Kleinman – Subjectivity of Illness

“Illness” is a subjective lived experience since every person experiences disease differently. The concept is subject to cultural orientations and can often vary by outcome. In Kleinman’s terms, “there are normal ways of being ill (ways that our society regards as appropriate as well as anomalous ways,” (5 Kleinman). Here, Kleinman elicits the idea that society has the ability to dictate how to be ill, hence affecting the illness experience. For example, it is socially acceptable in the United States for someone who has the flu to stay home and get well. Perhaps the person may receive get well cards or comfort from loved ones to alleviate their suffering. Contrarily, if the same person was part of a society that did not pamper a sick person when he/she had the flu, then the person may feel more suffering. The same experience of the flu a person can be completely different depending of environment.

Kleinman cites the illness experience to be subject to outcome. Kleinman illustrates three examples: an adolescent quadriplegic who requires life assist constantly, a business executive who suffers from asthma only known to his wife and children, and a young woman who has been demoralized by breast cancer surgery to the extent where she feels that her metastasis is an omen of her demise (5 Kleinman). Though all three cases experience illness, the adolescent quadriplegic feels that his vital functions are under constant threat, the business executive suffers from the maintenance of separating his work, where his illness is virtually invisible, and home, where he is impaired greatly, and the young woman interprets her symptoms as a death sentence. Due to the nature of disease, illness is experienced differently in all three cases. Kleinman’s definition of subjectivity relates to variation.

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