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My Imaginary Illness: A Journey into Uncertainty and Prejudice in Medical Diagnosis [Hardcover]

Chloë G. K. Atkins
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 8 2010 The Culture and Politics of Health Care Work. How Patients Think

How Patients Think

At age twenty-one, Chloë Atkins began suffering from a mysterious illness, the symptoms of which rapidly worsened. Paralyzed for months at a time, she frequently required intubation and life support. She eventually became quadriplegic, dependent both on a wheelchair and on health professionals who refused to believe there was anything physically wrong with her. When test after test returned inconclusive results, Atkins's doctors pronounced her symptoms psychosomatic. Atkins was told not only that she was going to die but also that this was her own fault; they concluded she was so emotionally deranged that she was willing her own death.

My Imaginary Illnessis the compelling story of Atkins's decades-long battle with a disease deemed imaginary, her frustration with a succession of doctors and diagnoses, her immersion in the world of psychotherapy, and her excruciating physical and emotional journey back to wellness. As both a political theorist and patient, Atkins provides a narrative critique of contemporary medicine and its problematic handling of uncertainty and of symptoms that are not easily diagnosed or known. She convincingly illustrates that medicine's belief in evidence-based practice does not mean that individual doctors are capable of objectivity, nor that the presence of biomedical ethics invokes ethical practices in hospitals and clinics.

A foreword by Bonnie Blair O'Connor, who teaches medical students how to listen to patients, and a clinical commentary by Dr. Brian David Hodges, a professor of psychiatry, enrich the book's narrative with practical guidance for medical practitioners and patients alike.

Product Details

Product Description

About the Author

Bonnie Blair O'Connor is Professor of Pediatrics (Clinical) and Associate Director, Pediatric Residency, at Hasbro Children's Hospital/Alpert Medical School at Brown University in Providence, R.I.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This book might be surprising to those who have never had to go through the misery of a mysterious illness or have never been shrugged off by healthcare "professionals". But I can tell you, I am really glad this book is out there, and I hope there are many more to come. These stories have to be told. As much as we (Canadians especially) adore our healthcare system, it is broken. This book is a very well told example of that dysfunction. We are using a healthcare system that was essentially designed to deal with the obvious and the acute, not the mysterious or the chronic. It needs to be changed, and works like this are going to help pave the way. If you are curious, or have experienced your own trouble with any healthcare system, you should read this.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be required reading Dec 2 2010
By Dr.M
It's been a long time since I picked up any book and read it straight through but I did so with "My Imaginary Illness." Any patient who has felt silenced, ignored, or judged by medical practitioners will find a sister sufferer in the pages of this book. This is a powerful work that should be required reading in all of the helping professions, in their schools and in their professional development. It reminds us that medicine is not a perfect science, that everyone from patients to specialists need to do more than look at test results: people do not fit into tiny boxes despite general similarities in the species. When Atkins' symptoms did not fit tidily into one of those boxes, she was labelled as seriously mentally ill and treatment was often unilaterally withdrawn. Then, when she didn't fit tidily into any of the psychiatric boxes, she was marginalized again.

A lesser person would have written from a point of bitterness. Atkins avoids this place. She describes her years of experience clearly, sharing her feelings without damning. She does so in a way that leaves readers space to form their own judgments, have their own reactions. She does not tell us how to feel: she opens the door for us to feel. She acknowledges that the system failed her in many ways but also acknowledges the people who helped her, the aspects of the same system that continue to keep her alive and functioning as a professional, a partner, a parent, an entire person.

Atkins' writing style is clear and avoids fancy jargon. She provides definitions and explanations the few times the medical terms are needed but keeps the language straightforward the rest of the time. While I recommend the book for medical professionals, anyone can read it, relate to it, enjoy it, and learn from it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing story Jan. 8 2011
This is an inspiring story of courage and perseverance. The story itself was compelling and well written - I couldn't put it down. Chloe Atkins shows us in a self deprecating, and often humorous way, that believing in ourselves and managing our own healthcare is paramount when the system fails. Anyone who has been misdiagnosed, undiagnosed or treated as a hysterical patient, will appreciate this story. A must read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and thought-provoking Dec 12 2010
This fascinating book defies easy classification. It moves effortlessly between a gripping first-person account of an extraordinary story, and penetrating academic/philosophical analysis of the same. The style is accessible and lively-- given the complexity of the subject matter, I was surprised to find myself getting through much of it in a single sitting. In many ways it recalls the work of Oliver Sachs, except that in this case the patient IS the author. Atkins manages to remain remarkably objective throughout, never lapsing into self-pity as she recounts experiences most will find devastating and (ironically) unimaginable. She successfully generalizes the keen insights she has gained into not only Western medicine, but the human condition.

Medical professionals will certainly benefit from the read-- one can imagine this becoming required reading at med schools, as one of the clinical commentators suggests-- but so will anyone interested in the extent to which our thoughts are inseparable from the state of our physical beings. "My Imaginary Illness" is a powerful challenge to much of the received wisdom that defines how modern Westerners tend to think about themselves, and makes for an eye-opening, thought-provoking read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars FInally, the patient experience is revealed Dec 2 2010
By priya
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Dear Chloe:

I finished reading your book last night. One fell swoop. Thank you so much for writing it. I can't believe it is 2010 and the patient story has not otherwise been succinctly told. I have had a very similar experience in many ways, except that my mother was around, which just gave then an excuse to say I didn't want to walk to get revenge on her for being a neglectful parent. You know, either way they make it so you can't win. You are stuffed into their narrow paradigm created by preconceived notions of your life experience and there you most likely stay. All your truths are overlooked, your own experience negated so that the higher god of the medical establishment can be sufficiently pandered to.

We need to get every physician in Canada a copy of your book. I see how they fall into their traps and into hospital and ministry politics, but it is wrong and things need to change.
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