Lessons in the Meaning of Caregiving

I believe that I have a crush on a man I have never met.  His name is Arthur Kleinman and he’s a Harvard psychiatrist and anthropologist.  I’ve written before about Dr. Kleinman and his ‘eight questions’ that might have helped Lia Lee and her family in Anne Fadiman’s touching and tragic “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.”

I immediately became fascinated by Kleinman’s eight questions and how they might be used in chronic care – even in my own family.  So, I emailed Dr. Kleinman and he wrote back!  He suggested that I read his “The Illness Narratives – Suffering, Healing and the Human Condition“.

The book arrived and I’m reading it now.  The first chapter has sealed my academic crush on Dr. Kleinman.

In the coming days, I’ll write more about my reflections on this book, but for today, here’s a snippet that I feel sure all caregivers will find echoes their knowledge and experience.

It has been said of Mozart’s music that even where all seems quiet and under control, it is best regarded as a formal Italian garden built on the side of an active volcano.  The undercurrent of chronic illness is like the volcano; it does not go away.  It menaces.  It erupts.  It is out of control.  One damned thing follows another.  Confronting crises is only one part of the total picture.   The rest is coming to grips with the mundaneness of worries over whether one can negotiate a curb, tolerate flowers without wheezing, make it to a bathroom quickly enough, eat breakfast without vomiting, keep the level of back pain low enough to get through the workday, sleep through the night, attempt sexual intercourse, make plans for a vacation, or just plain face up to the myriad of difficulties that make life feel burdened, uncomfortable, and all too often desperate.  It has always seemed to me that there is a kind of quiet heroism that comes from meeting these problems and the sentiments they provoke, of getting through each day, of living through the long course with grace and spirit and even humor; sick persons and their families understand the courage, even if most others do not.  (Pg. 44)