Patient as Author, Physician as Critic
Insights From Contemporary Literary Theory
Paul C. Sorum, MD, PhD
Arch Fam Med. 1994;3(6):549-556.
My wife's recent illness taught me that patients are not only texts read by their physicians but also the authors of their bodies and stories. As "reader-response" theorists point out, each reading is necessarily a reconstitution of the text. By rewriting in medical terminology, physicians, like literary critics, put patients' texts into more abstract terms, transforming patients into cases and their illnesses into diseases. Physicians can thus discuss, understand, and treat disease, although the stories may become unrecognizable to their original authors. Unlike critics, however, physicians are responsible for the well-being of their patients. They must, therefore, retranslate medical cases back into individual narratives using the patients' language. Thus, patients can retake control of their illnesses and become again the primary authors of their lives.
From the Departments of Pediatrics and Medicine, Albany (NY) Medical College.