Social Discrimination and Loss of Humanity
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (Awofeso).Many times, patients suffer a loss of self-worth even more devastating than their actual disease. Illness attempts to bring down the protagonists of the texts Night Mother (1983), The Doctor (1991), and Philadelphia (1993). Each suffering their own physical battles, they all share a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness that challenges their will to live.
Jessie and her mother portray a bizarre situation of illness and alienation in Night Mother. Jessie lives with her mother as middle-aged divorcee, and is bound to the house due to epilepsy. Even still, Jessie has assumed the role as care-taker for her mother. The audience understands her plan of suicide from early on, however the two characters behave ordinarily throughout this extraordinary situation (Norman).
Jessies loneliness is hinted at throughout the play, most notably her brother giving her the same wrong-sized gift every year. As Jessie dives more and more into her own head she realizes the feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. Meanwhile, her mother ignores all showcases of those feelings and chooses to hope that social convention in relationships will prevail. Her mothers manipulative ways are exposed when, on the last night of Jessies life, she tells Jessie that she has had small seizures since birth as her father did. Everyone around her confirms Jessies helplessness until she finally decides to assert control over her life and shoot herself. She doesnt see any reason to improve her life, so she ends it on her terms (Norman).
Like Jessie, Dr. Jack McKee experiences the social and mental anguish of illness in The Doctor. The juxtaposition of a Doctor walking in a patients shoes drives home the reality of medical arrogance and its ramifications. As an arrogant heart surgeon, Dr. McKee is short and cold with his patients. "There is a danger in becoming too involved with your patients" he warns his residents. When he is faced with a malignant tumor and needs treatment at his own hospital, Dr. McKee begins to second guess his motto(Doctor).
When Dr. McKee proclaims his profession with a woman in the waiting room, she replies Not when youre sitting here. He is treated as any other patient in the hospital, and realizes it isnt very accommodating. He waits at appointments, experiences humiliation being rushed around in a gown, and feels helpless and uneasy when staff treats him uncivilly. His social status at work means nothing as a patient, and this deflates his ego. When he turns out cancer-free, he goes back to work and teaches the residents from the patients perspective. Having his self-image, confidence, and worth tested under extraordinary circumstances brought Dr. McKee a more humble and compassionate outlook. His experiences urged him to be the change he wished to see (Doctor).
In another example of upsetting circumstances in the workplace, Andrew Beckett is discriminated by his law firm when they discover he has AIDS. Philadelphia illustrates how social hatred and ignorance can affect those with certain illnesses. Andy is fired from his job because he is ill with a socially unacceptable disease. When he searches for a lawyer to represent him in a law suit against his firm, no one will take him on for the same reason he was fired. Andy breaks down and shows his feelings of hopelessness as he cries outside Joe Millers office. Miller refused Andys case at first, but after comparing this prejudice to the form he has endured as an African American he changes his mind (Philadelphia).
Seeing Andys family together in such a natural, nurturing environment forces the audience to reflect on his lifestyle with his partner. All of the elements of a typical family are present, and the comfort of this environment contrasts the seemingly cruel world outside. As Miller learns and grows through his experience with Andy, and guides the audience along with him. Andy wins the case while in the hospital, and although he is dying his sense of self-worth and value as a human being are restored (Philadelphia).
Ill patients are human beings, and have very real feelings. These human beings are at their most vulnerable when ill, and their self image, confidence, and worth may be compromised by feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. While outside factors such as social discrimination and lack of humanity can devastate an ill person, it is largely how the individual chooses to change their depressed state and react to those factors. Jessie unfortunately chose to end all feeling by ending her life. Dr. McKee and Andrew Beckett took more constructive routes of action to better their lives as well as others. Everyone has different capacities for devastation and different coping strategies that will never change. What can and must change is societys response to illness.
Awofeso, Niyi. "WHO | Re-defining Health." World Health Organization. Web. 19 Nov. 2011. .
The Doctor. Dir. Randa Haines. By Robert Caswell. Perf. William Hurt, Christine Lahti, and Mandy Patinkin. Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Inc., 1991.
Norman, Marsha. 'Night, Mother: a Play. New York: Hill and Wang, 1983. Print.
Philadelphia. Dir. Jonathan Demme. By Ron Nyswanger. Perf. Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Antonio Banderas, and Joanne Woodward. TriStar Pictures, 1993.