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Understanding individuals accounts of health trauma: the case of stroke survivors Andy Alaszewski and Helen Alaszewski CHSS Open Seminar 17 th March 2010 Introduction Medicine, social science and the illness experience Disruption: the dominant account Identifying alternative accounts
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Andy Alaszewski and Helen Alaszewski
CHSS Open Seminar 17th March 2010
- lack of warning - can’t prepare self Mr Fry (54 at time of his stroke) I wasn’t one of these people [I] hardly had a cold or anything. This was just totally out of the blue. (Interview 1)
Mr Coxon (58 at time of stroke) This was out of the blue. I’d had no inkling. With my back problem it happened once and it’s happened every time - my back goes into spasm, you know when it’s coming on, you can feel it, you’re prepared for it, you’re in pain all the time. But there was nothing to prepare me for this. (Interview 1)
Mr Walker, (56 at time of his stroke) I was out jogging. I’m a hard runner but I do that every day. …And suddenly I couldn’t understand what was going on. I couldn’t stand, I fell over. I couldn’t make any sense. People were talking to me but I couldn’t understand what they were talking to me about out. (Interview 1)
Mrs Jenner (43 at the time of her stroke) And I collapsed about 10 or half ten and that’s all I can remember that night, the first I know of it is waking up at in hospital in London, after brain surgery but the rest of it I don’t remember… [It was] difficult not being able to have a cigarette when you wanted one and having to rely on other people. (Interview 1)
Mrs Temple (45 at the time of her stroke) It was frightening because I didn’t know what was happening.. because I had two ambulance up here and my mum and dad was up here, and dad was flapping because that’s what he does…and I was quiet, I was thinking ‘something’s not quite right but what the hell’….it was really, really hard to speak… the ambulance man was saying ‘is this how she normally is?’ and dad was saying ‘no she’s not!’ (3rd Interview)
Interviewer Do you think it’s changed your body image at all?
Mrs Earl (41 at the time of her stroke) Yes it has because this side of my face doesn’t smile quite the same. This side of my arm doesn’t work the same. Although you can disguise it, but you still daren’t smile (Interview 1).
Mrs Glover (aged 41 at the time of her stroke) This is the problem, it’s frightened me so much that if I was at home on my own and I got a headache, I’d be beside myself. Mentally I’ve got to learn to keep calm, I’m having relaxation classes now but that is a huge worry, I’m petrified about getting a headache because that’s exactly how it started, from a headache. (Interview 1)
Mrs Glover (41 at time of stroke) I try and give myself a step to climb every week and even though I struggle, I try and go up one more step and eventually I’m going to get to the top of the stairs and that’s how I look at it. I look at it at the moment I’m probably about the eighth step up but by August or September, I’m going to be at the top of that step. (Interview 1)
Mrs Yelland (49 at the time of stroke) I think it’s just more of a hiccup.InterviewerWhat place do you feel it has in your life?Mrs Yelland I know it’s there – I had it. Well I’ve sort of moved on from there really………My daughter’s getting married next year, so I’ve got to think about that (Interview 4)Mr Trueman (49 at the time of stroke) I smashed it in (his leg) about twenty places and he (the consultant) said, ‘you probably won’t walk without a stick’, and that was like a red rag to a bull, I mean particularly because after the operation I was driving out transit camper up to London every day which wasn’t the brightest thing I could have done but it was the bloody-minded part of it that, you know, it’s not going to stop me (Interview 3).
InterviewerDo you think there are other things in your health that have affected you more than the stroke?
Mrs Bryant Well, the blindness doesn’t help and the amputated toe doesn’t help and having bad hands doesn’t help because it hurts to hold my walking sticks to walk far anyway. It’s not as if I can see far to walk, it’s sort of catch 22. (interview 4)
Yes, I think sometimes that’s the irony of it, whereas before, it’s like the extreme ends of the stick isn’t it. Whereas before I was flat out now I am just out. (Mr Vernon, age 43, interview 4)
At the moment I’m thinking it’s huge. It’s a huge issue for me. Had I recovered, as I said, before I was recovering really well and it didn’t bother me too much but because of all the other health issues I’ve had it’s become the be all and end all of the world and I’m constantly thinking about it (Mrs Jenner, age 43, interview 4).
Mr Riley was willing to accept help from professionals as long as it helped him achieve his targets:
And she [Occupational therapy] would walk along the corridor of that hospital with me behind her. She wouldn’t look at me. She would just walk and say ‘well, follow me’ She knew that I couldn’t do it properly so she more or less challenged me to do it.. It might not work with everyone and I’m sure she was very responsive to that. But I like that because it was this challenge and I thought you can walk up there and I’ve got to hold this wall to get along this corridor but she forced me to extend myself, to challenge. [4th Interview].
Interviewer Do you feel that you took things for granted before you had your stroke?
Mr Fry (Aged 54 at time of stroke) I do, yes. But I still do now. I haven’t really changed. I can’t think of anything that I’ve really changed to be quite honest with you. Even food wise. I know I’m supposed to cut down on a lot of things and eat other things, but I must admit, I haven’t. (Interview 2)
Interviewer: Have you been discharged now from the stroke consultant?
Ms Temple: Because I had the thing in March and I think the last time I saw him was in September or October, quite a while now
Interviewer: Are you still being monitored for your other conditions by the hospital?
Ms Temple: Yeah, the GPs doing that now, I was seeing the rheumatologist and he said I was on all the right medication and there wasn’t anything more they could actually do to help me but if I thought it was getting much worse or whatever just to phone and make an appointment and I could go back and see the rheumatologist and I could go straight through without having to see the doctor [GP]….nothings better there at all... I’ve got arthritis in my hip as well now.
Ulrich Beck, Risk society: towards a new modernity, London: Sage. 1992.
Mike Bury, ‘Chronic Illness as Biographical Disruption’, Sociology of Health and Illness, 4 (2) pp. 167-182, 1982
Anthony Giddens, Consequences of modernity, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Talcott Parsons, The system of modern societies, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971.
Marilyn Strathern (ed.) Audit cultures: Anthropological studies in accountability, ethics and the academy, London: Routledge, 2000.
Contact Helen Alaszewski at