Thursday, October 18, 2007

review - The Lonely Patient captures illness experience

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The Lonely Patient: How We Experience Illness
by Michael Stein

The Lonely Patient is a warm, deeply empathetic look at what one doctor observed about illness and human nature when he started looking at patients as full human beings experiencing the range of emotion that comes with disease and illness.

Stein thought he had a good idea of what illness was like through his practice. Then his brother-in-law Richard was diagnosed with cancer. Watching Richard helped Stein make some keen observations on what illness is truly like for a patient. He also includes the stories of some of his patients that illustrate certain experiences particularly well.

He sums up the overwhelming, consuming emotions experienced by the patient (jealousy, defiance, fear, anger, shame, dependency, vulnerability and loneliness) by setting out the book in four parts: Betrayal, Terror, Loss and Loneliness.

Some of the most poignant quotes from the book:
  • The natural state of being a patient is bitter disappointment combined with the loneliness of being unable to talk about what one is thinking. (p. 137)
  • Because illness takes place on or in the body - which we expect to function perfectly - all illness feels like personal failure. (p. 144)
  • Sick people pay less attention to others. The body's betrayal dispossesses them of intimacy with loved ones so that room can be made for greater self-involvement. In this way, patients distance themselves from family and friends - those who are well. The sick maintain some loyalty to the outside world, but the real news, as Brodkey wrote, comes from inside. (p. 183)
I really can't recommend this book highly enough. Never before have I had the experience of feeling understood and acknowledged for the wide range of emotions I have experienced as a sick person. Not only is this a must read for patients, it is the perfect way to help your family and friends understand what you are going through.

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