Anne Hunsaker Hawkins

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In this study of a small group of children followed by an HIV clinic at an unidentified institution, the author describes in detail her experience with the children, their caregivers--sometimes biological family members, sometimes foster providers--and the medical staff responsible for the management of their viral infection. The writer, a humanities professor at a medical school, acknowledges the privilege she felt at having been in a position to develop a close personal contact over several years with the people about whom she writes.

The frame of the study is case-oriented. Each child is described and the medical and social histories of a total of nine are outlined and then fleshed out with personal interviews and home visits made by the writer. In addition to the histories, Hawkins includes a glossary of contemporary medical terms and common acronyms relevant to HIV, a bibliography, and a list of resources for those interested in looking further into this infection as it presents in children.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise


This is the second edition of Hawkins's groundbreaking work on illness narratives--autobiographical and biographical accounts of illness that she calls "pathographies." This edition preserves the text of the earlier (1993) work but updates it with a new preface and a new concluding chapter. This new chapter (chapter 6) surveys works written since 1992 and expands the discussion of mythic thinking and narrative.

Hawkins posits that mythic thinking pervades illness writing. Mythic constructs, she argues, organize the way patients understand their illness, how they interact with the institution of medicine, and how they write their narratives. Myths are formulative in that they attempt to create order out of the disorientation of illness. In the texts selected, Hawkins identifies "archetypal" (transcultural, transhistorical) myths--myths of journey, battle, and death and rebirth (discussed in the first edition as well).

In this edition Hawkins introduces a new term: "ideological" myths. Ideological myths are "linked to a particular culture at a particular time" (xiii). In this category is the myth of healthy mindedness, a way of thinking that was labeled "mythos" in the earlier edition. Hawkins proposes two additional ideological myths, discussed in chapter 6: the Gaia myth (that links illness and environmental problems), and the "myth of narrativity" (xiii).

The book's chapters are organized around the myths enumerated above, with many examples. Most of the works discussed were written in the latter part of the 20th century, but there are several pages devoted to John Donne's Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (see annotation in this database). Hawkins determines how, in specific cases, the myths she has identified function--whether they are "enabling" or "disabling," and whether they are "medically syntonic or dystonic" (21-24). Myths that have an enabling function are adaptive, useful, help recovery or adjustment, ameliorate suffering. They are often medically syntonic--compatible with the belief system of Western medicine. One notable exception to this is Hawkins's paradigm of the ideological "myth of healthy mindedness," in which to be enabled often means to controvert traditional medical practices.

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