Book Review: Hospital Land USA

coverDeath is certain. Time of death is not. But in Hospital Land USA, the other S&M (Science and Medicine) as Wendy Simonds calls it, death is a failure, something to be suspended and avoided at whatever cost. And there is no safe word. The surreal ordinariness of it all – from appointments and forms to waiting rooms, scripts, and winning advertorials; exams and tests to bills, claims, and satisfaction surveys; sighs of good news to the emotional rollercoaster of risks, harms, hopes, and uncertainties – reduces individuals to a collection of body parts to be increasingly scrutinized and managed. The curing and caring that co-exists in this medicalized space too often fails to account for the suffering involved in caring for the sick and the old. Highly recommended.

–Gayle Sulik, author of Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health

When sociology Professor Wendy Simonds’ friend and colleague, Chet Meeks, was diagnosed with advanced cancer she started to think more about the role of medicine in everyday life. After his death in 2008, she understood with certainty that Chet’s story was more than an idiosyncratic tale of dying young of cancer. It served as a starting point for examining how social issues such as medical treatment, scientific innovation, and care for the sick transcend the particulars.

Biomedical advances contribute to longer life spans for some along with, almost inevitably, a supramedicalized state that involves constant evaluation, intervention, and the nearly obsessive management of risk, susceptibility, enhancements, and a broader range of conditions than ever before. Simonds acknowledges that biomedical techniques and technologies help many and cure some. Innovations ranging from vaccines to antibiotics to diagnostic technologies (like X-rays, MRIs, and PET scans) to surgical technologies (lasers, robotic arms, etc.) have helped to mitigate suffering and improve lives. Sometimes people receive respectful, affirming, and life-saving treatment that certainly qualifies as care.

Yet embedded within the medical industrial complex of Hospital Land USA, there are “broad cultural in/sensibilities and conventions” that negatively impact treatment, embodiment, identity, and mortality (p. 33). For example, Chet Meeks writes on January 13, 2007:

So my treatments are now more than halfway over. I really hope this is the end of everything because, to be quite honest, I cannot imagine doing more chemotherapy after this set is over. This is actually the end of my 19th!! treatment, and by the time I reach #24, I wonder what’s going to be left of my body. I know my kidneys are in bad shape because I can feel them throbbing sometimes. My hair is now basically coming out in gobs. I’m shaving it all off soon. And even though, compared to others, I tolerate these treatments quite well (recovering quickly, leading a basically normal life for about 8 out of every 14 days), I’m really, really, really getting sick of it.

Everyone keeps telling me it looks like I’ve lost weight, but in actuality I’ve gained 4 pounds since beginning chemotherapy. I’m convinced that this weight gain is poison…. 4 pounds of poison trapped inside of my screaming body. Today I feel like my entire body has been marinating in toxins for the last 6 months. The poison is coming out of my skin. I have acne again, like when I was 13 but even worse. My hands look like the hands of an 80-year-old, and my skin is peeling off. My sweat smells like a something you’d scour the bathroom with. I won’t sicken you with a discussion of my digestive tract. (p. 43).

Chet’s experience is not unusual. It is quite possible that the chemical cocktail and surgical treatments that quickly aged him 50 years and left him feeling revolted by the look, feel, and smell of his own body might have given him a few months longer to live. But the current medical system is not set up to acknowledge or address his experience in meaningful ways. A culture of biomedicine with its taken-for-granted magic and mysticism is organized around its efforts to forestall death rather than to embrace a more complete definition of healing that would include recognizing the devastation of treatment and disease while “putting into place procedures that recognize and honor the inevitability of endings” (p. 34).

I too knew Chet Meets. We went to graduate school together at the University at Albany, State University of New York. This book honors his theoretical mind, careful skepticism, and humor even as it carefully articulates and contextualizes the reality of his suffering in an age of biomedicalization.

