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My Imaginary Illness: A Journey into Uncertainty and Prejudice in Medical Diagnosis Hardcover – Oct 8 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: ILR Press; 1 edition (Oct. 8 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801448875
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801448874
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 2.3 x 24.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 476 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #211,033 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"I met Chloë G. K. Atkins about fifteen years ago. What struck me about her at that time was that she was a leader: smart, courageous, and good humored. This book shows the same Chloë, but along with the context of the battle that she had to lead herself through. The word that comes screaming through every page of this story for me is humility—and how it is so desperately needed by physicians and other health workers who aspire to care for the sick. Every health care worker would be the better for reading Chloë's story."—Peter A. Singer, MD, MPH, FRCPC, FRSC, Professor of Medicine and Sun Life Financial Chair in Bioethics, University of Toronto

"In this brave account of her severe experiences of illness, medical neglect, and sometimes outright mistreatment, Chloë G. K. Atkins tells a story that needs to be heard by all clinicians. Doctors and nurses today are expected to treat all of their patients empathetically, whether they like them or not. Yet over and over again we see patients with difficult-to-diagnose conditions, or other predicaments that frustrate clinicians, treated disdainfully. Just as justice is most necessary not when people agree but when they are subject to conflicts, skillful empathy is most necessary when clinicians have complicated, negative emotional reactions to patients. The aim in such cases is for the clinician to empathize with the patient's dilemma, rather than to wait until she can neatly diagnose the patient in order to show empathy. Atkins shows how powerfully therapeutic it was for her when caregivers grasped her dilemmas of daily living, from her own perspective."—Jodi Halpern, MD, PhD, University of California, Berkeley, author of From Detached Concern to Empathy: Humanizing Medical Practice

"Chloë G. K. Atkins's gripping book My Imaginary Illness shows scholars and laypersons alike how humiliating and degrading it is for persons with disabilities to routinely face the rampant discrimination that plagues the medical community and society at large. Her compelling narrative reveals how she sought and found her dignity and humanity, all while fighting and recovering from an illness that the medical community could not understand given the limits of biomedical science. In this unique book, Atkins convincingly pokes holes in the biomedical community’s ethical shortcomings and its empirical limitations by employing her own rigorous political theory lens. Doctors, patients, and students of political theory will all profit greatly from reading Atkins's book."—Ruth O'Brien, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York

"Chloë G. K. Atkins's book is a must-read for all student and graduate nurses, physicians, medical sociologists, social workers, and all else who work in health care. It dramatically illustrates the dangers of a totalizing medical discourse that denies patients any control over their disease. All health care workers must learn multiple discourses of illness and treatment and respect the embodied experience of patients, eschewing any approach that shames and blames the patient."—Patricia Benner, RN, coauthor of Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation

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.

Brian D. Hodges is Vice-President Education at the University Health Network, Professor of Psychiatry, Scientist at the Wilson Centre for Research in Education, and Richard and Elizabeth Currie Chair in Health Professions Education Research at the University of Toronto. He is the coauthor of Creating the Health Care Team of the Future: The Toronto Model for Interprofessional Education and Care and coeditor of The Question of Competence: Reconsidering Medical Education in the Twenty-First Century, both from Cornell. He is also the author of The Objective Structured Clinical Examination.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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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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