echeances variables. Le pere de l'auteur n'avait pas de controle direct sur la presence ou l'absence des objets et peu de controle sur le choix de leur emplacement, si bien que sa chambre devint un lieu de contestation polie entre les diverses parties en presence qui l'aidaient dans ses derniers jours.

In this article the author reflects on the objects brought into his father's hospice room in the last eight weeks of his life. Objects and their placement were continually renegotiated as he moved through various stages of his disease--greater and lesser pain, appetite, freedom of movement, and lucidity, and shifting timeframes for his imminent passing. The author's father had no direct control over the presence or absence of objects, and little control over their placement, so that the room became a site of polite contestation among the various parties helping him in his final days.

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On Monday, the tenth of September 2001, three days after his regular checkup with his family doctor, Bernard Brodie awoke at 5:30 in the morning with a stomach pain, only to find blood in his urine. He called his companion Gladys, a retired nurse who was out of town visiting her daughter's family, and she recommended he go to the emergency room. Expecting to hear of a kidney stone, he was instead told that it was probably renal cancer in his right kidney, which meant a simple nephrectomy (removal of a kidney) followed by a return to normal. Three days later a biopsy confirmed that it was indeed renal cancer. At the end of the month, an oncologist informed him that the initial prognosis was perhaps a little optimistic: if the cancer had metastasised, which was likely, he was in trouble. Renal cancer does not respond well to treatment, with little benefit from radiation and none at all from chemotherapy. It was thought likely to have metastasised because renal cancer, being asymptomatic, is more often than hot diagnosed indirectly by its secondary tumours: blood in the urine is the only directly attributable warning sign, which typically appears at an advanced stage. Some additional lesions were suspected in the lymph nodes surrounding the kidney and, on the first of November, during the radical nephrectomy which had been postponed a week, that suspicion was also confirmed. When the surgeon described the amount of removed tumour, kidney, and surrounding tissue to Gladys and his daughter Elanor, he held his arms, in Elanor's words, as if he were holding a ten pound baby. Although he had removed the lymph nodes immediately surrounding the kidney, the doctor described seeing the renal fascia (the sheath of tissue that surrounds the kidney) peppered with lesions. However, with no confirmed lesions elsewhere, it was believed to be only in the first stages of metastasis.

In the weeks that followed, Bernard noticed a numbness and loss of fine motor skills in his left side, particularly in his arm. Upon asking the oncologist about this he was told it was probably minor tissue damage to the nerves, having spent the four and a half hours of the operation lying on his left side with his arm tied behind his back. The numbness continued, and a subsequent dizziness and loss of equilibrium was attributed to the same tissue damage. On the eighteenth of November, the loss of sensation was so great that he again went to the emergency room, where he tripped and fell in the waiting room, hitting his head on a table. A CAT scan and an MRI discovered four lesions in his brain, two on each side. A pressure was building which gave "stroke-like" symptoms. …

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