The practice of medicine has advanced dramatically in recent years, but the language used to discuss illness – by medical practitioners, patients and carers – has not kept pace. As a result, clinicians and, just as importantly, patients and their relatives and carers, are not able to communicate clearly in relation to illness. The upshot is misunderstanding and confusion on all sides.
In this ground-breaking book, Dr Fergus Shanahan, an eminent gastroenterologist who has practised in Ireland, the United States and Canada, and published widely around the world, looks at memoirs of illness, and outlines the lessons we can learn from a better understanding of the words we use to describe illness. He looks at the ways in which language can act as a barrier with regard to illness, and proposes practical ways in which we can dismantle these barriers. The book is written for the general reader: as Dr Shanahan puts it himself, he is “enough of an expert to be wary of experts”.
The Language of Illness, part manifesto, part memoir, and part instruction manual, is an appeal for the use of clearer, more holistic language, by all those involved with, and affected by, illness. Like the great American poet-doctor William Carlos Williams, he aims to help us develop a new language by means of which we can develop a new way of living with illness – which is an integral part of the human condition. Put simply, it is a book for all those who care about caring.