Recent scholarship in medical humanities has expressed strong concern over the ability of pharmaceuticals companies to medicalize discomfort and subsequently invent diseases. In this article, I explore the clinical debates over the ontology of the sinus headache as a possible counter-case. Extending Foucault’s concept of principles or rarefaction, this paper documents the efforts of clinicians to resist the pharmaceutically-provided understanding of the sinus headache. In so doing, it offers institutions of rarefaction and rarefactive assemblages as useful heuristics for the exploration of disease legitimization discourse.
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Atwood, Oryx and Crake, (New York: Anchor Books, 2003), 188.
See, for example, P. Gardner, “Distorted Packaging: Marketing Depression as Illness, Drugs as Cure,” Journal of Medical Humanities, 24 (nos. 1–2): 105–130; K. Aho, “Medicalizing Mental Health: A Phenomenological Alternative,” Journal of Medical Humanities, 29 (no. 4): 243–259; C. Elliott, Better than Well, (New York: W. W. Norton. 2003).
In answering these questions I differentiate myself from the bulk of the disease resignification literature in focusing on an illness (sinus headache) that is considered entirely of physiological etiology. The underlying principle behind this case selection is my presupposition of the medical-industrial complex—an integrated entity that includes Western biomedicine writ large, physiological, pharmacological, psychiatric, etc.
See Elliott, 124.
See Aho, 244.
See Gardner, 124.
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J. Derrida, “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourses of the Human Sciences,” Writing and Differene, trans. A. Bass, (London: Routledge, 1978). Derrida argued that language functions without a central structure and as such is merely the freeplay of signifiers.
J. Beaudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. S.F. Glaser, (USA: University of Michigan Press, 1994). Beaudrillard argued that all reality has been replaced by signs and symbols.
Elliott, 124. Italics added.
M. Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language, trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972), 216.
Ibid., 223–224. I take Foucault’s “within the true” as an effective description of postmodern ontology (hence my title). As the Discourse explained the combined effects of the will to truth and the will to knowledge, “sketched out a schema of possible, observable, measurable and classifiable objects . . . ”—i.e., a collection of objects that can be recognized (through discourse) as being, as existing.
The MPG is a multidisciplinary pain management educational organization that I have studied as a participant-observer. The data collected for this article is culled both from these observations and from my explorations of the sinus headache medical literature. (IRB approval was obtained for the observational part of this project.)
MPG, February 2007.
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I. Damjanov, Pathology Secrets, (Philadelphia: Hanley and Belfus, 2005), xiii.
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See Kumar, Abbas, Fausto, 4.
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MPG, February 2007.
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However, it’s not only pharmaceuticals corporations that benefit materially from disease legitimization. Any disease, if recognized and validated by both the medical community and third-party players, ensures physicians an enormous number of billable hours. And while the legitimization of the disease ensures the billable hours, the mechanism of legitimization determines who gets those hours. Sinus headache, as it currently exists, is treated by otolaryngologists. However, if as many as 90% of sinus headache patients are actually migraineurs, then, by medical standards, they belong to neurologists.
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Graham, S.S. Dis-ease or Disease? Ontological Rarefaction in the Medical-Industrial Complex. J Med Humanit 32, 167–186 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10912-011-9137-5
- Sinus headache