The Changing Health Disparities Landscape

An opportunity for hope?
By William B. Lawson MD, PhD, DLFAPA

I am old enough and fortunate enough to see and appreciate the changes that have occurred over the past half century in the health care system, especially regarding mental health. I still vividly remember visiting a state mental hospital where a great uncle spent much of his life. The building had all of the negative aspects of an institution including limited resources and communal showers. But then chlorpromazine (thorazine), a drug used for treating certain mood disorders, was invented and he was able to spend the rest of his days at home with his family. Fast-forward several decades, when I began my career as a psychiatrist, I was part of a team that completed a study with clozapine, the first antipsychotic that was demonstrably superior to others.  Again, I saw the wonders of medical technology as people with severe mental illness once relegated to back wards in chronic institutions were able to engage in meaningful relationships and live productive lives. Relative to the rest of medicine, treatment of the mentally ill is relatively young and the wonders of new advances and treatment long seen in antibiotic therapy and cancer treatment are still emerging in psychiatry.

Continue reading The Changing Health Disparities Landscape

Visualizing Invisible Disabilities

Madhavi Mallapragada discusses representations of food allergies in new media in HI’s Faculty Fellows Seminar on Health, Well-Being, Healing
By Saralyn McKinnon-Crowley

Food allergies are an invisible disability; but because food allergies are not easily visualized or conceptualized in the public sphere, they provide a useful starting point for thinking about how new and established media portray individuals with disabilities. In recent years, more children have been diagnosed with food allergies than ever before. Schools are required to accommodate these students’ needs under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Schools allow students with food allergies who have 504 plans to carry EpiPens and other medical devices, and to carry an emergency care plan document outlining recommended treatment in case of an allergic reaction. The role of media in capturing this invisible disability potentially concerns how individual teachers and administrators, who might not be fully aware of a child’s food allergy accommodation needs, are able to conceptualize these needs. Teachers might receive insufficient training about or exposure to the signs of an allergic reaction, leading to tragic results. Continue reading Visualizing Invisible Disabilities

Excerpt from “Illness as Muse” by Rafael Campo

Of course, the next morning always comes and I find myself in my clinic again, the exam room speaking aloud in all of its blatant metaphors—the huge clock above where my patients sit implacably measuring lifetimes; the space itself narrow and compressed as a sonnet—and immediately I’m back to thinking about writing. Soon enough, my patients start to arrive, and the way they want me to understand what they are feeling only immerses me more deeply in language’s compelling alchemy: “The pain is like a cold, bitter wind blowing through my womb,” murmurs a young infertile woman from Guatemala with what I have diagnosed much less eloquently as chronic pelvic pain. “Please, doctor, can you heal me?”

Excerpt from “Illness as Muse” by Rafael Campo, poet, essayist, and physician. Dr. Campo will deliver a public lecture called “Training the Eye, Hearing the Heart: Art, Poetry, and Healing” on April 21st at 12pm at the Blanton Museum of Art, sponsored by the Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies, with support from the Humanities Institute. See our calendar on the left sidebar for more information.

The Sanitization of Death and Dying

Alan Friedman, Ph.D. and Craig Hurwitz, MD advocate for palliative care in HI’s Faculty Fellows Seminar on Health, Well-Being, Healing
By Saralyn McKinnon-Crowley
Death-bed scene, figures crowd around a dying person's bed in grief while final rites are being read. Stipple engraving by N. Schiavonetti, 1812, after R. Westall.
Death-bed scene, figures crowd around a dying person’s bed in grief while final rites are being read. Stipple engraving by N. Schiavonetti, 1812, after R. Westall.

How have medical advances over the long 20th century altered the ways western cultures represent illness, death, and dying? Before the turn of the 20th century, people living in North America and Britain commonly confronted death in their own homes. The bed was often the site not only of conception and birth but of death as well. The dead and dying were familiar, commonplace, and domestic, and, consequently, the practices and rituals associated with death and dying were typically supervised by women, who commanded the domestic sphere. Yet rapidly-changing advances in science and medicine over the course of the 20th century have dramatically altered our experiences and perception of death. Geoffrey Gorer argues in his essay, “The Pornography of Death,” that death has replaced sex as the ultimate taboo in the United States and the United Kingdom; it has become sanitized and discrete from our everyday lives. Medical doctors who were once mostly helpless at best or harmful at worst to the sick, have become, with medical advances, newly able to intervene in illness and promote healing. Continue reading The Sanitization of Death and Dying