The Anthropology of Medicine: From Culture to Method

By Lola Romanucci-Ross; Daniel E. Moerman et al. | Go to book overview

12
NARRATIVES OF CHRONIC PAIN

ROBERT KUGELMANN

In recent years a narrative approach has taken root in the social sciences. This trend recognizes that the important human phenomena are not, strictly speaking, natural events like the movements of planets or clouds, but that they are personal, social, cultural, and historical events. Grief and depression, heart disease and drug abuse, growing up, old, and in love constitute incidents in the ongoing life histories of unique individuals. Moreover, these individuals can and do talk about the important events in their lives, reflect upon them, act upon their understandings, and so forth. Self-awareness, long simply a vexing confounding variable in research, has returned to center stage as one of the things we need to understand.

Pain occurs only to conscious beings, making it an inevitable theme of stories. Watch any child: the slightest cut or bruise becomes the major topic of the day, as the fascinated child endlessly repeats stories of the "owie." Significant pain, whenever it occurs in life, gets woven into narratives that reflect and influence how people explain, treat, and make sense of the suffering, their lives, and their worlds. Chronic pain, to use a contemporary term for pain that typically lasts for more than six months, has its own types of narrative. To them I turn.


CHRONIC PAIN

There are many varieties of chronic pain. I shall address only that pain subsequent to an injury, pain that does not diminish after what is considered a reasonable length of time. This type of chronic pain is quite common, and it results in many workers' compensation cases and disability claims. Chronic pain proves difficult to understand theoretically and difficult to treat medi-

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