Illness as Experience
|Keywords||Abandonment, Aging, Anatomy, Body Self-Image, Chronic Illness/Chronic Disease, Depression, Disability, Disease and Health, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Empathy, Human Worth, Loneliness, Pain, Patient Experience, Psycho-social Medicine, Suffering|
This short documentary film was made by Angelo Volandes while he was a fourth year medical student at Yale, as part of his senior thesis. It describes the life of Ray, a 70 year old dermatology patient who has suffered from neurofibromatosis since he was a teenager. Severely disfigured by this condition, Ray has led a life of social ostracism, loneliness, physical discomfort, and stoic depression.
Angelo introduces the film, frankly describing his own "visceral reaction" when he first encountered Ray in clinic. Ray and his long-time physician, Dr. Braverman, alternately discuss how Ray’s condition has affected every aspect of his life. Although Ray has endured more than 30 operations to remove the tumors that become infected, itch, and plague him, it is social ostracism that has most powerfully altered his life.
The camera follows Ray as he shops in the supermarket while doctor and patient describe what an ordeal this can be. Worse than suffering the stares of fellow shoppers is being treated like a contagious carrier of the plague by the checkout clerk, who refused to handle Ray’s money. Ray tells how incidents like these have landed him in the Emergency Room numerous times, out of sheer emotional upset.
This film should be useful viewing for any physician in training and for other health-care professionals as well. Not only does it demonstrate human suffering and a sensitive, empathetic physician, but it also provides an opportunity to confront severe disfigurement prior to an actual encounter. The camera does not blink from displaying in close-up Ray’s condition. Those who are not accustomed to seeing this will probably initially react the way Angelo did-- viscerally.
But as one continues to view and listen to Ray and his physician, one is able to perceive Ray the human being, and to ignore the tumors. In a sense, it is like seeing Ray the way an artist painted him (shown in the film), without physical blemish--the way Ray likes to be seen. A useful literary accompaniment to this video would be the play, The Elephant Man (annotated in this database).
|Running Time||25 minutes|
|Video Source||Write to Angelo Volandes, at 353 68th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11220. Individual copies, $25; Institutional $50.|
|Miscellaneous||Cello music written and performed by Scott Floyd.|
|Annotated by||Aull, Felice|
|Date of Entry||01/25/99|