In Barclay’s article about the coronavirus, she focuses on the idea of “flattening the curve.” This means that as time progresses, the number of cases is kept at a manageable level instead of an extreme peak over a shorter amount of time. While she writes that 20% to 60% of American adults will probably get COVID-19, she says that her priority is about slowing the rate of the spreading. The most vulnerable people right now are those over age sixty and people with chronic medical conditions. The main fear and thing to avoid are overwhelming the American healthcare system. If there are more people in need than there is hospital space, the worst-case scenario is prioritizing certain people over others. A specific limitation is ventilators. There is a fixed amount in hospitals and by the worst projections, there might be up to six times as much need as there are actual ventilators.
One thing that might seem counterintuitive is that increased social distancing and canceling events is not about lowering the total number of cases. Instead, the goal is to slow down the rate of new cases. Tom Frieden, who led CDC under the Obama administration, says that while widespread transmission can not be prevented at this point, explosive transmission can. By using an educating tone, Barclay is trying to get across what people’s goals should be during a pandemic. Instead of accepting that the total number of COVID-19 cases is not in our control anymore, the overall goal can be changed. With an emphasis on the rate of spreading, hopefully, the curve will be successfully flattened.
In Peter Dunlap-Schohl’s My Degeneration, he illustrates his journey through Parkinson’s disease in the form of a graphic memoir, largely using metaphors and imagery to portray his experiences. On page 66, Dunlap-Schohl describes the process of rating his wellness by clicking different smiley face options: “Better than average, fair, poor” (65). He is choosing the first option when he is struck by the realization that he does not feel good at all. Before Parkinson’s, if he was having difficulty with daily tasks, he “would have chosen the ‘frowny’ and considered that an understatement” (66); but now, it is the better than normal.
This is an example of how much Peter embodies his illness and symptoms. His expectations of daily and normal life have changed. Illness forces him to carry everyday pain, but if the same symptoms were associated with his “healthy self,” he would not accept it as normal. This illustrates more broadly the expectations that are placed on the individual who is suffering. There are assumptions that the individual suffering should be getting stronger through the illness, and able to take on immense physical pain. Similar to the boxing analogy Peter uses, narratives of fighting the illness or rising above the symptoms can be problematic, as it puts a responsibility on the individual. As a parallel, often there is an understanding that the individual suffering should be able to handle it mentally. By Peter putting on the smiley face to replace his head, it shows a mask that many individuals have to put on in their daily lives to hide the struggles they are truly facing. The balance between accepting the illness and still maintaining the self is difficult, and a struggle Peter faces.
Dunlap-Shohl, Peter. My Degeneration: a Journey through Parkinson’s. The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2016.
It is important to differentiate between sickness, illness, and disease as they all carry very different connotations about the suffering, environment, and person. According to Kleinman, illness refers to the personal experience of suffering, the disease is what the doctor is trained to see as the problem, while sickness is how to understand a disorder from the individual case in relation to social factors. This is important because disease and illness are more focused on the individual, while sickness accounts for how the suffering exists in a social and environmental context. This also will carry significance for the healing methods. When the physician attempts to heal the disease, they are disregarding the relationships and context of the problem and effects. The example that Kleinman gives is of tuberculosis. While the disease is tuberculosis as named by the physician, and the illness is the physical and mental suffering that goes along with tuberculosis, the sickness refers to the larger range of what is affected. It accounts for the relationship of tuberculosis to low-income houses and malnutrition, where some demographics are more likely to be at risk for the disorder. This is significant when thinking about healing- it is not about fixing the biology of the illness, but looking at the scope of where problems arise and how to heal social burdens and relations. When a physician attempts to heal a disease biologically, they are concerned only with fixing the disease. This puts too much emphasis on the symptoms of the individual, and not enough on the meanings of the individual’s illness experience. By “materialistic pursuit” the physician is looking only for biomedical and medical ways of healing disease, not examining the wider scope of potential conflict or difficulty.
Kleinman, Arthur. The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, and the Human Condition, Chapter 1. New York: Basic Books, 1988.