Saturday, September 15, 2007

Imagining Illness

In college (Brandeis University), I took a course in medical sociology. It’s a field that looks at how people – individuals, groups, medical staff, patients and their relatives – respond to illness.

My professor explained that, for example, patients with limited English may have difficulty telling the doctor or nurse where they hurt, and are embarrassed to point to themselves. A medical sociologist came up with a simple solution: a sketch of human anatomy that allows the patient to point to the picture rather than to his or her own body.

Diseases don’t exist in the abstract. Whether a patient is treated effectively may depend on his or her personality, background and world view. And, obviously, language skills.

The effects of illnesses vary according to our personalities, as well. We don’t stop being individuals just because we have the flu or cancer or HIV. We may neglect to swallow our pills on time, choose to forgo chemo in favor of nutrition, or deny being sick at all

As a novelist, if I give a character an illness, I have to show how it impacts that specific individual, and – since I write upbeat stories – help him or her triumph over it, even if there’s no cure.

For my current Harlequin American romance, Twin Surprise, I did a lot of research into Parkinson’s Disease, which affects a member of my family. Then I interpreted this through the eyes of my hero, police sergeant Derek Reed.

Shifted from patrol duty to a desk job, he’s frustrated and angry. Refusing to confide in his coworkers, other than a few superiors, creates misunderstandings. Most of all, he can’t see a future for himself with the woman he loves – until a pregnancy turns both their worlds upside down.

Derek rises to the challenge, both at work and at home. In the process, he learns a lot about himself and what he’s truly capable of. And how his worth as a person transcends his disability.

I learned a lot as his story developed. It’s funny how characters manage to take authors along for the ride as they grow and change.

Just like real people. But then, to me, that’s what they are.


Anonymous said...

Parkinsons Disease is one of the most misunderstood diseases known in spite of Michael J. Fox having it. People with it are often shunned because of the misunderstanding of what the disease is and how it affects the person.

Estella said...

We had a neighbor with Parkinsons Disease, so I can undestand how it affects the friends and family of the person.

Jacqueline Diamond said...

Thanks, Estella. And to anonymous, thanks for your insight. I completely agree, and hope my book helps in some small way to change that!

Ellen said...

My first post came out as anonymous because I didn't know how to use the site. Anyway I bet your book does open some minds to the reality of the disease.