Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Tag: illness

  • Morning rounds

    Alan BlumTuscaloosa, Alabama, United States During my internship, residency, and fellowship in the late 1970s, I kept a visual journal, filling several notebooks with patients’ stories, clinical vignettes, snippets of overheard conversations, and sketches. The two collages in this gallery, drawn in my usual medium of black ballpoint pen on small index cards, depict patients…

  • An avalanche of white tissues

    Gail GhaiSarasota, Florida, United States He gives me a golden pearl to vanquish the sputtering sputum cough. A red tablet to quell the scarlet flushing, and an ivory capsule to squash the bronchial terrorists that have invaded the walls of my chest. He crushes ice for lemonade to drown the cactus spines in my throat.…

  • De Profundis: Oscar Wilde’s narrative of mental anguish

    Anthony G. Chesebro Stony Brook, New York, United States Oscar Wilde. Photo by Napoleon Sarony, 1882. Via Wikimedia. Public domain.   “There is only one season, the season of sorrow.”1  Imprisoned for a relationship that was criminalized by the government of his time, in 1897 Oscar Wilde had spent two years in jail. Finally granted…

  • The use of language in health and illness narratives

    Mariella ScerriVictor Grech Malta While I was as busy as anyoneon the sunny plain of life, I heardof you laid aside in the shadowyrecess where our sunshine ofhope and joy could neverpenetrate to you.– Harriet Martineau1 Literary works can illustrate the loneliness and social isolation experienced by people when they are sick.2 The chasm between health…

  • Wet nursing: A historical perspective

    Mariella Scerri Mellieha, Malta A Russian wet nurse, c. 1913. Painted by Frederic de Haenen public domain via Wikimedia. Wet nursing, a form of breastfeeding provided by someone other than an infant’s biological mother,1 has a long and sometimes controversial history. Death in childbirth, a mother’s illness, as well as cultural habits and circumstance have…

  • Children treating children: Anne Shirley as clinician

    Kathryne DycusMadrid, Spain Childhood classics provide a range of illness narratives, reminding readers of dangers now preventable and even treatable, but also of the universal imperatives of understanding and accommodating the morbidity and mortality that can accompany childhood. Sickness in children’s literature, as in medicine, presents dramatically colorful dimensions of plot twist, character development, human…

  • Learning to heal

    Jeanne Bryner Nora Mazur Newton Falls, Ohio, United States   Top pieced by Jeanne Bryner Quilting done by Nora Mazur Jeanne Bryner: Quilts are important in my Appalachian culture. Narratives of beauty and truth are pieced together, preserving family history. This quilt contains photos of a special family of international sisters and brothers in the…

  • Ladies in red: Medical and metaphorical reflections on La Traviata

    Milad MattaGregory RuteckiLyndhurst, Ohio, United States “. . . phthisic beauty[’s] . . . most famous operatic embodiment was Violetta Valery . . .This physical type became not only fashionable but sexy . . . When a society does not understand—and cannot control—a disease, ground seems to open up for mythologizing . . . it.”1…

  • The other kingdom

    Jamie SamsonDublin, Ireland “Everyone who is born,” Susan Sontag wrote in Illness as Metaphor, “holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick.”1 While the passport denoting health and vigor might get us through customs most of the time, we eventually reach that unwelcome day when it is…

  • Lessons from the black hole

    Columba Quigley London, United Kingdom    Frida Kahlo, Wounded Stag The episode occurred some few years ago, when I was working in palliative medicine, caring for those with advanced and often incurable disease. As I walked onto the ward early one morning, a woman whom I had been seeing on a daily basis for symptom…