National Library Week: Two Book Reviews (Part 1)

Note: To celebrate National Library Week I have two “Healthy Reading” reviews. The first is Hospital Land USA, reviewed below, and the second one is Dropping Acid:THE REFLUX DIET COOKBOOK & CURE, to be my next posting, which includes a tasty recipe.

Hospital Land USA:  Sociological Adventures in Medicalization by Wendy Simonds

In this scathing exposé of all that is wrong with our medical system, written by Wendy Simonds, a professor of Sociology and Director of Graduate Studies in the Gerontology Institute at Georgetown University.  So her credentials are solid. But in this book, Wendy also includes her own personal, subjective view of everyday hospital practices, so we have a combination of personal and objective viewpoints.

First, let’s define the term “medicalization” from the lengthy Introduction. To be medicalized “Means to submit to medical authority, to understand one’s body, mind, self through a medical lens.”  Simonds explains further about “through a medical lens,” which means that “We tend to accept medicalized approaches to health as definitive and morally right.” (p. 11)

The bookis dedicated to the memory of Chet Weeks, young friend and colleague, whose life was cut short by cancer. Simonds provides a blow-by-blow description of Ceht’s hospitalization for cancer and ultimate death in 2008, including his collaboration with the author while he was hospitalized. The story is not pretty and shows the way patients are often treated with little true compassion or care under the guise of excellent medical care. Her own hospital experiences and those of her father are also included, so much of the book is subjective.

Since she is a sociologist, her personal views are mixed in with her own field of expertise, so at times, the two merge. For example, the author takes photos of signs in the hospital which she often describes as callous, disrespectful and filled with sick humor, for both the patient and staff. I think she sees the photos through both her personal experiences and through the eyes of a sociologist with a wry sense of humor. Also, she invokes the term S&M, but in this book it stands for Science and Medicine.

This is not an easy book to read, because much of it is painfully true, especially if you have ever been hospitalized and found medical treatment to be impersonal, detached, and matter-of-fact about a serious illness. The author includes statistics
to back up her premises, and some of the personal stories I could identify with as a patient in a hospital.

The title Hospital Land USA with a picture of a ferris wheel in the background gives the message that much of what goes on in hospitals and doctors’ offices is like a circus with lousy rides, terrible food, and people who run the circus totally oblivious or unaware/uncaring of how poorly the circus is run. You need to read it yourself to see if Simonds is only grinding her own axe or if what she writes about rings true.

What I do agree with is another statement from the Introduction: “Medicalization is so omnipresent in the United States, and we are so steeped in it that it can be difficult (or even impossible) to see.” For me, this book is a perfect example of the children’s story, “The Emporer’s New Clothes.” And Wendy Simonds is like the child who was bold enough to expose the king, or in this case, hospitals. And her extensive Bibilograpy provides lots of proof!

Hospital Land USA is published by Rutledge, New York & England. 258 pages.

P.S. The back page has five endorsements that are worth noting. For example, Wendy Chapkis, PhD Professor of Sociology writes a good description of what this book offers: “Fueled by equal parts grief and rage and infused with acerbic humor, Hospital Land USA captures the dehumanizing and disempowering effects of treratment and hospitalization……” And Gayle Sulik, PhD author of Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health that I reviewed in 2011*, notes that “….The curing and caring that co-exists in this medicalized space often fails to account for the suffering involved in caring for the sick and old. Highly recommended.” *Link to my review:

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