Handbook of Health Communication

By Teresa L. Thompson; Alicia M. Dorsey et al. | Go to book overview

2
Illness Narratives and the Social
Construction of Health
Barbara F. Sharf
Texas A&M University
Marsha L. Vanderford
Centers for Disease Control

Rose, a 20-year-old college sophomore, was the designated driver for a group of friends coming home from a party one evening in the suburbs of Charleston, South Carolina. The group lost their way, and while searching for a familiar landmark, Rose failed to stop for a blinking red light. After a police vehicle tailed her car for a few miles, she was signaled to pull over to the side of the road. The police officer shined a flashlight on the three occupants of the car, asked to see Rose's driver license, directed her to get out of the car, then queried, “What's the matter with your eyes?” Though Rose explained that, because of a neuromuscular problem, her eyelid muscles sag when she is tired (a condition called ptosis ), the officer accused Rose of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, an allegation that Rose vehemently denied.

The officer replied that she could see the effect of alcohol in Rose's eyes. Rose explained that she suffered from a neurological disease called myasthenia gravis, in her case a congenital condition. Myasthenia gravis is caused by inadequate connections between the nervous system and the muscles, resulting in generalized muscle weakness and periods of extreme fatigue. Medications help to keep the symptoms from being overpowering and to slow degeneration but do not eliminate all the problems.

Although Rose showed the officer a disability parking permit, the officer did not buy this explanation. Instead, she insisted that Rose walk a straight line, but being stressed and tired, the young woman had trouble with this task. Rose asked to be given a breathilizer test twice, but her requests were denied. In the end, the officer ticketed her for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), took her bail bond card, and gave her a date for a court appearance. Rose followed the advice of a disabilities lawyer, who arranged to have Rose's DUI charges dropped in exchange for her having to take a test for a special driver's license that permanently categorizes her as a person with a neuromuscular ailment and that requires an annual retest.

-9-

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