In reading the articles of Ali Grzywna, Deborah L. Jones, and PratyushaYalamanchi, I found a similarity with my article written with Sayantani DasGupta, which appeared in the Spring 2016 Intima. Although these articles deal with apparently different topics (studying narratives of anorexia nervosa, interviewing a family member with cancer, dealing with communicative barriers in caring for a patient, and examining Frida Kahlo’s pictorial representation of her doctor), they all show a desire to get to know and better understand the predicament of the other. Furthermore, all articles express, directly or indirectly, their authors’ humble realization that the gaze of the other is always unfinished and incomplete.
Grzywna notes that while narratives of anorexia nervosa can serve to heal and change eating behaviors, they can also be used by patients to normalize and legitimize those same eating disorders: “The story can make the illness acceptable to the narrator, justifying the illness’s existence for sake of a continued identity”. Jones (initially trained as a journalist) notes how adopting the formal roles of “witness” and “storyteller” in conducting an interview with her well-known, dear cousin, Elle, shaped their interaction roles during that time: “We’re cousins who’ve been talking for years … but this was different” states Jones. As the storyteller, Elle—who had been diagnosed with cancer for the fourth time—is the one to set the boundaries on what she wants to disclose and how, instead of the other way around. When she did answer, she did it on her own terms: while cooking, with her back to Jones. Yalamanchi (a third year medical student) shares with us, first, her sense of confusion and, ultimately, her understanding that “the precise diction of medicine, which provides clarity in communicating with other physicians, may in fact preclude effective communication with the patients [she] serve[s]”.
All these articles reveal a sense of defamiliarization: things do not seem what they are expected to be. In showing to us the subversion of roles, they make us more humble. The narrator crafts the discursive terms of her disease communicating her own agenda, the interviewee co-writes the narrative with her interviewer, the patient reinterprets the meaning of the language of medicine according to her own hopes and expectations, and it is the artist/patient who diagnoses her doctor with her painting. In sum, these articles show us the works of resistance displayed in the subtle agency of the other; they also humble us by showing that totalization of the other is simply our own illusion of control.
Roxana Delbene, PhD MS is a linguist and discourse analyst. She studied literature in Montevideo, Uruguay before coming to the University of Pittsburgh to complete her doctorate degree in Hispanic Sociolinguistics. Her passion for the discourse of health and medicine, the conversational encounters between clinicians and patients, as well as for the narratives of patients and practitioners motivated her to pursue a MS in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University. She has published articles, on topics related to medical communication, in refereed journals such as, Communication & Medicine, Spanish in Context, and Critical Inquiries in Languages Studies among others. She is currently an adjunct faculty in the Department of World Languages and Cultures at The College of New Jersey. Her paper, "Self-Portrait with the Portrait of Dr. Farill: Frida Kahlo's Recreation of Her Doctor," written with Sayantani DasGupta, appeared in the Spring 2016 Intima.
© 2016 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine