queericulum vitae #3 -
Ill biographies. Sickness and body politics- january 2008
Wing of Patients
The warning of a female dermatologist [venereologist]:
She suggested me to see a general practitioner at the wing of hiv positive patients, at the Syngrou hospital -where she also works- for decoding some medical tests results. I accepted. The doctor, with an uneasiness in her face, asked me if I am ok going there and warned me that people might be staring at me when entering that particular building. I answered that I didn't mind. She continued warning me as if she wanted to pass me on the gravity of the situation.
She started describing that every day when she passed through the entrance of this building, she felt that the doorkeeper looked at her curiously. One day she turned and said to him "I work here, I am a doctor". Her intention was to offer me in this way a shield of safety that herself carried everyday when she was going to work, as she classified me in the category of healthy. She was unable to understand this; I would not put myself in the process of proving that I was healthy, but rather a proud patient, which I was.
Each ostensibly innocent Speech is guilty, because straight away it categorizes people, draws a line between healthy and patient. With my behavior I should choose where I belong and pay the social cost of my choice, if I make the wrong one or if I just happen to have an unfair fate. The categorization itself is not so important as the reason why we categorize. The reason that does not simply separate in order to communicate, but distinguishes good from bad, discharges or changes each category that is created.
The doctor spoke literally, though her words identified the bad as illness. It's the metaphor that stigmatizes illness, the metaphor of evil that is hidden behind behaviors and words, or that is not hidden at all. The knowledge in this particular case was not enough to "liberate" illness from the gravity of its social interpretations and I, as a patient, was called to follow the prescription.
The bordered space of illness. The hospital has surgery rooms, laboratories, offices, archives. Even the tests for hiv are performed in the same space as all the other tests. A positive diagnosis transports you elsewhere, in the wing of patients with hiv. This wing has separate building, separate entrance, separate doorkeeper and "separate" charge. The space is stigmatized by the stigma of its patients. This choice could be simply the result of a zoning plan. However, the symbolism of isolation, of separation of patients with aids from the others, the placement of the metaphor of "evil" away from the literality of acceptable, hence genuine, is verified by the fear and the suspiciousness towards the patients and the creation and maintenance of a powerful, protective border between the inside and the surroundings of the wing. This border indicates the gap between health and illness, acceptance and stigmatization. Upon crossing it, the individuality shrinks, if one is a patient, he/she is responsible for the illness and the cost is not only physical.
The dignity of one's illness is crashed by the arrogance of health.