Illness Narratives And Its Impact

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Illness narratives are the views of people on illness and the effects on their lives. They can be written or oral. Those narratives aim at establishing the order of the illness experience as the events unfold i.e. The onset, diagnosis and treatment. They express the difference the changed relationship between body, self and society which such experience invariably entails. Patient’s views have generally been regarded as ambiguous in current biomedicine. Specialists have been slanted to treat the reports of their patients with significant distrust. The clinical look of the clinical profession was concentrated on the internal substantial universe of the patients. How patients spoke about their illness, indications and problems was viewed as best as a vague reflection of the language of the organs and tissues and pathological changes (Armstrong 1984). But, specialists needed to depend on these reports so as to explore and analyze the disease. This distrustful attitude was used by social scientists in their investigations of the social reality of biomedicine and sickness. At the point when such investigations were first started, the bio-clinical definition and origination of diseases established the natural starting point. The patient’s perspectives and activities were connected to this conception by methods for terms like ‘disease conduct’ or ‘lay-point of view’. when a distinction was made between illness and disease the possibility opened up for the opened up for the study of the patient’s speech acts as an integral and important part of the course of the illness. Afterwards, the focus of consideration moved from the disease to the going with and its transformation in diverse social contexts, the foundation was laid for conceiving the patient’s speech acts as a voice that was strong enough to stand up against the voice of medicine

One of our most remarkable forms of explaining suffering and experiences related to suffering is the narrative. Patients’ stories give voice to the suffering that lies outside the area of the biomedical voice. This is presumably one of the principle purposes behind the developing stories among social researchers occupied with examine on biomedicine, illness and suffering.

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Narratives in Social and Medical Science

The expanding reference to stories in social scientific investigations of medicine and disease is a specific example of the increasing enthusiasm for narratives now being shown by sociology. A discussion that emerged of late, especially among philosophers, has concerned the has concerned the possibility and value of grand theories and grand narratives A number of authors have called to attention that the ancient theories, the hypotheses of Marx and Marxism to give a model, are not ready to formulate and express understanding and information in the modern world. This development is paralleled in the field of medical studies by doubts about the possibility of biomedicine to explain and cure ills and relieve suffering.

Philosophers Taylor (1989) and MacIntyre (1982), and others like them, contend that we make outlines for comprehension and judgment and link them to the regular conditions of our lives. The narrative’s significance is being one of the fundamental forms through which we perceive, experience and judge our actions and the course and value of our lives. The stories people tell about illnesses are of very much importance because the give an insight to the subjective experience. They are also an image representation of the people telling them. They exert enormous power on how we run our lives, how we deal with pain, what we can relate to the illness and what we disown.

Narratives have become very crucial players in the study of chronic diseases as a way of understanding how patients deal with the daily life situations. According to Bury (1982), chronic illness is viewed as a disruption of a person’s normal life hence also affecting their identity. The illness affects the relationship between the patient’s body, self and surrounding world. It is therefore important to restructure the life of a chronically ill patient. Listening to the patient’s side of the story makes it possible to see the life events that have been changed by the illness. Directing attention to the suffering, Kleinman, in a book that he authored the Illness Narratives (1988), has given the narrative concept a wider definition. He claims that the narrative is the way in which patients give a voice to their suffering. In the 1990s a number of writers including Frank (1995) have shown how narratives not only articulate suffering but also give the sufferer a voice for articulating the illness experience apart from how illnesses are conceived and represented by biomedicine.

The increasing theoretical significance of the narrative concept in the field of illness research is a reflection of the change and expansion of the illness concept towards a greater emphasis on suffering as a starting point in social scientific studies of illness. This makes it easy to study the patient‘s illness experience and illness world as asocial reality apart from the conception and definition of illness as formulated by biomedicine

Narratives and Illness

Any type of illness causes a disruption in the normal life. Illness may change the perceptions of what can be changed and we may also be forced to change where or how we live. Acute illness, most of the times causes a temporary change in our lives. It involves a transitory and limited disruption. Acute illnesses may cause a patient to reexamine their lives in the view of their own frailty. Unlike acute illnesses, chronic illness, change everything about a patient’s life, their life foundation because the illness creates new and qualitatively different life conditions. From this we can conclude that all types of illnesses affect ones basic life either permanently or temporarily. The experience of continuity and inner coherence is called into question and perhaps becoming invalid. Illness can be experienced as an external event that has invaded normal life process. Initially, the illness may lack all connection with earlier events, hence it discrediting our sense of temporal continuity. It is in this Narratives offer an opportunity to combine the split ends of time, to construct a new context and to fit the illness disruption into a temporal framework. Narratives can provide a context that involves both the illness event and surrounding life events and recreates a state of interrelatedness.

Defining illness using narratives is a method of viewing illness events and symptoms by combining them with a biographical context. By incorporating illness events into a patient’s personal life, physical symptoms are transformed into aspects of a patient’s life, diagnosis and prognosis. This can be referred to as customizing of the illness experience. Illness narratives enable other people to comment and give suggestions on the illness. Thus, narratives serve as a platform for presenting, discussing and negotiating illness and how we relate to the illness. Using narratives, it is possible to articulate the various events and discuss what they mean.

Types of Illness Narratives

In the first case, narrator, illness and narrative are combined in one person. The illness experience is expressed through a narration that explains the illness occurrence and how it affects a person’s life. This narrative resembles personal experience narratives. It narrates events that have been experienced personally and cause problems to the individual. The narrative helps solve problems for the patient and is a way of solving challenges caused by the illness. The patient is the narrator. In the second case, the narrative is about the illness. It shows knowledge and ideas about an illness. An example of this situation is where doctors and healthcare professionals talk about a patient’s illness. The narrative plays a central role in medicine because it is a means of conveying passing on clinical information.

The third illness narrative is where there is insufficient information on a narrative. For example when a patient is suffering from a brain injury, it is difficult for them to use the patient illness narrative to explain how they feel.

Other types of illness include the restitution, quest and chaos narratives. Restitution narratives are where there is expectations that the sufferer will get healthy again. Chaos narratives are where the sufferer thinks that they will get better. While quest narratives are those which involve the sufferer offering help and being a tool of transformation to themselves and others suffering from the disease.


In conclusion, it is evident that illness narratives accomplish the following:

  1. The narrative construction of an illness world; the narrative provides a platform which we can predict symptoms, disruptions that illnesses cause and rearranging symptoms in the order that they occur.
  2. The narrative reconstruction of life history; chronic illness cause the sufferer to face psychological and moral issues. They are forced to revise their personal identity and life history.
  3. The narrative explanation and understanding of illness; illness narratives build upon cultural ideas about the causes of illness.
  4. Use of the narrative as a strategic device; illness narratives can be used to explain the cause of certain behaviors. Riesman (1989, 1990) explains how people in the process of divorce excuse it by blaming an illness.
  5. Transforming individual experience into collective experience; eg in hiv/aids, some of the patients  


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