Wendy Simonds is a professor of sociology at Georgia State University and teaches courses in the specialty areas of gender and sexuality and family, health, and the life course. She is coauthor (with Barbara Katz Rothman and Bari Meltzer Norman) of Laboring On: Birth in Transition in the United States (Routledge, 2007), author of Abortion at Work: Ideology and Practice in a Feminist Clinic (Rutgers,1996), co-author (with Barbara Katz Rothman) of Centuries of Solace: Expressions of Maternal Grief in Popular Literature (Temple, 1992), and co-editor of Sex Matters: The Sexuality and Society Reader (WW Norton), now in its fourth edition (2014).


Hospital Land USA: Sociological Adventures in Medicalization by Wendy Simonds. Routledge (2016). 276pp. ISBN: 978-0415748087, $45.57 (Paperback).


 

Be Sociable, Share!

To speak her truth, she needed to give her words and identity away, to a trusted poet and friend @stevedavenport breastcancerconsortium.net/ov…

“Pink Ribbon Blues”

Paperback includes a new Introduction on fundraising controversies and a color insert with images of, and reactions to, the pinking of breast cancer (2012).


Praise » 

Flyer »

Press Release »

Hardback Cover »

Paperback Cover »

Request Review Copies »

Order the Paperback »

* GAYLE IN THE MEDIA *

"Seeing clearly through the pink haze" Toronto Sun

*Sad face*: Being happy does not help you live longer" New Scientist

How should we address breast cancer when norms continually change? The Guardian

Your Fun 'No Bra Day' Photos Are Overshadowing Terminal Breast Cancer Patients Broadly

Backlash against “pinkwashing” of breast cancer awareness campaigns BMJ

Breast Cancer to Rise 50 Percent by 2030? Hey, Not So Fast! Health News Review

Breast Cancer: The Flaws in the Cause iafrica.com

How to Make the Biggest Impact With Your Breast Cancer Donations Money

The Very Pink, Very Controversial Business of Breast Cancer Awareness Racked

NFL, Pink Ribbons Not Enough to Win over Women CNN

3 Questions We Need to Answer for Breast Cancer Awareness Month Chronicle of Philanthropy

The problem with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Women's Health Magazine

Pink Ribbon Envy: Living with an Uncool Cancer The Nib

A Year After Bombings, Some Say 'Boston Strong' Has Gone Overboard NPR, All Things Considered

Canadian Mammogram Study KCRW, NPR Affiliate

Time to Debunk the Mammography Myth CNN

Breast Cancer: Awareness, Activism & Pinkwashing NPR Charlotte

Buying Pink Al Jazeera's The Stream Watch »

The Pink Backlash Orlando Sentinel

Why Jolie's Test Costs So Much CNN

Preventative Mastectomies: Disease and Deception BlogTalkRadio

Angelina Jolie and the 'Breast Cancer Gene' KCRW

Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer The New York Times Magazine.

The Story Behind the Pink Ribbon Campaign Sisters Talk Radio

WISH Interview Women's International Summit for Health

Making Cancer About The Patient, Not The Body Part CBS Pittsburgh

Sexy breast cancer campaigns anger many patients USA Today

The perils of pink The Daily

Komen pink campaign creates breast-cancer blues for some Dallas Morning News

A yellow flag for the NFL's pink New York Daily

Gayle Sulik named #7 in SharecareNow’s Top 10 Online Influencers in Breast Cancer

Breast cancer cancer causes so easily derailed Philly Inquirer

Komen Charity Under Microscope for Funding, Science Reuters

The Fight Against Cancer - And Abortion? Salon.com

Susan G. Komen For the Cure defunds Planned Parenthood. In Deep with Angie Coiro

Amid Breast Cancer Month, Is there Pink Fatigue? NPR's All Things Considered

How is Breast Cancer Culture Undermining Women's Health? America’s Radio News Network

Pink Ribbon Culture and Breast Cancer The Kojo Nnamdi Show

The Big Business of Breast Cancer
Marie Claire

Does Breast Cancer Awareness Month Crowd Out Other Diseases? Slate

Pink Inc. Has Many Starting to See Red The Sacramento Bee

Get Your Pink Off Ottawa Citizen

Komen Pink Ribbons Raise Green and Questions USA Today

** MORE MEDIA LINKS **
** MORE RADIO INTERVIEWS **